A simple • colorful design makes it stand out • Sling TV • Netflix • and local channels in the same guide • Can support 4K content

Not a complete solution out of the box • Setup can be confusing • Not enough storage to fully use Android TV

The AirTV Player is a good option for a very select few Sling TV users who crave local channels and don’t already have them in their plan.

If you cut ties with your cable company and become a cord cutter, do you still have a TV? If that’s a yes, you probably have a Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, or a Chromecast. All of them let you mix and match streaming services on a platform that works best for your needs.

But how do you access local channels if they’re not in your streaming plan? Well, the AirTV Player wants to solve that problem for the most active Sling TV users. Offering a-la-carte packages that include news, sports, and even kids’ TV, Sling TV competes in a busy marketplace against DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV.

AirTV differentiates its players by allowing Sling TV, local channels, and Netflix to live in the same guide. This streaming player has an AirTV software experience (essentially consisting of a custom Sling TV app) running on Android TV with minimal storage. The hope is that Sling TV subscribers who want local channels will see this box as the next logical step. This deep integration is possible since AirTV and Sling TV are brands under Dish

Sling TV makes apps for other players, including the $149 Apple TV and the $29 Roku Streaming Stick, so does it make sense to pay $99 for the AirTV Player? 

Base or bundle?

The bundle includes the AirTV Player, remote, and AirTV Adapter.

The bundle includes the AirTV Player, remote, and AirTV Adapter.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

The first question is whether to get the base player, which has the box and a remote (it’s simply a streaming player), or the bundle, which adds in the AirTV Adapter, necessary for hooking up an antenna to get local channels.

Note: AirTV does not sell the antennas with the streaming player or even separately. To connect an antenna, you’ll need to buy a third party USB-A to coax adapter. If you want the AirTV experience, the best bet is the player and adapter bundle for $129.99.

A colorful box and big remote

AirTV got the design of the box right by keeping it simple.

AirTV got the design of the box right by keeping it simple.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

The AirTV Player stands out from the crowd with a white box with a blue stripe along the bottom that extends to the underside. The top of the player has a glossy embossed AirTV player logo, and the only button is a “Remote” pairing one on the top. A circular LED button and IR sensor sit along the front. 

The big mystery? Why there isn't a coax port on the back.

The big mystery? Why there isn’t a coax port on the back.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

A power, Ethernet, HDMI, digital audio, and two USB-A ports are on the back. Four rubber legs built into the bottom give it some height, and there are also wall-mounting holes.

The colorful design continues onto the remote, which is a minimalist version of bulky. It has more buttons and a wider design than the Apple TV or Fire TV remote by any standard. The blue stripe on the left-hand side has the necessary buttons, like power, a microphone, volume, mute, and home. 

There is a dedicated Sling TV button to go home in the app, along with a circular directional button for navigating the guide on the right-hand side. You also get buttons for info, favorite, guide, back, play or pause, recall, Netflix, and Google. 

Sling TV, Netflix, and OTA Channels under one roof

The AirTV remote has a lot of buttons that can control all aspects of the box.

The AirTV remote has a lot of buttons that can control all aspects of the box.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

You might be having flashbacks to the original Xbox One, which had one guide for organizing all your content. That feature was basically forgotten about in subsequent updates to the gaming console. 

But thanks to a custom Sling TV app, Netflix and local channels live harmoniously in the same interface: Either in a custom row on the homepage, or local channels will have a home in the guide.

For a user who swears by Sling TV, there is an appeal, but why not use a Roku or Apple TV? It all depends on how you weigh the importance of having everything in one guide.

A masked experience

While the interface has an extra set of rows, Sling TV users will be right at home.

While the interface has an extra set of rows, Sling TV users will be right at home.

This experience of one guide for all gets a bit muddled during the setup process. When you first plug it in, an Android TV animation shows up. This is the first clue that this custom Sling TV experience is mostly a launcher over Android TV version 7.0. AirTV has customized the traditional Sling TV app for this streaming player. It becomes the home screen and will integrate Netflix and local channels (if you have the adapter) in the same guide. Hitting home will bring you to the normal Android TV setup.

There is nothing wrong with that on paper, because it will let you get more applications on the box.

The setup steps are that of an Android TV box, and yes, you do need to sign in with a Google account. If an Android device like a smartphone or a tablet is close by, you can share the info with the streaming player to speed up the process.

Next, the player will scan for devices and complete the neat trick of letting the AirTV Player remote have total control — or at least turn the TV it’s connected to on and off, in addition to controlling volume. For surround systems or speakers connected through a receiver, it’s best to plug that optical cable into the AirTV Player so it can control the sound.

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There’s really no reason to get this device if you’re not a Sling TV subscriber. A splash screen appears that reads more like an advertisement for the cord-cutting service and prompts you to sign in. Alternatively, in the event you don’t have an account, a screen pops up prompting you to sign up or start a free trial. From a quick scan around the screen, it doesn’t really seem like there’s a way to bypass this step. 

Next, the Sling TV application appears and it is nearly identical to the apps for other streaming players. However, scrolling down through the rows of suggested content, you will see an option for Netflix in-line.

Underneath are options for Apps, Sling TV Settings, and Device Settings, which allow you to use Android TV to its fullest and customize Sling TV to an extent.

Android TV’s on-screen keyboard is a bit difficult to use, primarily because it’s just a repurposed keyboard meant for a phone. You also get access to the Google Assistant, which in my experience did not work very well. There’s a microphone built into the remote, but I think you’re better off typing in whatever it is you’re looking for. Attempting to use the Google Assistant with either the Google or Microphone button had the box operate alarmingly slowly. 

It was really nice to see the Assistant here. It could have allowed you to control smart home devices and easily navigate the streaming player. Unfortunately, it seems the processor inside can’t really handle this.

Pulling in local channels

The AirTV Adapter seems like an afterthought, as a coax input should be built into the streaming player.

The AirTV Adapter seems like an afterthought, as a coax input should be built into the streaming player.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

Along with Netflix, the other big non-Sling feature is that the AirTV player can pull in local channels in much the same way a traditional TV can access those channels through an antenna. 

The AirTV Player itself doesn’t have a coax input built into the box, so two extra products are required. First, you need an HD Antenna to reach those channels, and second, the AirTV Adapter. 

From here, you plug the antenna into the adapter through the coax end, and the adapter with the USB-A end into the AirTV Player. It seems like a massive oversight that a coax cable isn’t integrated into the streaming player itself.

Once you have the adapter and antenna hooked up (be sure to place the antenna correctly), you navigate to the Sling TV Settings section and scan for channels, just like a regular TV would.

Once the player has found what’s out there in the airwaves, those channels will appear in the guide. These don’t appear in a separate app, but in line with the Sling TV guide — meaning, yes, you need a Sling TV subscription to take advantage of this.

On the plus side, this solves a huge problem faced by cord cutters, who can get local news and other cable channels that aren’t available on other services. So thumbs up to the AirTV Player for this integration.

The Play Store is here, but don’t use it

Access to Netflix and Google apps is just a button press away.

Access to Netflix and Google apps is just a button press away.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

When you click Apps all the way at the bottom of the Sling TV interface, you arrive at a traditional Android TV home screen. You’ll see Google Play music, movies, TV shows, YouTube, the Netflix app, and the all-important Play Store. 

With access to an application store onboard, you’d think you could get the Hulu app and some games, but while the sentiment is good, the experience is poor.

The AirTV Player only has 8GB of storage and 2GB of RAM for processing. There is no option to expand the storage.

With less than 8GB of storage available, the experience of using other applications can be hit or miss. Hulu ran well, but games with high-res graphics probably aren’t the best idea. The storage will run dry quickly, and this controller isn’t an optimal one for more than switching channels.

Hopefully, they can add a software update that opens up expandable storage.

It supports 4K, but content is hard to find

The AirTV Player and Netflix support 4K, but Sling TV doesn't yet.

The AirTV Player and Netflix support 4K, but Sling TV doesn’t yet.

Image: JAKE KROL/MASHABLE

Sling TV doesn’t stream in 4K as of yet, but the AirTV Player supports up to 4K video at 60 frames per second, and the video resolution is pretty stellar. The 4K support is helpful to have, but without Sling doing it, you only have the 4K material on Netflix out of the box.

Sling TV will most likely add 4K content once broadcasters start supporting the format, but that’s probably a few years off, and may require a different plan. 

Since Netflix is on board, you can utilize the streaming service to watch select content in 4K. You will notice a difference, and while this streaming player supports it, you need to have a connection that can handle the stream. 

Does it pay to have more content under one roof?

The AirTV Player is a tough sell.

The AirTV Player is a tough sell.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

The AirTV is a bit of a niche device. It’s nice to mix Sling TV channels with local over-the-air channels and Netflix, but it’s hardly a game-changer as one would think. 

Sling TV has been available on many devices since it debuted years ago, so it’s not the same situation as when the first Roku players with Netflix arrived. No one has any problem getting Sling TV — the issues now are discovering the content you want, and, yes, the integration of local channels.

The AirTV addresses theses problems, certainly, but they’re minor problems, and I’m not sure if they justify buying another device that takes up another HDMI port on your TV or receiver. That goes double now that Sling TV offers plans with local news channels from ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC.

The base AirTV Player with no adapter — meaning it’s merely a Sling TV and Netflix streaming box with limited storage — costs $99.99. A bundle for $129.99 gets you the AirTV Player and an AirTV Adapter, plus the cost of an HD Antenna.

Unless you fit into that small population that still wants local channels, it probably doesn’t equal out.

And sure, AirTV will from time to time offer a Sling TV credit with the purchase of a box — but wouldn’t you rather put $99.99 or $129.99 toward a streaming player that gives you access to more services?

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