Dish’s Sling TV website has (perhaps prematurely) unveiled a new set-top box, the AirTV Player. The device will let Sling TV subscribers stream live cable channels on their television — just like you can do right now with Sling TV on an Apple TV, Roku, or other streaming devices. But where the AirTV Player is different is that it will also integrate live, over-the-air network programming into that same interface with the help of an antenna (sold separately).
So you’ll be able to watch ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC so long as an antenna can normally pull down those channels wherever you live. It also includes Netflix support, though you’ll need a separate subscription for that. All of these programming sources get bundled together in Sling TV’s guide and user interface.
Sling TV separately offers live programming from ABC (an extra $5 add-on to its “Orange” subscription tier) or Fox and NBC (both available in select markets as part of the $25/month “Blue” tier) programming, but currently there’s no way of getting them all together. And CBS is absent entirely. If you choose the orange route, you also lose other Disney-owned networks like ESPN — but gain channels like USA and the NFL Network. So with the AirTV Player, what Dish and Sling are essentially doing is letting customers choose the package of cable channels they want and offering an alternative solution for the big four networks.
According to this FAQ page, the AirTV Player requires no monthly fee to use. A Sling TV subscription isn’t necessary either, but you won’t get warranty support for the hardware until you login with a Sling TV account, so there’s that. Dave Zatz over at Zatz Not Funny has been tracking the on-again, off-again AirTV Player for some time now, and there are some interesting tidbits. For one, this thing apparently runs Android, evidence being the Google button on the remote control right next to Netflix. (Sling gets more prominent placement at the top right.) It’s seen some redesigns too, with the blue and white box above having little resemblance to this earlier store listing or the image below.
The AirTV Player could help fill a niche for consumers hesitant to drop traditional cable for one of the new internet TV services and potentially lose the big four networks as part of the switch. It’s been easy enough for PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, and others to license live programming in major cities where ABC, CBS, and the rest all own their local stations. But everywhere else, the new streaming services find themselves mired in affiliate hell.
So with this option, Dish has created a way for the company to potentially skip all that hassle by putting OTA TV and streaming all under one interface. Just like other living room boxes (including the Xbox One) have tried to do before. Of course, some people are going to need more than just Netflix to satisfy their streaming habits. Odds are we’ll be hearing final details on price and availability for the AirTV Player at CES — if not a bit sooner now that it’s right there on the website.