As I mentioned earlier, Aereo is available only in New York City, not even the suburbs, until this spring's expansion. That restriction extends to watching shows while traveling, even if you're a legitimate New York subscriber. Aereo performs a check of your location when you log on, using your numeric Internet Protocol address and other tools. Mistakes happen — the service thinks my office is outside New York because my employer's network is based elsewhere. But it's easy to bypass that and use the service anyway, after reading a warning that use outside New York City is a terms of service violation.
There are a few other limitations:
— The program guide looks forward two weeks or less, so you can't record shows beyond that, even if you know their names. I missed several shows during the fall television season because they started later than others and hadn't appeared yet when I got around to setting up the recordings. With TiVo, I can simply type in a keyword, and shows will automatically record, even a year later.
— Aereo won't let me remove specific episodes from the list of future shows to record. I'd have to drop the entire series, or quickly delete them after recording to avoid running out of space.
— A handful of shows didn't record because of unspecified recording errors. A few "90210" episodes got mysteriously chopped off. I've encountered fewer glitches since I started using Aereo, but keep in mind it's still infant.
— The interface is intuitive when it works, but early on, I had to refresh the browser often because the website would freeze. I've also managed to hit the wrong part of the screen too many times. On Election Night, I was inadvertently watching news broadcasts on a half-hour delay and learned of President Barack Obama's victory on Facebook because key states were still too close to call on my delayed broadcast.
— Video quality depends partly on the Internet connection. Video can look good on a large, high-definition TV set, but at times, it stutters on my small laptop, particularly over a wireless network. I don't get the same stuttering with Hulu. During Superstorm Sandy, service went down completely for about four hours because of problems with one of Aereo's Internet providers.
I could see Aereo being useful for live broadcasts you can't get on Hulu, but during the storm, I had to go back to cable for around-the-clock news. There were pockets of cable outages in the region, but no service-wide disruption.
Aereo isn't ready yet to replace your cable TV service if you need reliability. I've noticed the service get better over the few months I've used it, but there are still kinks to work out. But it's a good option if you care more about saving money.
It's a good supplement to Hulu for its access to CBS, PBS and live shows and quicker availability of shows from ABC, Fox, NBC and the CW. But the restriction on watching shows outside your home area limits its usefulness. I had to turn to Hulu on a laptop to catch up on shows during my various travels.
One unknown is how long Aereo will last.
Copyright-infringement lawsuits filed by the major networks and others accuse Aereo of unlawfully copying and retransmitting their programming over the Internet. Aereo insists what it's doing is legal because customers are assigned individual antennas. Therefore, the company says, it's similar to what viewers would get for free by installing the same equipment at home. By contrast, cable TV companies use a single antenna or direct feed from a broadcaster to pick up a station for thousands of subscribers.
In July, a federal judge in New York refused to give broadcasters a preliminary injunction to stop the service, though the ruling has been appealed.
So if you can live with service hiccups, enjoy Aereo while you can. It makes cutting cable service tempting. But don't tell off the cable guy quite yet. You might have to come crawling back if broadcasters win their lawsuit.