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Mohu Channels review: An ugly marriage of over-the-air and streaming TV

Jared Newman | March 26, 2015
Over-the-air broadcasts are enjoying something of a renaissance in the cord-cutting age. If you live within range of broadcast towers, a simple antenna will deliver basic channels--including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS--in beautiful high definition for free. It's the perfect supplement to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Over-the-air broadcasts are enjoying something of a renaissance in the cord-cutting age. If you live within range of broadcast towers, a simple antenna will deliver basic channels — including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS — in beautiful high definition for free. It's the perfect supplement to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Mohu Channels is a $150 device that tries to bridge the gap between these over-the-air broadcasts and streaming video. It hooks up with any TV antenna — Mohu sells a bunch of them, but you can bring your own — and mashes a broadcast channel guide and streaming video apps into a single interface.

The concept is clever, as it means you don't have to switch inputs or swap remote controls, but Mohu's execution is too sloppy to recommend.

Cursors and keys

Mohu Channels doesn't look like your average media streamer. It's shaped like an elliptic cylinder, with Ethernet, USB, HDMI, and power on one side, and a connection for an antenna on the other. It's sort of an odd design, since there's no way to stand the cylinder upright with everything plugged in, and it's too light to stay anchored to an entertainment center anyway. I think you're supposed to let it hang freely behind your television, which is awkward given the device's size.

The Mohu Channels remote is shaped like a fat candy bar with a full QWERTY keyboard and arrow keys for navigating the interface. The keys are nice and firm, and whenever you press one, a small light in the top-left corner blinks to confirm the input. It's a nice touch that keeps you from constantly looking up at the TV while you type.

Because Mohu Channels is trying to replace all your devices, you can also program the remote to control your television's power and volume — but that's it. You'll still need your old remote to change inputs if you have a Blu-ray player, home-theater PC, or any other devices you want to use.

If the interface required only the keyboard, I'd have no complaints with the remote. But Mohu Channels also lets you move a cursor around the screen by tilting the remote in the direction you want to go. This is a horrible way to control a pointing device, as every twist of your wrist sends the cursor flying, and you need steady hands to select anything while keeping the cursor still. You might wonder why Mohu included the cursor at all, but it's vital for controlling third-party apps. More on that shortly.

The perils of non-TV Android

Mohu Channels' runs a modified version of Android, replacing the typical home screen with something that resembles a TV channel guide. On top is a list of channels you can get over the air, and below that you'll see links to the device's built-in web browser, the Google Play Store, and a handful of built-in apps. You're free to rearrange these channels and apps however you want, and hide any ones you'd rather not see.

 

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