This article is also covered in this episode on OTA DVRs of the Grounded Reason Podcast.
When considering alternatives to cable, a streaming device and an over the air (OTA) antenna provide near unlimited television programming at a fraction of the cost of cable. TV shows available on the streaming device can be viewed at your leisure. However, broadcast channels viewed using your TV antenna have to be enjoyed when they are scheduled to air.
If you discover that much of the content you watch is over the air, then you may want to purchase an OTA DVR. (OTA means “over the Air” as in TV signals sent over the air from a broadcast tower and received by a TV antenna.)
In this article, I’ll take a look at the best OTA DVRs on the market today. Together, we’ll figure out which over the air DVR is right for you. We’ll even examine if you can get by without purchasing a DVR.
- DVR Options
- Best Multiroom DVR
- Best OTA DVR For New Cord Cutters
- Cheapest OTA DVR
- DVR without a Subscription
- Build Your Own DIY DVR
- DVR Alternatives
There are a few things to consider when deciding which OTA DVR to buy. The most important of which is the DVR guide. In order to schedule show recordings, the DVR requires a means of knowing what times your favorite shows air.
Cable subscribers already have a TV guide with their cable subscription. However, we are using a DVR without cable. So we will either have to pay a monthly or one-time fee for a DVR guide. Don’t worry though, considering that cable providers charge about $240 per year for DVR service, we will still be saving a sizeable amount of money using our own OTA DVR.
Aside from the DVR guide, there are other options to consider when purchasing an OTA DVR. They are:
- Can the DVR stream to multiple TVs?
- Does the DVR support Wi-Fi?
- Do I need a DVR that can stream to a mobile device?
- Does the DVR require a TV streaming device to watch recorded shows?
- How many shows can I record at once?
- Does the DVR require external storage?
Best Multi-room DVR
Next, to the TiVo Roamio, the Tablo OTA DVR is my favorite DVR, but its most impressive quality is its multi-room capabilities. The device connects to your network as opposed to your TV. This allows easy access to your Tablo from any device on the network. Tablo doesn’t require a subscription to their DVR guide, but if you do want the guide, they offer both a recurring subscription or a one-time payment.
They support every major streaming device and there is functionality from third party products like Plex. There is even a function called Tablo Connect that works like Slingbox, allowing you to access the recorded programs while you’re away from home through the internet, Wi-Fi, or cellular data connection. While it’s a bit more complicated than the TiVo it is easily integrated with other cord cutting tech you may have in your home. This makes it a better choice for techies.
Tablo offers 3 versions of its over the air DVR, a 2 tuner version for $219.99 and a 4 tuner version for $299.99. However, Amazon sells the Tablo DVR at quite a discount. Then, there is the Tablo Dual OTA DVR which comes with 64 GB of onboard storage. Otherwise, is similar to the 2 tuner version of Tablo.
If you own a Nvidia Shield and are looking for an inexpensive way to get OTA DVR functionality, check out the Tablo ENGINE DVR App.
Is there a DVR guide fee?
The Tablo DVR can be used without a subscription. When purchasing a Tablo DVR you are provided a free 30-day guide subscription. After the 30 day trial, you can opt to not use the guide or purchase a guide subscription.
You can purchase a lifetime subscription for $149.99, which eliminates any recurring fees. Otherwise, you can purchase a $49.99 yearly guide subscription or pay $4.99 per month to continue using the guide.
Do I need to own a streaming device with Tablo DVR?
If you’d like to watch recorded shows on your TV, you will need a streaming device. Tablo will work with Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV or a Chromecast dongle (casting from an Android device or Chrome browser). Apple TV 4th Generation supports a Tablo App. However, previous versions of Apple TV will have to use Air Play.
You can also use the Tablo web app on your PC or laptop and hook your computer to the TV with an HDMI cable.
Does the DVR support Wi-Fi?
Tablo DVRs support both Ethernet and Wi-Fi 802.11n dual-band 2.4 and 5Ghz
How many shows can the Tablo OTA DVR record at once?
The Tablo 2-Tuner OTA DVR can record 2 shows at once while the Tablo 4-Tuner OTA DVR can record 4 shows at the same time.
How many devices can view recordings simultaneously?
Shows recorded by the Tablo DVR can be watched on up to 6 devices at the same time.
Does the Tablo DVR stream to mobile devices?
Not only does Tablo DVR support mobile devices, but with Tablo Connect you can access your recordings from anywhere in the world. Tablo offers apps for iOS, and Android devices. The requirements are as follows:
- iPad – Must be iPad 2 or newer and run at least iOS 7 or later
- iPhone – Must runs on iOS 7 or later
- Android Devices – Must be running Android 4.1 or later.
- Kindle – Screen size must be 7” or larger and must be running Android 4.1 or later.
Does Tablo DVR require external storage?
If you didn’t purchase the Tablo Dual OTA DVR, which comes with 64 GB of onboard storage, then you will need to have external storage for recording shows. Tablo supplies two USB ports for external hard drives. I recommend this Seagate 2TB external drive.
Total Cost of Tablo OTA DVR
While could spring for the 4 tuner DVR, I think the 2-tuner is sufficient. The only required cost aside from the device would be external storage. It’s easy enough to find a 1TB external hard drive for about $60. Therefore, the minimum cost of a Tablo OTA DVR is about $280.
If you decide to use the guide I recommend the lifetime subscription priced at $149.99. That would bring the total cost to $430 dollars with no monthly fees. Considering the monthly cost of cable TV DVR service, the Tablo OTA DVR pays for itself in the second year of owning the device.
Best OTA DVR For New Cord Cutters
As of May 2nd, 2016, TV has removed it’s monthly subscription fee and added more storage to the device bringing it to 1 TB.
The company that brought us the DVR is my top recommendation for those that want to record over the air television and prefer an all in one device. The strength of the TiVo is it allows you use a single device to meet your DVR and content streaming needs. It’s a one-stop cord cutting device. This makes it the perfect device for those new to cutting the cord.
With TiVo Roamio OTA you can record and playback shows just like any DVR you’ve had with a cable or satellite TV provider. TiVo provides a TV guide that allows for easy series recording. Additionally, TiVo Roamio OTA includes Apps for Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, and Netflix, allowing you to substitute the Roamio for set-top streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast.
Is there a DVR guide fee?
No, there is no longer a monthly fee.
Do I need to own a streaming device with TiVo Roamio OTA?
No, and Roamio OTA includes Apps for Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and Netflix, allowing you to substitute the Roamio for set-top streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast.
Does TiVo Roamio OTA support Wi-Fi?
How many shows can TiVo Roamio OTA record at once?
TiVo Roamio OTA can record up to 4 shows at once.
Can multiple devices view recordings simultaneously?
Yes, but with an added device. For each extra TV, a TiVo Mini will be needed to watch recorded devices. You can also set recordings for the through the TiVo Mini. TiVo’s website indicates the following:
“The TiVo Roamio OTA 1TB works optimally with up to four TiVo Minis, and potentially with up to ten TiVo Minis.”
This means TiVo Roamio, through additional TiVo Minis can support 5 – 11 televisions depending on how well your network is set up to handle the traffic. Note that the TiVo Mini requires an Ethernet connection to operate.
You can also watch recorded shows on an Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV if you have the TiVo Stream device. (See the next question)
Does TiVo Roamio OTA stream to mobile devices?
TiVo Roamio OTA requires the purchase of TiVo Stream at $130 to stream to mobile devices. The TiVo Stream will allow you to download live and recorded TV to iOS and Android™ smartphones and tablets, both in and out of your home. It will also allow you to watch your recorded shows on an Amazon Fire™ TV or Apple TV® in another room of your home.
So cord cutters with a few Amazon Fire TV sticks on other TVs may want to consider purchasing the TiVo Stream instead of buying a bunch of TiVo Mini devices. However, be aware that the TiVo Stream must be connected to the TiVo with a wired Ethernet connection.
Does TiVo Roamio OTA require external storage?
No. TiVo Roamio OTA has an internal 1TB hard drive.
Total Cost of TiVo Roamio OTA
The TV Roamio costs $399.99 and includes a lifetime guide subscription. It’s a cord-cutter’s dream solution for recording OTA TV. However, if you want the privilege of streaming to a mobile device, even within your home network, you need to pay an additional $130 for TiVo Stream. You will also need to purchase the TiVo Stream if you want to watch the DVR on multiple TVs. Furthermore, you are currently tied to using the TiVo app that’s only available on Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. Otherwise, you will need a TiVo Mini on each TV.
If you use Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV, this may be a feasible solution for multi-room functionality. However, if you have to use the TiVo Mini device, then the costs can add up quickly depending on how many TVs you want to add the DVR functionality to.
Still, considering multi-room DRV functionality can run between $20-$40 per month from a cable provider, the TiVo Roamio pays for itself fairly quickly.
If TiVo isn’t workable as a multi-room solution for you, then you may want to look at the Tablo DVR which excels at multi-room DVR function. However, if you want an ultimate replacement to the traditional cable TV DVR service, then look no further than the TiVo Roamio OTA.
Why Not the TiVo Bolt
I’ve been getting a lot of questions as to why I don’t prefer the TiVo Bolt to the Roamio as an OTA DVR. While the Bolt offers some advantages over the TiVo Roamio OTA, I feel the Roamio OTA provides better value for cord cutters. Here is a list of major differences between the devices.
- The Cost of TiVo Bolt with a Lifetime Guide subscription costs $849, TiVo Roamio OTA comes with a lifetime subscription and cost $399.
- The Bolt has 4K video streaming, where the Roamio supports 1080p
- The Bolt has a slightly faster processor and a bit more RAM
- The Bolt has MoCA built in, so it will work as a cable box. (useless for cord cutters)
- The Bolt supports 802.11ac for WiFi where the Roamio tops out at 802.11n.
- TiVo Stream is built into the Bolt allowing you to stream to iOS and Android devices. The Roamio requires the purchase of TiVo Stream device for that capability.
- The Bolt has GB Ethernet, where the Roamio offers 100 MB Ethernet.
While I’ll agree that there is better functionality with the Bolt, the fact that it costs more than double the Roamio makes it a poor value for cord cutters. While both TiVo devices can stream, I recommend using a device built for streaming to accomplish that function.
A Roku device will provide better streaming functionality than a TiVo device. Streaming video is Roku’s primary focus, where the TiVo is a DVR that can stream. This renders the 4K video less of a perk, as OTA signals currently don’t support 4K video.
The 100 MB Ethernet offered by the Roamio is more than adequate for the DVR functionality. Furthermore, the added RAM and Processing speed is mainly a benefit to those using streaming apps. Since I recommend an OTT streaming device for that, yet another benefit of the Bolt is inconsequential. That said, there isn’t a noticeable difference in the devices when it comes to using the streaming apps.
If you want to use iOS or Android devices, then the Roamio can accomplish this with the TiVo Stream for an additional $120. That’s still $300 cheaper than the Bolt. The only benefit the Bolt offers that actually matters for cord cutters is the 802.11ac WiFi, and that’s hardly enough to recommend the Bolt over the Roamio given the massive difference in price.
Cheapest OTA DVR
For those looking for a bare-bones solution to record OTA TV the Mediasonic HomeWorx PVR is just that. This DVR doesn’t even need an internet connection. In fact, there isn’t even a way to connect it to the Internet. It’s just the essentials. The box is a digital tuner that records your over the air signal.
With that said, there isn’t any real guide data Therefore, you can’t actually set a TV show to record by name. Instead, you have to set the HomeWorx PVR to record a certain channel at a certain time. It isn’t pretty, but it works.
As far as storage is concerned, you can use an external hard drive or even a thumb drive. The device will support up to a 2 TB external hard drive via it’s USB port. It can connect to your TV via HDMI, coaxial, or component video. This DVR isn’t much, but for under $35 dollars it’s a way to record OTA TV on a budget.
DVR without a Subscription
The DVR+ from Channel Master offers a subscription-free DVR with an integrated program guide. While they offer a 1TB for a price of $399, I recommend purchasing the 16 GB version for $249. A 2TB USB external hard drive costs about $80 and can be used as storage on the Channel Master DVR+
This option comes at a total cost of about $310. While that price seems steep, it’s a one time fee. After 2 years the DVR+ is cheaper than what one would pay for the TiVo Roamio subscription and more than beats cable providers monthly DVR fees. This makes Channel Master DVR+ the option for consumers looking for long-term savings.
There is one other drawback aside from the initial price. The device is Ethernet only and doesn’t include Wi-Fi. You can add a Wi-Fi dongle to the device, but a WiFi dongle will cost another $40. The Channel Master DVR+ is a very effective OTA DVR but gets edged out by Tablo for my top pick.
Is there a DVR guide fee?
No. The guide is included in the cost of the device.
Do I need to own a streaming device with DVR+?
You don’t need a streaming device to watch TV shows recorded by DVR+ as it hooks to your TV with an HDMI cable and includes its own UI. However, I don’t recommend depending on DVR+ as a streaming device as the only apps it currently supports is YouTube and Vudu.
Does DVR+ support Wi-Fi?
Not without the purchase of a USB WiFi dongle.
How many shows can the DVR+ record at once?
DVR+ can record 2 shows at once.
How many devices can view recordings simultaneously?
Since ChannelMaster DVR+ hooks directly to your TV it can only be used on the TV it’s connected to.
Does ChannelMaster DVR+ stream to mobile devices?
ChannelMaster DVR+ doesn’t stream to mobile devices natively, but this can be accomplished by purchasing a SlingBox.
Does ChannelMaster DVR+ require external storage?
The $399 model has an internal 1TB hard drive. However, there is a considerable cost saving if you buy the $249 model and add your own $60 USB external hard drive.
Total Cost of ChannelMaster DVR+
The Base cost of this device is around $310 when you add the cost of external storage. While a tad cheaper than other solutions, ChannelMaster DVR+ lacks native WiFi and lacks the ability to stream to mobile or multiple TVs without the help of other products. This puts it behind Tablo OTA DVR in my book.
Build Your Own DIY DVR
For those with a PC and a little tech savvy, the affordable solution would be using media server software and a TV tuner or Tuner card. Using a device like The HDHomeRun and a product like Myth TV, a TV show can be recorded with the signal from your antenna and saved to a computer. From there it can be streamed to any DLNA compliant device for viewing on a television.
While these products give you the capabilities to capture the signal and play it back, you still need a place to store the TV Shows. Some build there own media servers out of an old PC, however, there are great Network Attached Storage solutions to handle this. Western Digital My Cloud has a built-in media server, making it my favorite.
There are numerous other media server solutions to use if you decide to build your own, such as PLEX and Kodi. Setting one of these up is an article for another day, but there is plenty of information available on their website to start the process.
If the HDHomeRun is a bit outside your price range, there are various TV Tuner cards you can use to record on a media server. Alan Henry at Lifehacker provides a fantastic overview of Five Great TV Tuner Cards.
Intel just released a device that can turn your TV into a PC. It’s perfect for creating your own personal DIY DVR.
While this solution isn’t for everyone, and it may seem a bit tedious to configure, a Media Server will provide a means to stream tons of digital content from the web for later viewing on your television. There are even products out there like pogi, that have done the heavy lifting for you to deliver all this functionality in one device.
Before considering OTA DVR devices, Hulu should be examined. Depending on the shows a viewer watches, a traditional DVR may be unnecessary. Hit shows on ABC, NBC, and Fox are available the day after airing on Hulu. “The Blacklist”, “The Goldbergs”, “Agents of Shield” and other hit shows are all available on Hulu. You can try them free for one week.
If everything you watch is provided by Hulu, then why even have a DVR? Unfortunately, TV shows airing on CBS will not be available. However, CBS already has the past 5 episodes of shows available for free on its website. For next day access, take a look at CBS All Access.
Hulu Plus costs subscribers $7.99 a month. However, the first year of service is $5.99 per month. They also offer a commercial-free option for $11.99 per month. If this service meets a consumer’s needs, then that sets a reasonable price point when examining DVR devices and services. Keep in mind Hulu offers much more than broadcast network shows, and also offers original content not found anywhere else.
If this article didn't answer your specific question, check out the Cord Cutting Guide. It provides links to the most important articles in our over 200 pages of content to help you ditch pay TV.
If you enjoyed this article, please Subscribe to our weekly newsletter. It goes out every Thursday and keeps you up to date on information relevant to cord cutters. Subscribing will also inform you on the latest deals out there for internet, streaming, and more.