Last week, Amazon introduced the Fire TV Recast, a box with two TV tuners and a hard drive. When plugged into an antenna, the Recast can stream (and record) live over-the-air channels — usually ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and a slew of random stuff depending on your location — and lets you watch that content on your Fire TV, Echo Show, or your smartphone. It’s a nerdy, niche device squarely aimed at cord cutters, and I can’t wait to try it.
Dish has offered something somewhat similar to this (minus the built-in hard disk) for a while now. Two products, actually. The $119.99 AirTV is closest to the Recast; it’s a dual-tuner box that can record two shows at once and seamlessly integrate OTA channels with the Sling TV subscription service. They just show up alongside the networks you’re paying for monthly. Like the Recast, it’s not a set-top box with its own UI. You plug it in, hook up an antenna (and external hard drive if you want DVR), and it wirelessly sends channels to your Sling TV app on devices around and outside your home.
Dish needs to fend off Amazon
The AirTV Player is a bit different; it’s a full-fledged Android TV streaming box (with a focus on Sling TV, naturally) that can also play and record OTA programming when you buy a sold-separately adapter. But the Player only works with the TV it’s attached to; it’s no good for watching OTA channels remotely on your phone or in a different room with a device that supports Sling TV.
Even so, it seems Dish and Sling are trying to counter Amazon wherever possible. If the Recast can handle two channels at once, all of Amazon’s competitors damn sure better set that as their bar. So, as noted by TechCrunch, the AirTV Player is now being offered with a new dual-tuner adapter that lets the streaming box record two OTA channels simultaneously. You can buy both the AirTV Player and dual-tuner for $119.99. If you want DVR functionality, you’ll have to hook up your own external hard drive to the AirTV Player. A Sling TV subscription isn't technically required to watch live OTA broadcasts, but I’m not sure why you’d get this thing if you’re not a Sling customer. But just remember, those live channels and DVR recordings will only be available on the TV that the Player is plugged into. If you want remote, watch-anywhere streaming, that’s the black AirTV box.
By contrast, the Fire TV Recast starts at $229 and includes 500GB of DVR space and two tuners. A 1TB, four-tuner model will be sold for $279 as well. But here, too, you’ve got to buy an antenna separately — assuming you don't already have one as part of your living room setup. And the Recast isn’t a set-top box itself. So you’ll need a Fire TV (starting at $39.99) to watch those OTA channels on a television. If you don’t care about big-screen viewing, you’ll be able to watch channels on a mobile device, the Echo Show, or a Fire tablet.
In concept, I think it sounds a bit better and more user-friendly than what Dish is currently offering; external storage is an extra step and hassle (but Amazon’s going to offer that, too, eventually), and the Recast will let you watch anywhere. Still, if you only watch TV in the living room and are a Sling TV subscriber, the AirTV Player option is getting a bit more convenient and delivers more flexibility than it did previously. True cord cutter nerds might just ignore all of these options entirely and stick with something like the HDHomeRun.