January 26, 2019
The AirTV itself is a pretty neat gadget. As of Jan 2019, it has two distinct and incompatible modes, which are confusing due to the overlapping names:
- Use it (the AirTV gadget) with the AirTV app (which you install on your smartphone or TV set-top box). This allows you to pick up Over-The-Air local TV channels, and watch them live on different devices around your house, including iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, Fire TVs, Rokus, Android phones and tablets. This mode is free to use (you will need to create an AirTV account, but it is free). The AirTV app works well on all of the devices I tried it on. Two devices can watch different TV channels at the same time. If you plug a hard drive into the AirTV gadget, it will ignore the hard drive; there is no DVR capability. Setup is relatively easy: install the AirTV app on your phone or set-top device, use the app to find and configure the AirTV gadget, done.
So, if all you want to do is to share a single antenna between multiple TVs (using set-top boxes attached to them) or smart phones / tablets, this works well.
- Use it (the AirTV gadget) with the SlingTV service and app. This mode gives you the ability to record local Over-The-Air TV programs, up to two at once, and share them plus live local TV) to phones and set-top gadgets. However, to get the local-TV-recording capability to work, you must use the SlingTV app to initialize the gadget, and the SlingTV app requires you to have an active SlingTV account, which is currently 25 dollars a month. Note that this does not include the SlingTV "cloud recording" service, which is currently 5 dollars a month additional, but which gives you the ability to "record" / time-shift programs from the regular (non-local) SlingTV service, and which is completely separate from the AirTV gadget. In addition, you need to connect a compatible external 2TB (or smaller) USB hard drive to the AirTV gadget, which it uses to record the local OTA TV programs. I use a WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive, which seems to work just fine. The AirTV gadget will want to format the hard drive after it is connected, and the formatting takes a surprisngly long time; for the 2TB drive I used, it took about 20 minutes. For me, after formatting was complete and the AirTV was mostly working, it acted a bit flaky until I pulled it's power cable and plugged it back in, effectively hard-rebooting the AirTV. After that, it worked fine.
Once the hard drive is formatted, you can use the SlingTV app to browse local TV shows and choose to record individual episodes, all new episodes, or all episodes.
Overall, setup of the AirTV gadget in SlingTV mode is clunky. The instructions are confusing, spread across multiple web pages on the AirTV and SlingTV websites, and some of the web pages are hard to find, notably the page listing external hard drives that are tested and known to be compatible.
Controlling the AirTV gadget and playing back recordings of local TV shows currently works with all of the versions of the SlingTV app except for the AppleTV version. It blends in with the overall SlingTV service nicely. To me, the Amazon Fire TV version of the app seems easiest to use, in particular for browsing for shows to use. On the FireTV, iPhone, and iPad versions of the app, playback of local TV recordings regularly lags or freezes for a moment; it's annoying but not a show-stopper. The iPad version of the app crashes while browsing through programs in "grid" view mode, and you need to repeatedly "drag/hold left" to see listings for shows later in the day / week.
You can connect the AirTV to your home network using either an ethernet cable (not included) or over Wifi. The ethernet option does seem to make playback a little smoother.
As an experiment, I tried to playback a local TV recording on my iPad, and then screen-shared the iPad with my AppleTV. This resulted in the SlingTV app on the iPad (and AppleTV) displaying a message that it was playing back on my "external screen", and not actually showing the TV show.
Note that the AirTV gadget is initialized with either the AirTV app or the SlingTV app, and that's the only one it will work with after that point; It won't talk to the other app. To switch from using one app to the other, you need to do a hard-reset of the AirTV gadget (which involves pushing a paperclip into a hole on the back of the gadget, waiting 15 seconds, and then re-initialize the gadget from scratch using the other app).
Overall, if you just want to share an antenna with multiple TVs / phones / tablets, using the AirTV gadget and AirTV app, it's fairly easy to set up and it works well. The AirTV gadget is a reasonable price for using it this way.
If you want to use the AirTV gadget as a local-TV recorder that's integrated with the monthy-fee SlingTV service, it's a bit clunky to set up and works tolerably well. The AirTV gadget plus external hard drive is a fair price for using it this way, particularly if you're already subscribed to SlingTV.
If you want to use the AirTV gadget as a local-TV recorder without SlingTV, it won't do that. You'll probably want to look at competing products from Amazon or HDHomeRun.