My Year Using Aereo: How A Dime-Sized Antenna Met My TV Needs

If you're a light TV viewer who just wants to watch the major networks, Aereo might be right for you.
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Inside a data center in downtown Brooklyn, there's a floor filled with thousands of dime-sized copper antennas. One of them is mine.

About a year ago, I started using Aereo, a service that lets me watch and record network television on my laptop using that tiny antenna.

I'm essentially renting the antenna from Aereo, a model the company says complies with copyright law. (Major broadcasters still have sued for alleged copyright infringement, but the courts so far have sided with the startup.)

After launching in New York City last year, Aereo has plans to expand to 22 more cities in the coming months. It will be available in Houston, Dallas and Miami for the first time next month.

For me, Aereo has been a welcome addition to the patchwork of services my wife and I use to watch our favorite shows and live sports.

We are two of the "cable cutters" you hear about -- youngish residents of big cities who don't have cable. We don't want to pay an expensive monthly bill and don't want to be tempted to watch hours of mindless television.

For $8 a month, we've been able to watch live golf tournaments and basketball games and record up to 20 hours of programs when we're not home. To watch must-see shows we can't get on Aereo, like "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad" and old episodes of "Friday Night Lights," we use iTunes and Netflix.

Last Sunday was a perfect example. The last round of the P.G.A. Championship was on CBS, but we had plans to spend the day at the beach with friends in the Rockaways. While I was swimming in the ocean and grilling burgers, Aereo was recording the tournament at home. When I got back to my apartment that evening, I watched the final round and fast-forwarded through the commercials. (I also stayed off Twitter and hid my iPhone so I wouldn't see the news alert that Jason Dufner had won.)

We don't use Aereo every day or even every week, but it's nice to have when we need it. In the past, when we wanted to watch live television, we'd have to go to a bar or a friend's place and buy beers that would add up to more than what we pay each month for Aereo.

My wife mostly uses it to record "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project" on Fox. While many networks stream full episodes of shows on their websites the day after they air, Fox often delays posting programs online for several weeks to encourage people to watch them live. With Aereo, my wife watches her shows as they air or the very next day.

And since we're rarely home on Saturday nights, we also use Aereo to record "Saturday Night Live" and watch the funniest skits, without commercials, on Sunday morning.

Aereo is not a perfect solution. The service sometimes displays the dreaded "buffering" signal, although this may a problem with my Internet service. Such repeated delays caused me to miss portions of the first half of the Super Bowl earlier this year. It also caused my wife to miss Beyonce's entire halftime show -- an equally devastating blow to her. We ended up watching the second half through CBS Sports' live stream of the game.

Also, the sound on my laptop isn't very loud, even when I turn it up all the way. I've tried solving this by using wireless speakers, but there's a slight delay, and wired speakers seem too cumbersome.

And though I could stream Aereo on my iPad or iPhone, I've never tried it because I'm afraid of exceeding my monthly data plan.

There are now more and more options for watching television online without having cable. Most recently, Google introduced Chromecast, a $35, 3-inch device that plugs into your TV and lets you stream Netflix and YouTube. Another device, Roku, offers more than 750 channels. But I don't need that many channels. To watch most sports, I just need the major networks. The National Football League, fortunately, will be broadcast on Fox, NBC and CBS for at least the next decade.

For now, we'll continue to use Aereo, until something better comes along, or the courts put a stop to the service. But I don't see us going back to cable anytime soon.

And I recently discovered an unexpected benefit. After Time Warner Cable blacked out CBS in New York City in a dispute over fees, we still had access to CBS on Aereo. In fact, Time Warner Cable encouraged its subscribers to try the service during the blackout.

Time Warner may have made a mistake. If customers followed that advice, they may have found that, like me, Aereo meets their basic TV needs, giving them the courage to say goodbye to cable for good.

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