I’ve written previously about OTT, or “over the top”, which is the delivery of video entertainment via, or over the top of, an Internet connection. More and more consumers and adding over the top solutions to their living room, or simply replacing pay TV with a box that delivers content OTT.
I’ve been testing a number of OTT solutions, and this review of the Sezmi OTA+OTT solution is the first of a couple articles to come on this topic. (Disclaimer: I mentioned Sezmi in passing on Twitter a couple months ago, and won a free unit. I purchased a Roku and Boxee, and will be posting reviews of each here shortly.)
The part many of us miss after “cutting the cord” on pay TV is local real time TV channels. On demand content is great, but there is a ton of content on the local channels, plus news and sports that you can’t easily duplicate “over the top”.
Sezmi brings these back, using an old technology: OTA, or “off the air” – meaning an antenna. This arcane antenna thing is like magic – it plucks television signals out of the air! It’s an amazing technology that my entire generation has simply forgotten ever existed.
That box you see looming in the background in this image is the Sezmi phased array digital TV antenna. Sezmi elegantly merges off the air local digital TV signals with a well equipped digital video recorder, and stirs in a mix of OTT on-demand content too.
This is the best of both worlds in many ways, and it’s a tidy solution. You could cobble together something similar: a good quality HD antenna, plus a TiVo, plus perhaps a Samsung or Sony TV that connects to YouTube. But building that configuration wouldn’t be easy, and the TiVo costs $19.99/mo, and requires a two year commitment (or, $299 for a larger unit, $19.99/mo for a minimum of one year.) Either way, it’s not a complete solution (no included antenna, and no OTT), and it’s expensive.
Sezmi includes a huge 1TB video recorder and a nice looking bookshelf OTA antenna, designed to look like a speaker, wrapped in black cloth. It delivers on-demand OTT content (much of it free), YouTube, movie rentals and more. To make it easy to use, Sezmi includes an interface that gives each member of the household a button on the remote that leads to their own view of their entertainment. It learns what each person likes to watch, then Sezmi records content based upon your tastes.
Sezmi is cheaper than a TiVo, now $149 for the hardware, and the service which draws it all together is $4.99/mo. (Customers in LA can opt to add a small stack of cable channels, delivered over the Internet, for $15 additional.)
Sezmi isn’t perfect – it had some trouble during setup recognizing the IP it had obtained from my DHCP server. (I spent ten minutes troubleshooting before I worked out that a reboot fixed; duh.) Sezmi also doesn’t play Netflix or Hulu Plus at this time. It would be nice to see these integrated into their all-in-one interface. If cable channels like ESPN, TBS, TNT, CNN and Discovery are critical for you, an all OTT/OTA solution probably won’t have all of the content you want. (If you want all this, you aren’t a candidate for “cutting the cord”, you need pay TV. If that’s you, we’ll be happy to help you get set up with Sonic.net DirecTV.)
For Sezmi to work, you need to be in a location where you can receive an off the air signal with enough channels that it is worthwhile. Here in Santa Rosa, Sezmi only picks up one channel, KRCB/PBS, and as a result, it isn’t much use. But for customers in the Bay Area, it’s far better. All the major networks like ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox are all broadcast from Sutro Tower in San Francisco, and can be received in a broad area. Sezmi’s website will help you determine which channels you can receive at your address.
If you live in the Bay Area, and if broadcast network content is as important as OTT, the Sezmi is an elegant and cost effective solution that could help keep your entertainment costs in check. Pair it up with Sonic.net Fusion for a great broadband+phone+TV solution.