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AirTV review: AirTV puts old-fashioned antenna TV air, there and everywhere

This SlingTV-friendly box takes an HD antenna signal and streams it anywhere.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
4 min read

When I finally decided to cut the cable TV cord, I knew one thing was certain. I definitely wasn't going to be one of those nutjobs who hang an antenna out of a window in an effort to pull in free over-the-air TV signals.



The Good

AirTV allows you to watch your over-the-air TV channels on any TV in the house, or on tablets and phones outside the home. Easy setup and integration with the SlingTV subscription service. There's no monthly fee for program information, and AirTV costs less than Amazon's Fire TV Recast DVR.

The Bad

If you're not a SlingTV subscriber, much of the appeal fades. Unlike with Recast, AirTV's DVR features requires you to bring an external hard drive.

The Bottom Line

For SlingTV subscribers who want to make it easier to watch local over-the-air channels at home and on the go, AirTV is a one-time investment that works almost invisibly.

Dropping my regular cable service wasn't even a premeditated decision. Upgrading to a completely awesome 65-inch LG OLED meant moving the TV to a different wall, and the coaxial cable from the cable company wouldn't reach unless I added an extension and started routing up to the ceiling and over.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

So, out of sheer laziness, I ditched traditional cable and went with SlingTV as my new live TV provider. Coincidentally, sheer laziness is why I found the AirTV box to be an overall useful and rewarding experience, and went back on my no-antennas pledge. SlingTV and AirTV are both subsidiaries of satellite broadcaster Dish Network, and their respective products are tightly integrated in the Sling TV app.

SlingTV worked for me out of all the available streaming options because it had most of the channels I was looking for, and offered some flexibility with tiers and pricing. But it was missing most of the broadcast channels, offering just NBC and Fox in my area. And none of the streaming services have PBS stations, which was a reason I waited so long to make the switch.


People's Court or Murder, She Wrote? 

Screenshot/Dan Ackerman

AirTV adds those live over-the-air channels back in -- at least the ones available in your location -- and, more importantly, just sticks them in with the rest of the SlingTV lineup in the SlingTV app. Being as lazy as I am (see above), that part is key. I can barely be bothered to launch one app to watch TV, flipping to another app for a different set of live channels sounds like a real drag.

OTA meets OTT

The AirTV itself is a simple black box, about the size of an old VHS tape, with coaxial, Ethernet and USB connections on the back. You supply your own antenna, typically of the flat HDTV style that can be found for under $50, and connect it to the AirTV box via its coaxial cable. As far as hardware setup goes, you're done.

I then used the AirTV app (via iOS in my case) to connect the unit to my Wi-Fi, and synced it my account on the SlingTV app. After a quick channel scan, about a dozen new over-the-air channels were seamlessly integrated into my channel lineup. As a test, I flipped on the big-screen version of the Sling app, on my TV via Nvidia Shield.

All the over-the-air channels where there, and looked at least as good, if not better, than the Sling-provided cable channels. I did run into a little occasional stuttering, but that may have been because of my suboptimal antenna placement -- I literally just stuck it in the nearest window. Some channels showed up twice, representing duplicated signals in my area. 

My bigger issue is that the combination of SlingTV and AirTV conspired to put most of my OTA channels at the very end of my channel guide by default, rather than at the beginning, where one would expect them on a traditional cable box setup. I could filter by just Over the Air to get to them directly, but I found myself mostly forgetting they were even there.

The AirTV doesn't allow you to record programs out of the box -- it's not a DVR, like the more-expensive Amazon Fire TV Recast. Instead, you can connect an external hard drive to the AirTV box and use that for OTA recordings. Frankly, with so much content available via on-demand apps for different channels, I don't see a lot of utility in recording much TV anymore, so I didn't try the DVR functionality. For people who demand a DVR, however, the Recast is probably a better choice -- see our full review for details.

Those over-the-air channels also go along with the Sling app on other devices. I could call it up on my phone and watch live over-the-air TV, with the signal originating from my at-home antenna (unlike SlingTV's streaming channels, however, it doesn't work via a browser). You can also watch through the AirTV app, but that's a standalone solution that will just further fragment your media viewing experience.

Now there are two of them

There's also another version of the AirTV, called the AirTV Player . It's for people who want to easily play OTA channels, but don't have a Roku . Or Fire TV . Or Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nvidia Shield, any kind of smart TV setup, and so on. You get the idea. It's probably a pretty small subset of TV watchers, and probably not those most likely to hook up an antenna and route it through an external interface box.

This setup, in a very different-looking white box, uses a coaxial-to-USB adapter to connect to your antenna, and sends it via HDMI to a TV. Besides using the SlingTV app, it also supports Netflix, YouTube and Google Play, making it a useful streaming media box -- but at $129 (currently $99 on sale), it's no match for a Roku or Fire TV Stick , which can easily be found for under $40.

The AirTV presents an interesting conundrum when it comes to recommending it or not. I found the setup painless and intuitive, but I didn't love how my OTA channels got buried within the SlingTV app. The DVR pitch is a bit of a smoke screen, as it requires you to BYO hard drive.

But the most important thing may be your status as a SlingTV subscriber. The two services are so tightly tied together that it makes perfect sense if you're already a Sling subscriber (which I am), but it's a tough sell if you're not. 



Score Breakdown

Design 7Ecosystem 8Features 7Performance 9Value 8