AEREO’S HOUSTON TEEVEE SERVICE LIKELY A BUST AFTER THIS MORNING’S SUPREME COURT RULING So which West Houston data center is the one crowded with all those tiny Aereo antennas on its roof? The secret location shouldn’t need to stay secret for much longer, since the Supreme Court issued a ruling this morning essentially declaring the company’s service — which grabs TV signals from local broadcasters and streams them over the internet to subscribers for a fee — to be illegal. In a 6-to-3 decision (with dissent, notably, from the judges generally considered the most conservative), the court declared that Aereo functions similarly to a cable service, and should be subject to the same regulations, copyright laws, and fees charged by television networks. Aereo currently operates in Houston and 10 other cities. [USA Today; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Houston West Data Center (probably not the Aereo location) at 5150 Westway Park Blvd.: CyrusOne
THE TOP SECRET WEST HOUSTON ROOFTOP CABINETS GRABBING HOUSTON TV SIGNALS FOR INTERNET STREAMING Chronicle tech reporter Dwight Silverman tours the rooftop base housing tens of thousands of tiny, dime-size antennas used by a New York-based company whose business model of capturing local TV, storing it on DVR servers, and streaming it to customers, is headed for a Supreme Court showdown: “Aereo’s local operation is located in a data center in west Houston. (I can’t say more than that – not because of Aereo, but because the data center is very security-conscious and keeps the location secret to protect other customers.) The location was picked partly because TV signals for most of Houston’s broadcast stations are strong there.
The antennas are stored in cabinets mounted on a platform on the center’s roof. To get there, you must climb about 20 feet up a vertical ladder (after receiving a detailed safety briefing) and exit through a hatch onto the roof.
The two cabinets each have a locked door that provides access on one side. Open them, and you can see long circuit-board racks, each about 14-16 inches long, that hold the antennas. Below them is equipment that converts the radio frequency signals to MPEG-2 video. The back side of the cabinets have what [Aereo founder and CEO Chet] Kanojia described as ‘RF transparent windows,’ made of a material that lets TV signals penetrate easily.
The converted MPEG-2 video is fed via 10-gigabit fiber-optic cables to a set of servers in the floor below the roof. Aereo has a relatively small space in the data center, but still has plenty of room to add more servers. A rack of transcoders convert the MPEG-2 video into MPEG-4, which is more easily streamed over the Net.
Two racks of hard drives, each with 3 terabytes of storage and spinning at 7,200 RPM, stores the data. Aereo saves each customer’s signal to the drives, even if they’re watching live, which is what allows its users to pause and rewind live TV. The drives also store recorded shows, with the amount varying based on whether a customer has the $8 or $12 Aereo plan.
When someone wants to watch a show, it’s streamed out through the data center’s big fiber-optic connection to the Internet.” [TechBlog; more info ($)]
Photo of Houston West Data Center (probably not the Aereo location) at 5150 Westway Park Blvd.: CyrusOne