Cutting the cord is becoming increasingly popular. People are leaning more towards only paying for the content they want rather than paying a large bill each month for channels they never use. An essential for cord cutters is an OTA antenna that allows them to watch free broadcast channels, local content, news, and sports without monthly fees. But just using an OTA antenna and plugging it into your television can make you lose features that you've become accustomed to with cable, such as a DVR. But there are a wide variety of devices and options that get your DVR back and bring other features as well.
The device that's right for you depends on the features you're looking for and the equipment you already have or are willing to purchase. Some of these solutions are standalone devices while others rely on a PC or NAS. Some send signals to multiple televisions while others are a single set top box. Here's a breakdown of the best ways to get a DVR for your OTA television.
Tivo Roamio OTA
Tivo has been a recognized name for DVRs for as long as anyone and they've earned their solid reputation. The Tivo Roamio OTA lets you plug in an HD OTA antenna and record up to four channels at once. It has 1 TB of storage and now comes without a monthly subscription fee.
In addition to recording over-the-air content Tivo also works with quite a few popular video streaming services including Netflix, HBO Go, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon Video, Plex, and Vudu. It also supports Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora for listening to music. It's worth mentioning that it doesn't support some popular services, notably Sling TV, so it's worth seeing if it has the content you want before purchasing.
The combination of an OTA DVR that can record up to four channels at once and support for many streaming services makes the Tivo Roamio an all-in-one device for some cord cutters, again depending on the content you watch. Tivo brings their variety of options on the Roamio together with features such as unified search that lets you look for content across your different streaming services.
The Roamio also has well known Tivo features such as SkipMode to jump past commercials (though this only works on some channels) and even has QuickMode which plays content back 30% faster but stops audio distortion.
The Tivo Roamio OTA has many features and comes from a strong brand. The listed price is $399 on Tivo's website though at the moment it is only $349 on Amazon. The value of the Tivo Roamio OTA also depends on what you're willing to spend in addition to just the one device. If you grab a Tivo Stream you'll also be able to stream content to devices around your house such as Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. You'll also be able to watch programs as you record or download and view content anywhere in the world you have an internet connection. If you're all in on the Tivo ecosystem you can also use Tivo Minis to extend your functionality throughout the house but again these add on more costs.
Ultimately the Tivo Roamio is worth looking at, especially if you're new to the cord cutting game and are looking for a high-end device that has a wide set of functionalities. If you're willing to go all in on the Tivo ecosystem you can gain even more functionality, though you have to weigh the costs that add up upon each other.
As opposed to a single set top box that attaches to a television, Tablo devices connect to your HD OTA antenna and your internet connections and streams the over-the-air content to your device. They also function as DVRs that allow you to record your favorite over-the-air content.
There are multiple options available from Tablo and the one you want depends on your needs. The new Tablo Dual OTA DVR has built in storage (that can be expanded with USB drives) and supports two tuners while the Tablo 2- Tuner DVR and the Tablo 4- Tuner DVR require a USB storage to work.
Having a DVR setup like this allows you to record multiple channels and watch them on multiple devices. The benefit of this is that you only need to setup one device that takes in the OTA signal to watch it on multiple devices. The downside is that Tablo relies on you having other smart devices to view television. There is no HDMI output on Tablo. Instead you have to use an app. Luckily, Tablo has apps on a long list of platforms; iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV (4th generation), Chromecast, Xbox One, Nvidia SHIELD, and LG WebOS 2.0, 3.0, and 3.5.
The Tablo Dual OTA DVR is available at Best Buy for $219. Even the 4-tuner version is $296 though that model requires additional storage. The relatively low entry price point when compared to devices like the Tivo Roamio is welcomed but must be weighed with other cots that Tablo either realistically requires or is at least significantly boosted by.
If you don't pay for a Tablo subscription you're limited to recording things by manually entering dates and times. To gain their TV guide service you'll have to purchase a subscription. Their options include $5 per month, $50 per year, or $150 for lifetime. With these subscriptions, you gain access to cover art and synopses for series and Tablo Connect which allows you to watch live and recorded content anywhere in the world you have an internet connection.
If you decided to purchase a lifetime subscription and used it with a Tablo Dual OTA DVR your total would be just under $370. This setup would give you access to OTA content on multiple devices in your home as well as anywhere you travel with an internet connection.
Plex and HDHomeRun Connect (Honorable Mention)
This is by far the setup that requires the users to be the most tech savvy. But with that being said, it is something you can learn. If you don't know what a NAS server is you'll have to learn some tech jargon. But the end result of this setup will be a powerful tool for your media consumption. These are put under an honorable mention tag because they are new (HDHomeRun) or in beta (Plex) and require some technical knowledge to setup.
If you're using an HDHomeRun device such as the Connect and want a DVR for your OTA TV you have multiple options. You can either use Silicon Dust's (the maker of HDHomeRun) own DVR service or you can use Plex's DVR.
The HDHomeRun Connect has a relatively similar setup to the Tablo devices. You hook the HDHomeRun Connect to your HD OTA antenna and then it can stream content throughout your house to various devices utilizing its dual tuner setup. And at only around $85 it has a much lower price than other devices. Richard Devine calls HDHomeRun tuners an "essential cord-cutting tool" and even if you aren't interested in DVR services it's easy to see why. His article breaks down this even further and includes a full setup guide.
The setup is an important thing to read through because rather than plug and play, HDHomeRun device require some knowledge to setup. In order to set one up you have to have a computer. Once it is setup though you have a variety of options.
Silicon Dust's DVR requires a NAS and allows you to record television and stream it to your devices. You can watch live TV and view content and information without a paid subscription but if you want to be able to schedule and record live TV you'll have to opt for the paid subscription which is $35 per year. With this subscription, you gain a wide set of DVR features including series recordings, pausing and rewinding live TV, and the handy feature of pausing on one device and resuming watching from another.
If you're looking for something that has a DVR and also provides other media benefits you'll want to look at Plex. This works in conjunction with connected TV tuners, including HDHomeRun devices, and gives you a large set of options. To use Plex DVR you'll need a Plex Pass subscription which are available for either $4.99 per month, $39.99 per year, or $119.99 lifetime.
It's worth pointing out that Plex DVR is in beta right now. Additionally, it is relatively limited when it comes to which devices can use it. Currently the only way to watch and configure live TV and DVR services is through Android TV or iOS devices. These limitations may place this combination in the wait-and-see category but it's worth mentioning because of how much promise it has and the functionality already available.
Plex is an option for users only looking for a DVR but it is more worth it if you're going to use it as a media server. It works with digital content including movies, music, photos, and more and can integrate with popular cloud service providers Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive.
Wrapping things up
Getting DVR functionality isn't as simple or cheap as some users would want it to be but there are a variety of options available. Many of these options provide lifetime subscriptions so while your initial cost will be high, it will be cost effective in the long run.
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