Here’s the hard truth about power cuts right now: The ideal DVR does not exist.
While some products are better than others, everyone – from Tablo to TiVo to HDHomeRun with Plex – has at least one critical weakness. To record broadcast TV channels from an antenna, you need to decide which of these vulnerabilities you can tolerate.
DVR buyers cheat sheets
Our quick recommendations:
The good news is that the weak antenna is experiencing a rebirth, and we will probably see even more DVR products. But if you want to start recording broadcast channels now, here̵
Updated September 28, 2020 to add our VBox TV Gateway Review. This can be a compelling product one day – it holds a lot of promise – but only the bravest and most tolerant wire cutter should consider buying one in its current state. It’s just not ready for prime time.[ Further reading: The best media streaming devices ]
The best OTA DVR for most wire cutters
If you do not need four tuners, the Tablo Dual Lite DVR – our previous top choice in this category – remains a convincing value. The Tablo Quad DVR is a bit more expensive, but it offers the least trade-off and of any product in this class. We have a few rivets to choose from – interlaced video cannot be played at 60 frames per second, and there are a limited number of streaming boxes you can use for viewing outside the home – but in a field that does not include the perfect OTA DVR, Tablo Quad DVR closest.
There is a lot to like here, especially for cable cuts that have made Fire TV units their chosen media streamers, but there are also enough shortcomings to limit Fire TV Recast (which is available in both 75- and 150-hour SKUs) to our second place in this category.
Best OTA DVR for power users
Channels DVR is not the easiest software to install, it requires a lot in the way of cutting infrastructure to support it, and it is expensive. All that said, it will reward the power users who invest in time and money with the best TV entertainment experience you can buy.
What to look for in an over-the-air DVR
Evaluating DVR solutions over the air is difficult because there are so many factors that can make or break the experience. If you want to investigate further, there are some factors you should consider:
Ad Jump Features: Advertising is still a staple for broadcast TV, but some DVRs provide tools to help you skip them. TiVo is the best in this regard, and provides an automatic jump button for some programs, and a 30-second jump button for everything else.
Antenna placement options: The over-the-air DVR is useless if your antenna cannot receive channels, so unless you have connected coaxial cable to the ceiling, you will need to place your DVR in a location with solid indoor antenna reception. Tablo can work anywhere in the house, HDHomeRun must be connected to your router, and TiVo and Channel Master are connected to the TV. Then plan.
Granular shooting options: Maybe you just want to keep a certain number of recent episodes, or replace your recordings with higher resolution versions when available. Not all DVRs are the same in the recording controls they provide. Our full reviews will provide more information.
Direct TV time shift and retrieval: Do you want to take a break for snack breaks? How about partially reviewing a program so you can skip the commercials? Most DVR solutions support this type of time shift, but HDHomeRun and Plex do not currently.
Number of recipients: Multiple tuners means multiple simultaneous recordings or live views. TiVo has four tuners, Tablo has two- and four-tuner options, and HDHomeRun lets you link multiple dual-tuner devices together.
Outside home streaming: Tablo and Plex allow you to watch both live and recorded TV outside the house. TiVo requires a $ 130 TiVo Stream for access to mobile devices.
Storage options: With the exception of the TiVo Roamio OTA, it supports all the DVRs we have stored on external hard drives. Tablo has also started beta testing of a cloud-based storage service, but we do not yet know what it will cost, and we have not tested it yet.
Help for the whole home: Unless you’re just planning to watch a single TV, you’ll have an entire home system, which means buying a network receiver (Tablo or HDHomeRun) or setting up extenders (such as TiVos $ 150 Mini devices).
Integration of streaming services: Many of the DVR products we have reviewed are all-home solutions that you can access via apps on existing streaming devices. In these cases, you can access all your favorite streaming services along with over-the-air video without having to switch inputs. TiVo is a notable exception. It supports some major streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, but you still need a separate streaming box to access others, such as Sling TV and Philo.
OTA DVR solutions still under development
The over-the-air DVR room will become more competitive over time. If you are on the fence about today’s solutions, there are some future developments (from April 2018) to consider:
Tablo LIVE and cloud DVR: Tablo was to launch a $ 99 network tuner with DVR capabilities in the cloud last year, but so far it has not materialized. You’re probably better off with the $ 140 Tablo Dual Lite anyway, since it can take up to two channels at a time and has a hard drive for local storage.
HDHomeRun Connect Duo + and DVR enhancements: SiliconDust’s own DVR service did not go well in our review earlier this year, but the company says an interface overhaul is underway. SiliconDust is also working on a new dual-tuner model with a built-in recording engine and 250 GB of storage, making it a more direct competitor to Tablo. The company is aiming for mid-2018 for the latter, although it has a history of delaying products that are not ship-shaped.
AirTV local channels DVR: AirTV’s main hook is how it combines over-the-air channels and Sling TV’s streaming cable channels into a single TV guide. Earlier this year, AirTV began testing DVRs for over-the-air channels, and all you need to enable it is an external hard drive. As a beta feature, it still has some major limitations – for example, you can not watch recordings until they are finished – but it can be a killer solution for wiring that is tired of switching between apps.
ATSC 3.0: This year, broadcasters are starting to test a new broadcast TV standard called ATSC 3.0 (also known as “Next Gen TV”). The new standard can support 4K HDR video, better surround sound, interactive features and easier access to phones and tablets. On the flip side, ATSC 3.0 will not work with existing tuners on today’s over-the-air DVR solutions. This is not an immediate concern, since any channel that adopts ATSC 3.0 must simulate the current standard for five years, and so far testing has only started in Phoenix, Ariz. Over-the-air DVRs are still worth buying, but be aware that they are unlikely to work forever.
Our OTA DVR reviews