It’s a concern I’ve heard from many would-be cord cutters: How do I get local channels?
The answer is you use an indoor antenna that hooks up to your TV, but it’s not a foolproof solution. Reception can be spotty and you still might not get all desired channels.
So I was excited when Dish Network’s Sling TV streaming service asked if I wanted to test drive their new AirTV technology. Basically, it’s a way to get the antenna into the best possible spot and use your home’s Wi-Fi network to beam the signal wirelessly to your TV.
That signal, in turn, allows you to watch local channels within the Sling TV interface, just as you can watch cable and premium channels.
Set up is fairly easy. You connect an antenna (not included) to the AirTV box, and then you use the Sling app on your smartphone to link the box to the streaming player of your choice. AirTV works with Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and other players.
Both are thin, light and easy to attach to a wall. They’re also reversible, so you can have the white side or the black side facing out.
I attached the ClearStream Flex to the AirTV box and then made the wireless connection to my Roku player. So far so good.
Then I placed the antenna and box in the most out-of-the-way spot possible but still near a window for decent reception. No local channels.
I proceeded to experiment with the antenna and box in every room of the house. The only workable location was in the west-facing kitchen. This allowed me to access most (but not all) of the dozens of channels available. CBS, NBC and Fox came in just fine. ABC was AWOL.
However, now I faced aesthetic issues. The AirTV box needs to be plugged in for power. The antenna required about six feet of heavy coaxial cable to get from the box to a spot near the ceiling that produced the best reception.
I also needed to use the antenna’s signal booster, which increases the range. It plugged into the AirTV box via a USB port, which necessitated another wire.
When I had everything in place, I was getting my local channels but I also had black cords sprawling all over the kitchen counter.
My wife was at yoga at the time. I didn’t need to open any chakras to know she wouldn’t stand for this when she got home.
The verdict: AirTV will be great for some cord cutters but not all. It depends in large part on over-the-air reception in your neighborhood.
If you’re interested, first get an antenna that you can hook directly up to your TV (you’ll probably want one anyway; prices range from about $40 to $60 for a decent but not extravagant antenna).
Try moving around the room facing in different directions to get an idea how well you can access local channels. Even if you just get one or two doing this, that tells you there’s hope.
Only then think about splurging $120 on AirTV, which can pull in everything.
But make sure in advance you have a spot where it and the antenna can be tucked out of sight. Sling recommends a closet or an attic.
If that’s doable, this is some really impressive technology.