AirTV 2 Review: A good budget OTA DVR for Sling TV users
Using a TV antenna is a great way to get lots of free live TV.
But is there a good way to combine free over-the-air channels into the same channel guide as Sling TV? And what if you want to record TV shows or even live sports on a local NBC or FOX station?
There are some the pros and cons to the AirTV 2, a TV tuner that’s made specifically for Sling TV users. I consider this a budget DVR, but it’s also worth comparing to the more refined Fire TV Recast.
The AirTV2 and the Fire TV Recast have similar features and are among the few over-the-air DVRs where you can integrate over the-air channels and Sling TV into a single menu.
How AirTV 2 works
About 16 million homes in the U.S. are using a TV antenna to get local channels such as ABC, CBS and NBC for free, according to Neilsen. That number is expected to grow.
Just to avoid any confusion, the AirTV 2 is only for recording these local channels you get through a TV antenna. It doesn’t record channels that you get through your Sling TV account.
If you want to record your favorite show on A&E, you can use your free 10 hours Cloud DVR that comes with your Sling TV subscription.
The AirTV2 is a network tuner, so in other words, it’s the same as a TV tuner that is usually found inside of a television. This is a two-tuner model. That means you can record and watch up to two programs at once.
To start using it, you plug in your TV antenna to the back of the tuner, and you scan for channels using the Sling TV app on your smartphone. The AirTV 2 connects to your router over WiFi so it doesn’t need to be near your WiFi router to work. But you do have the option to connect the unit with an Ethernet cord.
Once you’re done setting things up, you can watch your local channels and Sling TV channels on your Roku, Fire TV Stick, NVIDIA Shield, iOS devices Android smartphones and an AirTV mini.
One of the biggest advantages to the AirTV 2 is that there are no monthly fees for channel guide data.
On your Sling TV account, the settings are for a 7-day channel guide. But during my testing, I got only four days worth of data. Your mileage may vary on this. I don’t know if this was a technical issue on my end.
That said, paying for channel guide data can usually run between $3 and $8 per month. And generally, most of the bigger names such as HDHomeRun, Plex and Tablo will give you 14 days of guide data.
How to Record
To record local channels with the AirTV 2, you need to connect an external hard drive. Some people also use a USB 2.0 flash drive as a budget option. Note, it’s 2.0 and not a 3.0 flash drive. The AirTV 2 only supports USB 2.0. I didn’t try the flash drive option, but it’s worth mentioning.
In my tests, I used a hard drive that came from a computer that I put in a case. I also like to use Western Digital and Seagate hard drives for some of my other DVR setups.
A couple quick things to note about connecting a hard drive to the AirTV 2. The Sling TV app on your TV will prompt you to format the entire hard drive, so do not use a hard drive with data that you want to keep.
Regardless of what size hard drive you use, the AirTV 2 will only use up to 2TB of hard drive space. So I wouldn’t go out and buy a 4TB drive for recordings expecting to build up a massive library.
Sling TV isn’t known for a great channel interface. But there are a couple of ways the Sling TV app serves up local channels that I thought were really nice.
One quick way to get to live over-the-air channels is by hitting the up button — or in my case, it’s the top of the wheel on my remote control.
A footer-style menu will pop up. You can move up to the top of the menu and choose over-the-air channels. You will also find your local channels if you were browsing under the all-channels tab. But using the footer and filtering the menu gets you there a lot faster.
There’s another way to just look at your local channels.
Under the guide tab, you can go over to your filter options in the upper hand left corner and choose “over the air”.
By the way, you can also do this if you’re watching TV on your smartphone. Just hit the filter button, and choose over the air channels. That’s really handy if you’re in your garage working on something, and you want to have a college football game playing as background.
Pausing, using a web browser
There are some limitations to using an AirTV 2 that you should really know about if thinking about buying one.
You can’t pause an over-the-air channel with the AirTV 2 when you’re watching live TV. And you won’t see your over-the-air channels if you’re watching Sling TV from a web browser.
If you can live without those two things, and you’re all in with using Sling TV, then I think the AirTV could be a real value for you.
Picture quality: Live TV & Recordings
I recorded a number of college football games from my local ABC stations, and a few other shows like Frontline on PBS.
I was satisfied with the picture quality.
All the live TV that I watched through the AirTV2 was crisp and bright. The picture quality was on par with the Sling TV channels that I was streaming. I don’t think many people would be able to tell the difference between an AirTV 2 and just a TV antenna.
While watching live TV, I did notice that it takes a few seconds for an over-the-air channel to populate the screen. And there is a slight delay from watching those same channels when you just have a TV antenna plugged directly into a TV.
Fast forwarding is done in increments of 30 seconds, and there’s no preview window. Rewinding is done in 10 second increments. Both worked fine.
To get to recordings, I scrolled down to the “My TV” tab. And you’ll see that I have my over-the-air recordings and ones that are saved on through Sling TV Cloud DVR account. Overall, the AirTV 2 worked really well for me, and having local channels and streaming channels in one menu is a really nice feature.
You’re essentially able to replicate a channel lineup that’s similar to cable TV at a much lower price.
AirTV2 vs Fire TV Recast
The $99 price tag for the AirTV 2 is a pretty good deal.
But if you use a Fire TV Stick or any Fire TV device with your TV, then I think the Amazon Fire TV Recast is a better buy.
I say that despite the fact that the Recast costs more than double than an AirTV 2.
Keep in mind that what I’m about to say only applies to Fire TV users. If you have a Roku or a new Google Chromecast, then you can ignore this…
The biggest plus that the Recast has going for it is that it’s an OTA DVR that offers wider channel integration than AirTV 2. So what does that mean?
It means that you can integrate your free over-the-air channels with Sling TV. But if you suddenly decided to switch to Philo, Hulu + Live TV or YouTube TV, you could also have any of those services in a single channel guide as well.
You can pull in channels from free streaming services such as Pluto TV, which gives you a couple hundred channels.
And the Recast supports integrating any Amazon Channels from your Amazon Prime subscription. So you can have live streams from Showtime, or HBO. (Yes, I mean the old HBO .. not HBO Max) and dozens of others. You don’t need an Amazon Prime subscription, but if you do happen to have one, the Recast will have more channels that you can add.
With the Recast, you can pause and rewind live TV, which the AirTV 2 doesn’t do.
The mobile app for the Recast also allows you to watch live TV and recordings from your over-the-air channels when you’re outside your home. I even did it once while stuck at an airport in Aruba. Overall, the Recast is a more polished product.
The two-tuner model costs $230, and includes a 14-day channel guide at no charge.
Is AirTV 2 worth it?
The three key benefits of the AirTV 2 are the integrated channel menu, no monthly fee for channel guide data, and the $99 price tag.
The AirTV 2 is half the price of the new AirTV Anywhere which just came out in September and costs about $200. I haven’t tried the AirTV Anywhere; in part because I was in the middle of this review when it was released.
If I was out to design the best OTA DVR, I would — without question — make sure channel integration was a key feature.
Sure, you want a DVR that can record your local NBC and FOX stations in raw MPEG2. That’s going to give you the best possible picture quality of 1080i at 60 frames per second (assuming it’s available).
The three most important features for any hardware developer in the streaming game right now are ease of use, integration and aggregation.
The AirTV 2 checks off two out of those three boxes and does it at a rock bottom price. It’s an ideal device for someone on a tight budget or someone who is just looking to save some money and sick of paying $150 or $200 a month for a cable TV subscription.
Right now, you can get an AirTV 2 even cheaper than the $99 price on the AirTV web site.
If you prepay for three months of Sling TV, you’ll get an indoor RCA antenna and an AirTV 2 for $49. On that same page, you can find a similar deal for the AirTV Anywhere.
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Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble
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