Eric is always on the lookout for creative products and ideas that make life better and might even help save a little money.
AirTV and Sling
A while back my wife and I decided we were done with our expensive satellite contract. I set out to replace it with a solution that would allow us to watch what we wanted, without paying for a bunch of things we didn’t. While our setup has evolved over time, the current pairing of AirTV and Sling TV has been the best answer yet.
Using these two services we are able to see the television we want, including local news, regional sports and some of our favorite cable channels. We pay less each month, and we aren't tied into a contract.
To be clear, if you are looking at going totally free you do have options, but this isn’t the way. I had to get a few pieces of gear to make this work. However, I have found that this setup will pay for itself many times over with the money saved on satellite or cable each month. And, we can quit or switch to something else at any time.
This article is intended as a review of AirTV and Sling TV when used as a unit. I’ve also included a look at how I set the whole thing up.
Your exact method will probably differ from mine in one way or another, but this will give you an overview. Be sure to follow the instructions that come with any device you choose.
You'll also want to put a little thought into whether or not my setup will work for you. For us it has been cost-effective, but you'll need to decide if it is the best option for you based on your needs and budget.
One of the great things about my setup is that I can use it on as many HD-capable televisions as I want. With satellite we had a monthly cost for each receiver. Now, for each TV in our house we have a little Roku unit attached. They control the content we watch, including Sling and AirTV.
The Roku is a device that lets you stream content from the web and view it on your television. There are few similar devices out there, but I’ve always liked the features Roku provides the best. There are also several different Roku models, and we’ve had a few over the years.
A few months ago we upgraded to the Roku Ultra, the big daddy of their lineup. It’s faster and more powerful than any unit we’ve used so far. It also controls the TV (including volume) so you only need one remote.
There are hundreds of channels you can add on any Roku in an instant, and many different services you can use along with it. You can sign up for premium streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. You can watch YouTube videos, or listen to music with Pandora.
You can even add the channel for Sling TV, which you will need to do in order to complete this setup.
Sling TV is a internet-based service that lets you stream television in real time. When Sling hit the scene a few years ago we no longer had to rely on cable or satellite service to see channels like ESPN, CNN or the History Channel.
It doesn’t have everything, but it does have most of the channels that were important to us on the satellite service. As importantly, it doesn’t have a lot of nonsense that we didn’t want to pay for.
You can sign up for Sling for as little as $25 per month, as of this writing. You can go with a package with more channels for a little bit more, and you can add still more channels ala cart for a reasonable monthly cost (we have the sports package).
The only problem with Sling is that, while you get lots of cable channels, you don’t get your local broadcast channels. So, if you want to see the local news or your regional NFL football games you are out of luck.
I solved that problem in the past by hooking up an HD antenna outside and running coaxial cable to our living room television. We get something like 27 over-the-air channels in HD and completely free.
You likely have free access to your local channels as well. All you need to receive them is the right antenna and an HD-capable television.
The thing is you need to wire your house with coax cable running to every television where you want to receive over-the-air signal. You’ll also have to control the television and Roku device separately, with separate remotes.
It’s cost effective, but also a bit of a pain. This is where AirTV comes in.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could just run cable from the antenna to a central location and then broadcast it wirelessly to receivers around your house, like you do with internet service?
That’s exactly what AirTV does. You don’t need to run ugly wires around your home, or pay someone to wire your house. You just need to get a coax cable from your antenna to your AirTV receiver.
You have a couple of different options. There is an AirTV Player you can get if you aren’t interested in the Sling part of this equation.
But, in my opinion, there is a better way. You can actually integrate AirTV and Sling, so you only need one remote to control everything, and your over-the-air channels even appear in your Sling program lineup. In other words, just like you’d see with cable or satellite TV.
That’s what I wanted, so I went with the basic AirTV unit that allowed me to set things up in that manner. I run the cable from my antenna straight into the AirTV unit, then connect AirTV to my internet router via an Ethernet cable. From there, the signal is sent wirelessly to any Roku device in the house.
It’s a beautiful setup, but you do have to go through a few steps to get it going.
You can go with just AirTV if you only want local channels, or just Sling if you don't care about local channels, or just an HD antenna for that matter. However, using the following setup I get an experience similar to cable or satellite without the big monthly contract. I had to spend a couple of bucks to get started, but after that we have saved money every month.
To do this you'll need:
- HD Antenna: There are a lot of different models out there. The one you choose will depend on how far away you are from broadcast towers, and what kind of landscape you have around you. Some people may be able to get away small, indoor antennas, where others may need huge arrays mounted on their roofs. We are 20 miles or more from our local towers and use the Antennas Direct ClearStream 2V with good success. I have had it mounted on my deck for several years and it has held up really well.
- Coax Cable: The length of cable you’ll need will depend on the distance between your antenna and your AirTV unit. Remember that signal degrades over distance, so choose the shortest cable you can get away with.
- AirTV Unit: Again, I went with the basic unit so we can integrate it with Sling. If you only want over-the-air channels, you may prefer the Player version.
- Ethernet Cable: You’ll need a network cable that spans the distance between your AirTV unit and your router. (Tip: I recommend placing your AirTV unit close to your router so you don't have to use a long cable here.)
- Modem/Wireless Router: If you have wireless internet at your home you already have one of these.
- Roku Device: You have several options. As I said, we use the Roku Ultra and I’m really happy with it, but there are a few different models to choose from.
- HDMI Cable: For connecting your Roku to your television.
- HD-capable Television: You probably already have one of these, but check to be sure before going any further.
- Smartphone: Yes, you’ll need a smartphone. More on that in a bit.
Once I connected everything as per the diagram above it was time to get the system working. It is very important follow the directions for the AirTV and Roku devices when setting everything up. It takes a little time and patience.
I already had a Sling account and got the channel working on my Roku. The next step was to integrate AirTV and Sling.
I had to do this through my smartphone by adding the Sling TV app. Under Settings in the app there is a section about over-the-air channels.
It walked me through scanning for and setting up my local channels. It is very easy in theory, but I wish I could say it went smoothly. I had to tweak and restart the process a couple of times until I got it right.
That’s probably partially due to user (me) error, but it’s also important to remember that this is a new thing with some kinks to be worked out. I have a feeling it will only get better with time.
Once setup is complete you can watch TV on your smartphone, which is cool I guess. Switching back to Sling on the Roku, it updated the channel listing to include the local channels I found with my scan.
Criticisms and Concerns
I love this setup and can’t say enough good things about it. However, I have a handful of minor criticisms and I couldn’t consider this an honest review if I didn’t mention them.
First, I find it really annoying to have to use a smartphone to set this up. There has to be an easier way, where setup can all be accomplished with the Sling channel on the Roku itself or on the Sling website. I think both Sling and AirTV might want to consider an alternative method.
Also, there are many people who might want to use AirTV but don’t even own smartphones. I was actually unable to use the AirTV app with mine for some reason, but thankfully I could use the Sling App to complete setup.
My second issue is more of a tip than a complaint. I have found that when the power goes out to my router (like during a storm) it gets confused when it boots back up and it doesn’t send wireless signal to my Roku devices.
This seems to be because I have the AirTV wired to the router. If I unplug the network cable and reboot the router I can get the Rokus working again, and then plug AirTV back into the router. A few times I had to rescan local channels, but usually this is all it takes to fix it.
So, will this method work for you? I have no idea. You need to crunch the numbers and decide if this is a cost-effective system for your particular situation.
It works great for us. Using AirTV and Sling TV together I can see all of my local channels, plus many cable channels. Truthfully, if it wasn’t for sports and local news I could probably get by with the Roku and Netflix.
But I do need to see sports, especially NFL and college football. And, it is good to have access to live, local news. This was one of my main concerns with ditching satellite TV. With AirTV and Sling TV plus the sports package I can see all the sports I need plus a bunch of cable channels we really love.
There are a few channels we like that Sling doesn’t have, but not many. Overall, this is a cost-effective way to get what we want, without paying for a bunch of stuff we don’t.
It appears that live, streaming television is the way of the future. With the success of Sling TV, companies like DirectTV and YouTube are catching on and developing their own services. I have no interest in switching at this point, but who knows what the future brings?
More competition, and more choices for consumers, is a good thing.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on April 08, 2019:
@John - The AirTV will connect wirelessly with the Roku, but I have ours hardlined into the router. I'm not sure if that bypasses its wireless capability or not.
John Coviello from New Jersey on April 06, 2019:
Interesting setup. I know a lot of people that are ditching the traditional cable box or satellite service for cheaper streaming options. I am thinking of doing the same, but I would skip the Air TV part. There are concerns about negative health effects from wireless frequencies in a home produced by wifi. I assume Air TV would be putting out strong wireless frequencies and would be concerned about it.