Sezmi to Broadcast Cable TV Over the Air

For decades cable operators have had us by the, ahem, you know. There were choices -- cable or satellite -- but we still had to adhere to expensive packages that had too many channels we just didn't care about. Then Hulu, Netflix streaming, and Apple TV came on the scene, and opened our eyes to true media customization. You could watch what you wanted, when you wanted, and you either didn't have to pay at all or you got to choose what you wanted to pay for.

The problem though, neither of these options has proven to be a true alternative to cable TV -- no one likes to be the only one a few days behind of the water cooler chatter. A new startup hopes to help bring us all up to speed, while still letting us customize what we watch and when, for a fraction of the cost. The best part: They hope to do it all by using digital TV airwaves no one seems to want anymore.

Last week we had the pleasure of visiting the headquarters of Sezmi, a Northern California based tech company, which today releases its cable alternative to Los Angeles tenants. Here's how the scheme works.

Once you buy the company's tuner and antenna for $300 you'll be able to subscribe to their cable offerings, which come in two, ridiculously inexpensive packages. The first, called Sezmi Select, gives you local broadcast channels such as ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CW, PBS, Azteca, Telefutura, Telemundo and Univision, plus access to an on-demand store with free and pay-as-you-go movies and television shows. This package costs $5/month.

The second package, Sezmi Select Plus, gives you access to those channels plus basic cable channels like Bravo, Animal Planet, Comedy Central, SyFy, TLC, VH1, TBS, and Discovery for $20/month. Considering that most cable operators start their packages at around $60/month (after that sweet 6 month deal) plus you won't need to wait for the cable man to show up, it's pretty impressive.

Now if you're wondering about that $300 tuner and antenna, here's the scoop.

Pin it button big

Sezmi developed an advanced indoor television antenna that pulls in HD broadcast channels plus the company's cable channel line-up over the air. The antenna, which looks more like a small subwoofer than those old rabbit ears we all remember, works so well that Sezmi co-founder Buno Pati told Unplggd he was able to get channels at a demo he did on the 6th floor of 30 Rock (as in Rockefeller Center, not the show) within a conference room in the middle of the building (meaning, no windows anywhere).

Pin it button big

The antenna connects to a tuner plugged in to your television. It includes an HD Media Recorder with a terabyte of storage that can record and save up to 1,400 hours of programming. It'll even record shows for you based on what you've previously watched, so you can discover new programming you may not have known about. You can also set up the tuner so that each person in your house has their own account. Press the button designated for your account on the remote and you'll access all your content, without having to flip through hours and hours of SpongeBob your kids have recorded.

While popular cable channels are accessed over the air via the antenna, the tuner will be able to use your broadband network to access more selective channels like HBO and Showtime, which you'll pay separately for. You'll also be able to download podcasts onto your tuner and watch YouTube videos via the tuner. Movie studios like Sony Pictures, Paramount, Lionsgate, and Universal offer movies on demand, some of them available the same day as their DVD release. Everything is priced in a similar way to iTunes and Amazon's VOD (about $2 a show and $3-4 a movie).

The best part? To get started all you have to do is buy and sign up for this at your local Best Buy, head home, and plug it all in yourself. No more 5 hour windows to meet your cable guy. When Sezmi beta tested this with a small market in LA late last year, 100 percent of the participants were able to successfully hook up their Sezmi packages. 75 percent of those people were able to get it working within 30 minutes. Makes us wonder if even our mom could get this going.

Now here's the bummer. For now, Sezmi is only available to Los Angeles residents. They hope to go nationwide, only with the Select service by late Spring. Select Plus will be available outside of LA, though it's unclear exactly where, starting this summer. Like with other cable companies, where you live will determine if you'll have access to Sezmi. If you live somewhere that gets no over-the-air broadcast coverage, you're probably out of luck.