NEW YORK (TheStreet) Investors may be riveted to the landmark ABC v. Aereo case being argued before the Supreme Court, but my bet is that pretty darn soon we'll be riveted to something else: old-school, over-the-air broadcast TV turbocharged with hard drives, next-gen set-top boxes and Web connections.
"We've been in the antenna business for 65 years," said Shelley O'Connell, marketing communications director for Channel Master, the Phoenix, Ariz., broadcast TV peripheral and device maker. "When we got into the digital video recorder business a few years ago, we realized there was a lot you could do with a free digital TV broadcast feed, a hard drive and the right software."
O'Connell has been my point of contact with the 20-person Channel Master for several months as I've been digesting one of the most remarkably unheralded yet fascinating devices I've seen all year: the $249 DVR+.This slim, half-inch-high box, about the size of a decentish issue of Vogue, basically acts like a cutting-edge set-top driven TV, but tweaked to work with throwback digital broadcast television signals. Pay the flat $249 for the DVR+, connect it to any one of a number of readily available hard drives and HD antennas and, for no monthly fees, the unit offers a rich multichannel TV experience for broadcast TV shows and some online video services, such as Vudu. With a Slingbox 500, you can watch your Channel Master TV on any connected mobile device. Now for sure, several issues loom with the Channel Master DVR+. (More on that in a moment.) But overall, since I first touched this box back at January's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it's become a little gizmo with a big story. This thing -- and I'm not exaggerating -- holds the promise of redrawing the ancient battle lines between cable, broadcast and Web TV. In the process it can fundamentally affect how companies such as ABC and Aereo view and manage their content.
Be warned: Next-gen TV users will find it easy to find issue with the Channel Master. At $249, it feels like a whole lot of money for what amounts to a free-standing TV channel guide. The needed hard drives and TV antenna are not included in that price. And while the unit is perfectly manageable to set up, it does require a real understanding of television signals, a sense of broadcast antenna placement and how to integrate both with existing home TVs and networks. Apple TV it is not.