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.

PhoenixBTV live TV gridPhoenixBTV launched earlier this month, offering a beta of 22 Phoenix area over-the-air TV channels via its Android and iPhone apps, but only for registered viewers physically present in the Phoenix market. Last week, the company added a web site to watch via browser. Freed from device-level location checking, PCs with a Phoenix VPN can tune in to see exactly what PhoenixBTV is serving up.

As you can see by my screenshot (click it to enlarge), PhoenixBTV came up with a pretty decent interface and grid, although some of the program info isn’t accurate. I’m surprised that it lets viewers examine shows over a week in advance; does it mean a cloud DVR is coming, or do they think viewers will find appointment viewing in the future?

Although the lineup is heavy on shopping, Spanish-language, and religious programming, there are a few channels that might interest secular English speakers. Independent KAZT leads off with daytime paternity-type talk shows, prime time game shows and nighttime sitcoms. There are the movies of ThisTV, plus old Luken Communications favorites Retro TV, REV’N, and Tuff TV, which Luken helped launch but doesn’t own any more. Okay, that’s only five channels, but what do you want for a free beta?

I’ve whipped up a TitanTV channel lineup that shows almost all of PhoenixBTV’s offerings. (It’s missing KPHE6 44.6.) To see that lineup, create an account or log in to TitanTV.com, click the tool bag (next to the plus sign) to manage channel lineups, click the Create Lineup from Token button, then in the copy and paste this token: 7MxSYp7G5dlpSHgggcXn4GwPmzFADnGfTKzFbZ2JAti!LJvfdrlGNA and click Save.

As I wrote last time, I hope that PhoenixBTV has its programming permissions in order. For now at least, anyone with a computer in the Phoenix area can go check it out.