Review: The AirTV 2 – A Better Broadcast TV DVR Than Tablo?

Dec 4, 2022

When the makers of Tablo DVR got rid of their lifetime channel guide fee, leaving the monthly (or yearly) fee as the only option to get their great channel guide, I decided to take a new look at the competition because I hate recurring fees. At the top of my list was the AirTV, because it has no fees for the channel guide! Could this be the new best DVR for the masses?

The AirTV 2 is a two-tuner broadcast TV tuner that connects to your home network by Wi-Fi or Ethernet. The addition of an external USB hard drive (not included) allows viewing of live TV or recorded shows on a website or on the Sling app for Roku, Fire TV, Android, iOS, and other platforms. The Air TV’s sister product, AirTV Anywhere has an internal 1TB drive.

AirTV works in conjunction with the Sling app, but you don’t need a paid Sling subscription to use it; you can sign in for free. Note that SLING TV L.L.C. and AirTV L.L.C. are wholly owned subsidiaries of DISH Network Corporation.

In this article, I’ll delve into the AirTV 2 and how it compares with the popular Tablo DVR to see which one is the better DVR for you!

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. I test or research each product or service before endorsing. This site is not owned by any retailer or manufacturer. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Physical Design: AirTV Wins!

The AirTV 2 is a small plastic box that stands vertically. The box includes a wall-wart power supply and quick start guide. As I mentioned, you need to supply a USB hard drive to do any recording.

The AirTV 2 box has ventilation holes near the bottom and at the top of the unit. I like this design because it allows cool air to flow in from the bottom and exit out the top. The Tablo, on the other hand, sits horizontally and has been known to have overheating problems. I also like the smaller footprint of the AirTV 2.

Because of the smaller footprint and better thermal design, I’d say the AirTV 2 wins in this category.

AirTV 2 Rear Panel
AirTV 2 Rear Panel

Ease of Setup: Tie

If you’ve ever set up a Ring doorbell on Wi-Fi, the process is very similar to setting up the Air TV 2 on Wi-Fi. First, you need to install the Sling app on your phone and create a free account. Next, you’ll have to get onto the Air TV 2’s Wi-Fi network and enter your Wi-Fi network’s password (the app will guide you through this).

The Sling iPhone app going through the setup process
The Sling iPhone app going through the setup process
The Sling iPhone app showing I got 169 broadcast TV channels
The Sling iPhone app showing I got 169 broadcast TV channels

Or, you could set up the AirTV 2 using wired Ethernet, but I prefer Wi-Fi to avoid having to run long cables around my home, and to allow me to put it close to my antenna, not next to my router.

Set up went smoothly for me, except for when I entered the wrong Wi-Fi password. The app just hung. When I re-started it and entered the correct password, it worked fine.

After you do a channel scan, you’re ready to start watching live TV assuming you’ve connected an antenna.

Overall, the setup process was similar to the process of setting up a Tablo, so I say this category is a tie.


Tuner Quality: AirTV Wins!

The AirTV’s tuner is excellent. My AirTV 2 picked up a whopping 169 channels in Los Angeles. More importantly, it was able to find VHF channel 13 and its sub-channels (where I watch Star Trek on Heroes and Icons), which my Tablo wasn’t. So, that is a big win for AirTV! The tuner brings in more channels than the Tablo when connected to the exact same antenna in the exact same location!

Ease of Watching Live TV: Tie

The Sling app offers some good free streaming content in addition to your broadcast TV channels. I found their free channels similar to Pluto TV’s. I was stoked to be able to watch The Walking Dead on one of these channels.

The channel guide is what you would expect with each row being a different channel and the columns being times. If you view all channels, the streaming channels are mixed in with your broadcast channels in the channel guide, making them hard to distinguish. Luckily, there is a “Locals” tab that allows you to see only your broadcast TV channels. The TV station’s logo is shown to identify the channel, which is great, but I wish it also displayed the actual channel number as well.

AirTV 2 channel guide on desktop
AirTV 2 channel guide on desktop
AirTV channel guide on phone
AirTV channel guide on phone

As with the Tablo, it takes a long time (over 5-6 seconds) to switch from viewing one channel to another. With these devices, it’s best to just look at the channel guide to decide what to watch rather than to surf.

If you have a hard drive connected to your unit, you are able to pause live TV (contrary to what is said in some other reviews of AirTV; they’re probably using it without the hard drive).

I’m going to call this one a tie with Tablo, even though Tablo does not offer free streaming channels, since you can get free streaming channels using other services like Pluto TV. AirTV loses points for not displaying the channel number in the guide.


Picture Quality: Tie

This is a somewhat tough category to judge, because the AirTV picture quality is pretty good.

When comparing the AirTV picture to the picture on my Samsung TV connected directly to an antenna, the AirTV picture seems more blurry with the artifacts (which I believe are in the original broadcast signal, not from the viewing device) more noticeable. Granted, this could be simply due to the Samsung doing more visual tricks like adjusting contrast. I’m calling this a tie with Tablo.

Screenshot on my Samsung TV with antenna connected directly
Screenshot on my Samsung TV with antenna connected directly
Screenshot on my computer watching AirTV
Screenshot on my computer watching AirTV

Hard Drive Compatibility: Tablo Wins!

To record, you need to attach a USB hard drive. That’s where I had my first problem. I’d been using a 160GB Maxtor USB hard drive with my Tablo for years with no problems. Unfortunately, when I connected this drive to the AirTV 2, it said the drive did not meet the minimum read and write speeds required.

Air TV 2 message saying my USB hard drive did not meet minimum requirements
Air TV 2 message saying my USB hard drive did not meet minimum requirements

Next, I tried using the 500GB Western Digital hard drive that I got from my Fire TV Recast, and that worked fine.

The Air TV website DVR page provides a short list of drives that were verified to work with the Air TV, which are as follows at the time of writing:

  • Western Digital My Passport
  • Western Digital Easy Store
  • Western Digital Elements
  • Western Digital My Book
  • Seagate Expansion

It’s a pity that it didn’t work with the Maxtor drive that did work with the Tablo. If you want to use an old USB hard drive, it’s more likely to work with a Tablo than with an AirTV 2.

Also, the AirTV 2 will only use the first 2TB of drive space of your hard drive. In other words, if you plug in a 5GB drive, it will only use 2TB of it. Tablo will work with drives up to 8TB in size and will use all of that space.

So, Tablo is the winner here.


Ease of Recording and Discovering New Content: Tablo Wins!

Let’s talk about how to record shows. On AirTV, you go to the channel guide and hover over the round record button. If the show is a series, then you’ll have the option to that episode only, new episodes, or new episodes and reruns.

That’s fine and works as it should. But, Tablo has a killer feature where you can see a Netflix-style grid of all of the TV shows or movies coming in the next two weeks. This is invaluable for finding new shows or movies to record and it reminds me of browsing Blockbuster Video in the old days:

Tablo app showing free upcoming movies on broadcast TV.
Tablo app showing free upcoming movies on broadcast TV.

On AirTV, you have to scroll through the channel guide, or type in the name of the show you want to record in the search form. That works, but you’re probably not going to discover something new to record that way.

On the Sling app home page, there is a grid of recommended shows, but unfortunately, those are mostly from streaming services. There’s no way to see just the upcoming free broadcast TV content in this format.

Recommended shows on the Sling app
Recommended shows on the Sling app

For these reasons, the Tablo is superior for making it easy to find new shows and movies to record from broadcast TV.

Watching Recorded Shows: Tablo Wins!

Both the AirTV 2 and Tablo make it easy to play back recorded shows. Neither have commercial skip. However, the Tablo seems more responsive when I manually skip ahead. On AirTV 2, when I press the “30” button to skip ahead by 30 seconds, it takes about 4 seconds to respond. Not ideal for rapidly skipping commercials.

Reliability: Tie

In my testing, the AirTV was pretty solid. The main bug I encountered was that sometimes the sound would go out after selecting a new channel. This could be easily fixed by closing the channel and selecting it again.

On the other hand, some users have reported overheating problems with Tablo (I personally have not had these issues). But, I’m going to call this category a tie.


Cost: AirTV Wins!

The AirTV 2 sells from anywhere between $79 to $100 while the AirTV Anywhere sells for $149.

The corresponding Tablo model, the Tablo Dual Lite, sells for $90 to $100. The Tablo Dual 128GB (with 128GB internal storage) sells for $170. On top of this, in order to get the 2-week channel guide (which in my opinion, is a “must”, and gives you the Netflix-style channel guide), you have to pay a subscription fee of $4.99/month or $49.99/year (USD).

So the total cost of ownership for Tablo is much higher. Obviously, AirTV is the winner here.

Summary

Here’s a summary of all of the aspects that I compared between the AirTV and Tablo:

FeatureAirTV 2Tablo Dual Lite
Physical DesignWinner! Stands vertically (may result in better airflow)Horizontal, takes up more shelf space, and some users have reported heat problems
Network ConnectivityTie. Ethernet and Wi-FiTie. Ethernet and Wi-Fi
Ease of SetupTie. GoodTie. Good
Internal StorageTie. Available with or without internal storageTie. Available with or without internal storage
Number of Tuners2Winner! 2 or 4 tuner versions are available
Tuner QualityWinner! Air TV brought in more channels in my testing
Ease of Watching LIve TVTie. GoodTie. Good
Picture QualityTie. Tie.
Hard Drive CompatibilityWouldn’t work with a Maxtor USB drive that worked with Tablo.Winner! Works with even very old USB drives.
Hard Drive StorageMaxes out at 2TBWinner! Maxes out at 8TB
Recording and Discovering New ContentThe Sling app shows paid content mixed with broadcast content, making it hard to find free stuff to record.Winner! Tablo’s Netflix-style grid lets you see all broadcast TV shows and movies coming in the next two weeks
Automatic Commercial SkipTie. NoTie. Had it before on Premium Service but discontinued now
Watching Recorded TVWinner! Skipping ahead past commercials is more responsive.
ReliabilityTie: Sometimes loses sound after changing channelsTie: Some users report heat-related problems.
CostWinner! Air TV is cheaper and does not require subscription!
Countries It Works InU.S.U.S. and Canada

Conclusion

If you hate paying recurring fees, then go with AirTV 2 because, unlike Tablo, there is no charge for the channel guide!!!

But, Tablo’s Netflix-style content grid is great for discovering classic broadcast TV shows and movies to record. If AirTV could just create that type of grid (without paid content) in their next software update, I would recommend it over Tablo hands down!

AirTV’s broadcast TV tuner is better than Tablo’s because it brought in stations, such as Heroes and Icons, that my Tablo couldn’t.

If you cannot tolerate fees, AirTV is best for you. If you want to discover the most amount of content on broadcast TV (and don’t mind paying a recurring fee), then Tablo might be best.

What do you think of your AirTV or Tablo? Any questions? Please leave a comment below. – Brian


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