Review: Sezmi delivers OTA plus OTT

Customers are doing more than ever with their fast Sonic.net Fusion service, with video being a primary application.

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.

Comcast price goes up, Sonic.net DirecTV price goes down

dtv-logo-smallWith news about Comcast’s fall rate hikes, (PressDemocrat: Comcast raises rates again: 43 percent since ’03) I’m really pleased to announce that Sonic.net DirecTV new customer pricing has just dropped by $5 monthly.

With introductory pricing and our $10/mo broadband bundle, you can get into a Sonic.net DirecTV package for only $19.99/mo now!  That includes free HD or a free DVR (digital video recorder.)

Compare this to your last Comcast bill!  With our fall DirecTV package, you save $36 per month for 12 months then save $10 per month for the next 6 months (regularly $55.99/mo.)

Big the big win is really our installation and customer service.  You probably know how amazing our technical support group is, and our Sonic.net DirecTV installers are just as dedicated.  Here’s some great comments I got last week from a customer, Claudia Fiori:

The reason I am writing is because we had the pleasure of having Karl install our DIRECTV the other day. He was amazingly knowledgeable, warm, friendly, professional, and most of all skilled and did a quality, top-notch installation. I only wish I had left Comcast when Sonic first became involved with DIRECTV. Oh well, better late than never. Anyway, I wanted you to know what a great employee you have in Karl, and maybe the next time you see him, you can give him a kind word from me.

My warmest regards,
Claudia Fiori

We’ve got a break in the rain, so now is a great time to make the switch.  Click on Sonic.net DirecTV to get started!

P.s.: Thank you Karl!

Speed kills (business models, anyway)

It seems that everyone is building faster, next generation networks. So, will many consumers enjoy faster access in the US any time soon? I don’t think so.

I believe that consumers will not see widely available faster Internet because it would undermine revenue from entertainment products. TV sells for more $$ than Internet, and by selling you a “triple play”, carriers can dip three times, collecting revenue for Internet, voice, and video. If the Internet access offered was faster, I believe that services like YouTube/Google Video would quickly begin to offer high def content, and that new peer to peer video solutions such as Joost and Veoh would see a huge boost to their business models.

Access spawns applications. If everyone had 20Mbps Internet, many would skip the whole $50 to $100 video and premium channel package and use newly enabled HD video over IP.

We’ve seen similar things happen in voice – Skype, Vonage etc have all taken bites out of land line revenue. Voice is not very bandwidth hungry, so there’s little that carriers can do to prevent its use. I think the same thing would happen to video if access was faster.

A prime example of this is AT&T’s new UVerse product, which is available in some limited markets in the US now. You can’t even have Internet on UVerse without buying TV. Sorry. And the fastest Internet access on UVerse is….6Mbps. This, on a VDSL2 circuit that syncs at 24Mbps or faster. The big bandwidth is allocated to TV, even if you are not watching it. There’s no legitimate technical reason for this.

Another example is Comcast’s “PowerBoost”, which offers a temporary doubling of bandwidth, but just for the first few moments of a download. The net result: no viable streaming high bandwidth HD video. Guess why? Because that would enable someone else’s video business model, a business that the cable executives would prefer to retain.

Are consumers being well served by the triple play? I don’t think so.

I predict that over the next few years, the marketplace will see offers of small incremental upgrades, with Cable and Telco each matching or slightly beating the other from time to time.

Neither wants to actually deliver enough bandwidth to enable HD streams.