Finally finding a use for the second USB port in back, and answering my occasional complaint here, Sling announced yesterday that it has added a DVR for over-the-air TV to its AirTV Player. It’s just a beta for now, but it’s open to all AirTV Player users, at least the ones who hear about it. I first noticed it in a story by Jeff Baumgartner at Multichannel News, although I later found the press release at PR Newswire (registration required). But I never saw an email from Sling or AirTV about it.
As its information page explains, there are still plenty of caveats to this early OTA beta. The USB hard drive has to be fast enough to handle HD recording, which means that most portable hard drives are good but many thumb drives are too slow. Viewers can’t watch a recording until it’s finished. Rescanning for local channels removes any pending recording requests. Buffered viewing, with pausing and rewinding, still isn’t available for live OTA TV. And the the AirTV uses a single OTA tuner, so viewers can’t watch one OTA show while recording another.
Speaking of that tuner, I was amused by AirTV’s illustration (shown right) of where to plug in the USB hard drive. Looking at the unit from behind, they suggest the leftmost USB port, although mine is working fine in the right port. What’s missing from that picture is AirTV’s OTA tuner, which is a Hauppauge dongle that plugs into the other USB port. If you don’t have them both attached, you don’t have an OTA DVR.
In about 12 hours of testing, I couldn’t find any big problems yet. OTA recordings line up with cloud DVR recordings of Sling programming. They also populate the Continue Watching ribbon as appropriate. The guide appears to be Rovi-based, and shows everything scheduled for about six days forward. I couldn’t find anything through Search, but I can scroll over to any show I already know about, and the AirTV Player will allow series recording like a TiVo Season Pass.
This Local Channels DVR Service is free during the beta period, matching Channel Master’s DVR+ (which still supports Sling at the moment) and Stream+ (which “will be shipping here any day”). Despite the limitations of a single tuner, it’s a big step up for the AirTV Player. We’ll see whether the finished product will be enough to make it the cord-cutters’ favorite.