The Top Secret West Houston Rooftop Cabinets Grabbing Houston TV Signals for Internet Streaming

THE TOP SECRET WEST HOUSTON ROOFTOP CABINETS GRABBING HOUSTON TV SIGNALS FOR INTERNET STREAMING Cyrus One West Houston Data Center, 5150 Westway Park Blvd., HoustonChronicle 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

7 Comment

  • Interesting.. been wanting to give Aereo a try, I just wish there was some way I could keep ESPN and HBO

  • Woo go Aereo! I really hope areo continues to grow now that they’ve expanded into Austin. As a user since launch I’ve found the service to be more reliable than OTA HD broadcasts with the added benefit of the cloud dvr.

  • I wish I could just find a normal antenna that worked as well as Aereo’s “dime sized” antennas. Very hard to believe they can get a good picture on all the Houston stations on all their little antennas even if they are in a good location. I suspect they’re doing more like an array system. If you or I tried a dime sized antenna out in their parking lot we would get maybe a couple Houston channels.

  • A friend of mine had Aereo and he said it was pretty bad at his location in Conroe. He had to cancel it.

  • GregH: You clearly don’t understand how it works. It can’t have “bad signal”. That’d be like saying “SORRY IM GETTING BAD SIGNAL ON SWAMPLOT”. Think before you speak next time.

  • Cable cutter… try plugging a screwdriver into the back of your tv sometime, it’s amazing how many channels you can get with a small piece of metal if you’re in range.

  • Jimbo: If you’re using the service to stream video and don’t have a strong (read: fast) connection to the service – be it your fault or theirs – then I could see someone canceling.
    A similar connection to swamplot is totally different. You could be on dial up and the experience on a static blog site would be very similar. Not so at all for streaming video.