The marketplace for streaming TV dongles looks pretty crowded, with solid offerings such as Google's Chromecast Amazon's Fire TV Stick and Roku's Streaming Stick. Is there room for one more? Dish thinks so, and launched its 4K HDR AirTV Mini this week hoping it has enough of a point-of-difference to turn heads – and open wallets.
Firstly we need to discuss the primary point-of-difference that AirTV has over other streaming gadgets, and that's the ability to stream your local over-the-air (also known as free-to-air) TV signal to your TV. At first glance that seems a little crazy, after all, why would you buy a device to watch TV you already get for free? Simple. Because with the AirTV setup, you can also stream your local TV to every phone, laptop and tablet in your home, record live TV with a DVR and even access your local TV shows remotely via an app.
The other attractive feature of AirTV is that it aggregates your live TV and your streaming services like Netflix, Sling, AndroidTV, Google Play and YouTube into the one interface (Sling TV) on your TV and devices. So, no more switching the source inputs on your TV. It's also Chromecast and Google Assistant enabled.
Before we move on, it should be noted that in order to be able to stream your local OTA TV throughout your home, you can either use the Locast app (if it's supported in your area) or, purchase the dual-tuner AirTV box (US$79.99) that's sold separately. This is the box where you'd plug your TV antenna into (you'll need one of those too) – and attach a USB-drive for the DVR features.
Once you have the AirTV box set up in partnership with your AirTV Mini dongle, you're good to go. You can now stream live TV to all your devices in the house – and to any HDMI-enabled TV with an AirTV Mini (or AirTV Player unit) attached to it. Okay, this may seem like a lot of devices to buy if you've non-smart TVs in every room of the house, but it might beat splitting your antenna signal and running coax cables through all of your walls.
Thankfully, the remote that comes with the AirTV Mini is a grown-up-looking departure from the almost toy-like remote that comes with the AirTV Player. A simple, candy-bar format in black finish, it has dedicated buttons for Netflix, Sling TV and Google Assistant, and is able to control TVs and sound bars.
For those who don't care at all for local TV, the AirTV Mini will still work with the supported streaming services (and Chromecast) via the Sling TV interface (and also the free Sling TV app for your devices). In this instance, the choice between the AirTV Mini and other dongles might seem less clear. For many, it will come down to ease-of-use, the on-screen interface (Sling in the case of the AirTV Mini), the quality of the hardware and the remote. At $79.99 it's a little more than the Roku Streaming Stick + and the Fire TV Stick 4K, but Dish feels it's worth every penny claiming a speed and memory advantage over its rivals.
"The AirTV Mini is a powerhouse streaming stick with more memory and a faster processor than anything else in the category," says Mitch Weinraub, director of product development for AirTV. "When combined with the AirTV network tuner and the Sling TV app, the Mini delivers a superior streaming experience, especially for Slingers who want premium features in a small package at an affordable price."
For the technically inclined, the AirTV Mini is powered by a Quad Core Cortex-A53 CPU in conjunction with an ARM Mali-G31 MP2 GPU, runs Android TV 9.0, incorporates VP94K decoding (4K YouTube anyone?), has 2 GB of RAM and 8 GB of eMMC Flash storage. And to avoid interruptions in your streaming, it connects to your home network via 2x2 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The AirTV Mini is available online now at $79.99, but for a limited time, new and eligible existing Sling TV customers can grab the AirTV with an indoor antenna for free when they prepay for three months of Sling TV (at $25/month or more).
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