AirTV receiver and remote

The AirTV receiver and remote look great in their box.

The new AirTV receiver, made to integrate Sling TV and other over-the-top sources with over-the-air local channels, was a big hit at CES. As I wrote and photographed at the show, that AirTV allows users to mix OTA channels with Sling channels in a favorites list, making it easy to switch between say, NFL Network and the local CBS station.

Having heard reports of a two-week or longer delay in shipping for some signups, I was so excited to get my AirTV box delivered today. It has a lot of great features, but it does not have that OTA favorites integration. A call to support verified what I experienced, but they assured me that those features will probably arrive in a future software update. How disappointing to be shown one set of features at CES only to find them unavailable 10 days later!

The AirTV starts up as an Android TV box before defaulting to SlingTV. It has full access to the Google Play Store for apps, movies, TV and music. The receiver comes with Sling TV, YouTube, and Netflix preloaded, has Chromecast baked in, and it works fine with Hulu, Crackle, Vudu, ESPN, and any other Android TV app I’ve tried on it. Even Tablo works; that’s another OTA channel source. The remote is a little wide (about 2.25 inches) but has a nice, smooth feel. There’s a small, easy-to-remember set of buttons, including dedicated Google, Netflix, and Sling access. The remote also has a mic for voice commands.

After I plugged in the AirTV OTA Adapter, really a Hauppauge USB dongle, the AirTV recognized it and, after prompting me, scanned in my local channels. It missed the goofy channels that broadcast without identifiers (looking at you, KHDT) and missed my Movies! affiliate, but pulled in the majors just fine.

For me, the biggest disappointment is how awkward it is to watch OTA channels on AirTV. After that initial scan, the only way to access locals is to scroll all the way to the right in the Sling TV guide, click the unlabeled blank TV for “View Over the Air and Internet Channels,” then click Launch. That brings you to the most recently viewed channel; the remote’s up and down buttons will channel up and down. After some trial and error, without the benefit of documentation, I discovered that holding the OK button for a second before releasing it brings up a list of previous channels, plus a link to the OTA program guide. That guide can import OTT live channels such as those in Pluto TV. But clicking the Guide button on the remote drags the user away to the Sling guide and the most recent Sling channel viewed.

The AirTV has two USB ports – presumably one for the OTA dongle and one for an external hard drive. Although it recognizes a USB drive, it will only use it for Android-based storage; there’s still no DVR. Another oddity: my TV set reports that the HDMI signal from the AirTV receiver is just 720p. My other HDMI sources, including my ChannelMaster DVR+, serve up the full 1080p. AirTV is reportedly capable of 4K, but I don’t have any 4K sets to test.

In summary, the AirTV is a perky, responsive TV box. I had hoped to see exactly how well it integrates OTA with OTT only to discover that it hardly integrates them at all. This receiver has a lot of promise, and the right software, especially if it includes a DVR, could make this the perfect cord-cutter device. As it works today, it’s still missing some pieces.

AirWave antenna receiver

The AirWave, as seen in the Mohu suite at CES.

There were so many new and interesting devices available at CES that I hesitate to talk about one that isn’t quite ready yet. A lot of people have been writing about the Mohu AirWave, the latest over-the-air TV receiver meant to integrate with over-the-top streaming services, so I guess I’ll add what I saw.

The AirWave takes a different approach to OTA-OTT integration. Its OTA antenna is built-in, and it uses wifi for streaming access, so it should be particularly attractive to literal cord-cutters. The AirWave provides a nice OTA guide with free program data, plus access to the usual OTT suspects. Once it reaches your shelf, it will be able to send that OTA-OTT signal to just about any viewing device you can imagine, including those that get attached to the TV set.

(Mohu was also excited about its free Untangle.TV web app, which launched in November. Untangle interviews visitors about which shows they want to keep, then illustrates how much money they’d save over cable with strategic OTT subscriptions and a Mohu OTA antenna. Nice to have to show cord-cutter wannabes.)

There’s so much to like about the AirWave that I feel sad about its drawbacks. The first kicker is its release date. The AirWave won’t be available until “late Spring 2017,” and only at Best Buy. The second, as noted by Streaming Media, is that it’s still fairly limited, with only a single tuner and no DVR. That could change by the time the next version comes out, but that’s even more speculative than saying version 1.0 will make it to Best Buy before June 20.

Like so many devices, the AirWave strikes me as about 3/4 of a perfect cord-cutter OTA-OTT solution. There are a bunch of almost-perfect devices out there, and each seems to be missing a different piece.

Tablo tuners and TV guide screen

Tablo’s new guide interface and the new Tablo Live tuner.

At CES this year, there was more over-the-air TV on display than in the previous five years put together. (More about that in a later post.) Many of the products on display worked to combine OTA with other technology to appeal to cord-cutters. Tablo took the opposite approach, introducing new products that provide smaller parts of its flagship’s functionality.

On one hand, there’s the new Tablo DROID Android-Based Software DVR for the Nvideo Shield streaming receiver. From what I could see, the Shield looks blazing fast, and the new striped guide interface was a step up from Tablo’s solid guide for other devices. With a two-tuner USB dongle attached to the Shield, while the user watches one show, the DVR can record a second to the Shield’s storage or to an external USB hard drive. Tablo subscription fees apply, though the press release quoted $4/month rather than the $5/$50/$150 Tablo charges for monthly, yearly, or lifetime subscriptions to its standard receiver.

On the other hand, some folks just want an inexpensive way to distribute OTA TV around the house. The new Tablo Live tuner converts the signal to the local WiFi network and includes the standard Tablo interface with an on-screen 24 hour grid guide, all without subscription fees. Tablo also said it was developing a cloud-based DVR that could be used with the Tablo Live, but it’s still “in the proof-of-concept stage.”

With so many other companies jumping in with IP-connected OTA devices, it’s nice to see Tablo diversify. I wonder which products will catch on by this time next year.

AirTV and Roku receivers

The CES exhibit floor opened today, so I got a chance to actually see AirTV, which I wrote about a couple of days ago. The Dish Network’s subsidiary’s new receiver showed off its promised unification of over-the-air TV and SlingTV, with easy Netflix integration to boot.

To answer my most important question about AirTV, there will be no subscription fee for guide data, at least according to the project developer I talked to at the Dish / Sling booth. (He preferred that I didn’t mention his name.) Not now, and not in the foreseen future. On the other hand, no DVR either. They were still discussing whether to allow local OTA recordings even as Sling rolls out a cloud-based, 100-hour DVR, currently in beta.

AirTV display screenUpon installation, an AirTV with the OTA USB dangle will scan for available channels, then lay them out on a typical (for Sling) left-right program strip. As you can see by this photo, users can mix local channels and Sling pay-TV channels in their favorites list. I also saw a strip of Netflix shows, ordered by previous viewings and suggestions. And I also saw the Google Play Store on-screen button for adding any number of TV-friendly apps.

I’ve got a unit on order, and I’ll write a better review once I can put the receiver through its paces. Till that happens, I’ll know that I was right about at least one thing. The AirTV developer confirmed that the OTA USB dangle is a rebranded Hauppauge.

AirTV screenshot

This screenshot from the AirTV promo video is strangely Denver-specific. Our ABC affiliate Channel 7 broadcasts on both VHF and UHF, causing many over-the-air tuners to list it twice.

Just before the CES exhibit floor opens Thursday, Dish Network announced that its AirTV set-top box is available for purchase. The AirTV player supports SlingTV (another Dish subsidiary), YouTube and Netflix, streaming up to 4K quality. What’s most intriguing at this blog is that, with an optional over-the-air TV dongle, “access to local OTA channels is integrated into the Sling TV channel guide.”

AirTV released a cute promotional video that you can watch here (warning: autoplay). Most viewers won’t see OTA duplicates as shown at 0:35, but the guide information looks good for what we can see of it. Even better is the revelation that the AirTV player will allow users to download Android apps from the Google Play Store. The voice-enabled remote controls “all HDTVs and external audio devices.” Sounds like a great deal at $100 without OTA, and even better at $130 with the OTA dongle, and amazing considering that it includes $50 in SlingTV credit.

There are a lot more details in the press release, but left unaddressed is whether there will be any subscription charges for guide data. That’s going to be one of my first questions when I visit the Dish/Sling booth at CES later this week. Meanwhile, here’s a comparison you won’t find anywhere else: Take a look at the OTA dongle that AirTV sells.

AirTV OTA adapter

Now look at the Hauppauge 1191 USB TV Tuner, available on Amazon and elsewhere.

I guarantee that the AirTV OTA USB dongle is a rebranded Hauppauge like the one FilmOn once sent me. I’ve used that OTA dongle for years when I travel with my laptop to bring in OTA signals. So it’s possible that the AirTV version might be valuable even when you’re not home. I’ll let you know what I find out this week.