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WatchAir: Affordable HDTV Antenna that Records & Streams Local TV

The insanely affordable WatchAir antenna-dvr-tuner combo could be a home run for many users. It’s currently among the best values in streaming devices although its app lacks the polish and usability of competitors.

Plug & Play: WatchAir Combo Antenna+Tuner+DVR

I have been testing the WatchAir antenna/dvr/hdtvtuner for several weeks now and I’ve been reasonably impressed with the product – especially the affordable price point for such a robust and complete hardware package. It is an attractively designed device that bundles the functionality of an antenna, DVR and HDTV tuner and comes in white and black to suit your taste.

Despite a few software related shortcomings that I’ll get to in a moment, the device represents one of the best values in streaming. At less than $70 and available from Amazon.com with free shipping, the WatchAir provides an all-in-one solution for consumers looking to receive and record their local TV stations wirelessly to any TV connected to a device that supports the WatchAir app. App support is available for the most popular streaming devices including Smart TVs, streaming sticks and devices like Apple TV, Roku and Fire TV.

The WatchAir allows wireless streaming of live HDTV directly to any smart phone, tablet, streaming box and stick, and smart TV. All equipped WITHOUT a monthly subscription fee

WatchAir: Hassle Free Installation and Guided GPS Setup

Installing the WatchAir device couldn’t be much simpler. You can either use the included indoor antenna, or disconnect the antenna piece and connect your existing antenna coax to the antenna input on the WatchAir device. In my case, since I have a roof mounted antenna already in place and set up for my HDHomeRun, I simply disconnected the antenna cable from my trusty HDHomeRun and connected it to the WatchAir unit which I placed inside my media cabinet.

WatchAir Package Unboxing
In the box: Antenna, DVR/Tuner, Power Cable and mounting plate/screws
The WatchAir HDTV tuner and DVR unit with Antenna Input, MicroSD slot and USB port. Has 8GB built-in storage for recordings of live TV and can be expanded via the MicroSD and USB ports for additional storage capacity.
The detachable indoor antenna is rated for 60 miles reach. The flat “wing style” antenna easily detaches from the device if you already have an antenna you want to use.

WatchAir vs the Competition

Although there are several solutions for watching and recording live local TV, the WatchAir really has no direct competitor, since its currently the only device that combines an antenna, DVR and tuner in a single package. The device that comes closest in terms of hardware functionality is the ChannelMaster Stream+. The most advanced competing solutions for over the air DVR service are software apps like Plex.TV and Fancy Bits LLC’s Channels App – both of which rely on the excellent HDHomeRun wireless HDTV tuner. Of the three, the Channels app has the best overall user experience by far. If you have an Apple TV and an HDHomeRun device, the Channels app is my top recommendation for watching and recording live local TV. I’ve been using it for over a year and I couldn’t be happier with it.

WatchAir App: Some Usability Misses & Room for Improvement

The state of App+OTA integration available to cord cutters today is a slowly emerging field. The best examples we have to date are from Roku and Amazon in their “TV Edition” versions available from TCL (Roku) and Element (Fire TV Edition) among others. The apps in these TVs offer a markably tighter integration of the over the air antenna content within the overall app interface when compared to the stand-alone versions of the OS that comes with streaming boxes and sticks. To date, Amazon is the only vendor who has brought some of these features to their set top boxes in the “On Now” feature we recently reported about.

The killer feature that Channels and Plex have that the WatchAir app lacks is integration with the Apple TV’s Top Shelf functionality. Using this feature, apps that reside on the top row of the Apple TV home screen are enabled with a “look in” feature that allows one to view the app content without having to open the app. For example, with the Channels and Plex apps, a user can see what’s currently on for each live network stream simply by highlighting the app icon from the Apple TV home screen without ever opening an app. One can also directly tune in to the live program from this screen and go straight to the channel on live TV. This is an extremely useful feature that the WatchAir app lacks.

For example, the screens below show the Apple TV’s killer Top Shelf functionality for both the Channels app (excellent) and the WatchAir App (needs work – like many apps, only shows the product logo instead of live “look-in” functionality):

Channels App on Apple TV – Live TV Look in Feature
WatchAir App – No live look in on Apple TV Home Screen

Another issue with the WatchAir software is that initial channel loads are slow. It takes about 4-5 seconds after clicking on a live TV program before the stream starts. With the Channels app on Apple TV, its near instant.

WatchAir Experience: An Objective Opinion from My Neighbor

If I’d never experienced the crazy good UI of the Channels app on Apple TV, I’d most definitely think the WatchAir app was the best thing since sliced bread. However, since I’m completely biased in my love for the Channels App, I decided to loan the WatchAir to a neighbor for a few weeks and get his unbiased and unvarnished opinion. He has Roku streaming sticks throughout his home and his review below is based on the Roku version of the WatchAir app. Here’s his take:

The WatchAir is a very nice product. Pretty easy to set up although I discovered you have to use an iPad or tablet, it seems, not your cell phone. Cell phone would not find ANY signal whatsoever. I suppose I could have some GPS item unchecked or what not but once I used my daughter’s iPad, I got through it fairly quickly. Downloaded the app. Works 96% of the time. I do have occasionally drop off for a few seconds and Ive had to reboot the device once. Signal is sharp and I didn’t realize the sheer amount of sub channels that you get with the big 4. For the cost, it a fine deal. Cool feature: the cord going to the unit is extra long because they know you might want to run it around the outside of the window, etc. to get to a plug and not have to use an extension cord.

Customer service was good. When I filled out a question on the website, within just a day, I had a response. They followed up with me. A chat option would be nice but I was happy with that. I have found that the unit “loses connection” sometimes to where the app on the TV can’t be found. The light is blinking during this time. Although I haven’t found the solution, unplugging and plugging seems to re-set it fairly quickly. Overall, for the picture quality, ease of use and especially the cost, this is a great buy. My understanding is that one can only view one channel in the house at a time because there is in fact, only one tuner. That’s somewhat a bummer but for the low-cost of the unit, you could have more than one in the house if needed.

Hopefully this helps you make an informed decision for watching and recording your local live TV. What are your thoughts on the WatchAir or on local TV streaming/recording in general? Share your comments below:

  • Update: Several people have emailed me with questions, so I thought I’d answer them here:

    Question: What is the max external storage capacity?
    Answer: External micro SD card (SDXC) up to 2TB for about 1,400 hours of recording.

    Question: Is the USB port version 2 or 3?
    Answer: USB 2.0 supported with up to 3.5 Watt power supply. A USB memory stick and an SDD can be used directly without requiring an external power supply. External USB hard disks can be used only if it has an additional power line to an outlet.

  • NashGuy

    Scott, my understanding is that WatchAir TV maxes out at 720p. With video quality set to the best level (assuming it allows different levels), what’s your opinion of how HD looks vs. the Channels app with the HD HomeRun tuner? Also, any opinion on how their app works? Is it user-friendly for setting up and watching recordings? Does it contain useful (and correct) program guide info? My understanding is that the app is supposed to soon allow for “season recordings” where you can have the app record all future episodes of a series with one click but, as of now, that feature isn’t available. Hard to believe they launched without that feature. If I want to record, say, NBC Nightly News every day, must I actually go into the app and set up a recording every day?!

    • Good questions. With respect to 720p picture quality, its virtually indistinguishable at normal viewing distances but becomes slightly apparent at close range – nothing most would notice.

      Everything about the Channels app on Apple TV is better, including marginally better PQ. The speed and usability of the Channels app is far superior at this point, but It should be relatively easy for the WatchAir folks to address this.

      The hardware, except for the lag time in loading channels, is top notch for the price. I’ll post an update to show screencaps of the channel recording options. They are very user friendly in that when you click on a program, the first screen you see allows you to either watch or record the program. However, I prefer the way the Channels app takes you right into live TV, then allows swipe commands to show recording option overlays of the live video. WatchAir does not employ swipe commands (yet)

      • NashGuy

        Cool, thanks for the reply. The Channels app does look nice and I did recently get a new Apple TV 4K. Does Channels allow you to switch directly between channels with a press of the remote (i.e. the traditional “channel surfing” experience)? Or do you first have to open the program guide and then choose a channel/show from there?

        • I really like the way channels does this. As opposed to DIRECTV NOW which interprets a swipe of the Siri remote to change channels (and you end up changing channels just from picking up or touching the remote – big PIA).

          So, here’s how channels app does it:

          To change channels you swipe down on the trackpad to reveal the channel thumbnail tray across the top of the live video (not the full guide, just a strip of thumbs (see pic below) From there, you just swipe across those channel icons and click on the one you want to activate.

          To toggle between the last 2 channels you’ve watched, you just double click the play button.

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c5b33872656e07ac400042ef3f85d86f4d499ef2b908baf0626cd8d6cbb301dc.jpg

          • NashGuy

            Thanks! Hmm, I actually like being able to swipe or click on the remote just once to change to the next channel. I guess it’s just a function of growing up channel surfing with the “chan up/down” buttons that are standard on every TV remote.

          • I understand. There are a few things working against that paradigm with internet TV (aka OTT “over the top”)

            1) Changing channels is resource intensive and tends to take a bit longer with OTT vs cable or satellite. For that reason, “channel surfing” is not as smooth and instantaneous an experience when compared to linear TV.

            2) On an OTT service, about half of the time most users are viewing on demand or DVR replays vs live TV. For this reason, the controls of the remotes, especially the Apple TV Siri remote, are optimized for transport (FF/RW and thumbnail nav) vs channel changes via dedicated buttons are swipes.

            3) Exposing the channel change action to a touch action, like swipe, is extremely bad UX. The example is as I’ve indicated above. Simply picking up the remote while watching a program results in unintentional channel changes – you may just want to adjust the volume. One the channel is changed on live TV, you have no way to rewind to see what you missed during the time the channel changed and the time it takes for you to navigate back to and reload the program you were watching.

          • James Webb

            Scott, I share your loathing of the swipe to change channels in DTVN. It takes too long. Each channel has to load before you can go to the next one. I programmed a couple buttons on a sideclick remote to get around this & on the regular app it works great, more like a slide show that you can go thru quickly rather than waiting for each to load. My question though is on the beta… did they take away “enable universal remote” in the preferences b/c I don’t see it anymore & my left/right buttons that I programmed no longer work in the beta app for channel changing.

  • vudutu

    Scott, well done review
    I am currently cutting the cord and am really tempted by this product but have reservations. I have a Visio M50 Chromecast which I won, I would have not bought a TV without a tuner but thats where I am, currently have Dish at 85 a month and Spectrum internet at about the same.
    I love the concept but have concerns, first is support, I usually never buy a product with no phone support. Also the recent price drop bothers me, that combined with little to no recent info or future fixes/feature updates on any of there sites bothers me, nothing on Facebook, Kickstarter or their site. Their sites looks abandon. The only forum is on Kickstarter and it is just for founders.
    There are two YouTube videos, one is positive and the other not so, the scheduler looks iffy. Reviews are not great either, some people complain about buggy software and inability to record and watch at the same time.
    So I am conflicted, My wife cant stomach another dish bill, Do I fork out a couple of hundred for a combo DVD tuner like channel Master or Homerun and possible ongoing scheduler cost AND an antenna or go for the risky looking WatchAir?

    • Hi vudutu, here’s my suggestion for your situation, If you want zero regrets, spend the money for the HDHomeRun + Apple TV option. You can get the Apple TV with 3 months of Directv Now included for $105 (the same cost as 3 months of DTVNow even without a free device). Then get the $25 Channels app that I reviewed a few days ago – I’ve been using this same setup for over a year and I can vouch for it 100%.

      If you want to save some money, then get the WatchAir and test it out. You have 30 days with Amazon to return it if it doesn’t meet your expectations.

      Hope that helps!