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 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):
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: