With the plethora of TV-streaming options, getting all of your content in one place can be a chore. At CES this week, Dish unveiled the AirTV: a 4K set-top box that handles Sling TV, Netflix, Android TV for other streaming apps and over-the-air channels. The $130 device also uses the Sling TV guide to organize all of that content. It also includes a remote with dedicated buttons for those aforementioned streaming libraries. I spent some time with the AirTV on the show floor to see how well it really works.
Let's start with the remote. The accessory connects to the main box via Bluetooth and offers built-in voice controls. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to test those voice cues at a noisy CES booth. Since Dish owns Sling TV, it's not surprising that there's a dedicated button for that service at the top of the remote. It also makes sense given that the Sling TV interface is the main menu for the AirTV Buttons that provide direct access to both Netflix and Android TV are down at the bottom. All the usual controls for guide, info, volume, play/pause and navigation are here. There's also a button to activate the voice feature.
The AirTV box itself is about the size of an Apple TV or Roku box so it won't take up much space near your television. There's a button for pairing the remote up top, easily accessible when you need it. Around back you'll find ports for power, Ethernet, HDMI and USB. That USB socket is where you'll plug in the OTA adapter to pipe in those free channels you receive. There's a bundle that includes that add-on for $130 or it can be purchased separately for $40. An AirTV box on its own costs $100 and is available now. The 4K compatibility means you can pull in content from Netflix and YouTube in addition to any Android TV apps that support the standard.
Having all of that content in one place is great, but it only adds to the headache if it isn't neatly organized. The Sling TV guide on AirTV does just that, putting Netflix-like rows of options divided up by service. For each one, horizontal scrolling allows you to flip through each service's options. What's more, the OTA channels are listed in the guide as well, so you can easily jump from The Crown to the local news when the time comes.
You won't need a paid Sling TV account to use the device despite it using the cord-cutting service's interface. You will need a free account, though, and even if you aren't interested in Sling's lineup, you can still access OTA channels and other streaming apps. Of course, Dish is hoping you'll commit to its service as that makes the device more compelling. It also adds a monthly subscription fee that varies based on the package(s) you select.
From our short time with the AirTV, the only real criticism is the color scheme. While most streaming boxes look to blend in on your shelf with simple black or white outer shells, Dish's new television gadget looks more like something Nintendo would have made a few years back with the combination of white and bright blue. If you don't mind the look, the AirTV is a handy hub for your streaming and OTA content.Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.