If you cut the cord in favor of using an antenna to save some cash, you most likely ended up without a DVR to record broadcast TV. While you can save a lot of money by ditching your cable or satellite subscription, the downside is that you have to watch broadcast TV on their schedule.
It is possible to get an over-the-air DVR without paying for an expensive pay TV service. The solutions aren’t always elegant or full-featured, but it is possible to record live TV from a broadcast without shelling out a lot of money. Like most things in life, you’ll generally get more features when you pay more.
Factors to consider when choosing your DVR solution
You’ll have to decide what features are most important to you. For example, one feature that less expensive DVRs don’t include is a multi-day guide. Live TV time-shifting is a feature that’s particularly important to me because it provides the ability to pause a show while watching it, and skip commercials if you bank enough pause time. Watching away from home is another key feature for many people.
Ideally, you’ll place your DVR in a room with clear indoor antenna reception. If the room you watch TV in isn’t the same room, you’ll need to consider a whole home solution, which means buying a networked tuner so you can separate the DVR from the TV.
The number of tuners for your solution determines how many simultaneous recordings and live viewings you can manage. You might also want the ability to dictate the size of the recording (like SD or HD), or auto-delete more than x recent episodes.
Take a look at these examples of over-the-air DVR setups to see which one makes the grade for the way you’ll use it.
Android TV Box + Google’s Live Channels App
With an Android TV box, such as the Nvidia Shield TV, you can plug in a supported USB tuner and an external hard drive to use a free over-the-air DVR service like Google Live Channels.
- Cost: free
- Hardware: supported USB tuner + external hard drive
- Whole-home: This solution is for one TV only
- Time-shifting: yes
Live Channels displays 48 hours of TV guide data, allows you to record series, and provides time-shifting for live TV. The well-designed app will warn you if you’ve run out of tuners for recording and prompt you to discontinue live TV in favor of a recording if necessary (if you’re recording and watching the same channel, it simply uses one tuner). The guide data includes show descriptions and artwork, and it’s sortable by genre.
There’s no way to create manual recordings, so you have to use the guide. There is no search tool, so you’re limited to the 48 hours of available guide data from which to record.
Live Channels doesn’t allow adding buffer times before or after a recording, nor does it allow automatically deleting older episodes after a set threshold. There isn’t a way to choose only new shows, so you could end up recording reruns.
To set up Live Channels, plug in your USB tuner and follow the guided setup process:
- Download the Live Channels app from the Google Play store.
- Reset (select your USB drive)
- Select Format as device storage
AirTV DVR with –or– without a subscription
The AirTV Player supports free over-the-air DVR through its Sling TV app as long as you have an AirTV adapter. This setup will allow you to record even if you don’t have a Sling TV subscription.
- Cost: free
- Hardware: The AirTV adapter (aka tuner) is $40 purchased separately or $30 when bundled with the AirTV Player. You’ll also need an external USB or hard drive at least 50 GB in capacity
- Whole-home: This solution is for one TV only
- Time-shifting: No
This new feature still appears in BETA when I installed it this week. You can record a series, restrict recording to new episodes or record all episodes (including reruns). It’s easy but fairly limited in scope compared to other DVRs I’ve used. It won’t allow buffer times to be added before or after a recording, or automatically delete older episodes once you’ve hit a threshold of x episodes of a series.
The AirTV Player DVR will only work with the AirTV Adapter and not any other tuner. Since it’s a single tuner, you can only watch or record one program at a time.
It appears that you can record the same episode of a show on the 50 hours of available cloud DVR from a paid channel that you’ve already recorded on your hard drive. If that happens, both episodes appear in the My DVR menu. The available capacity of the cloud DVR and the OTA DVR show up at the top of the My DVR screen.
To set up local channel DVR with AirTV, plug in the tuner and follow the guided setup process:
- Plug in a 50 GB+ hard drive or USB key
- Select Set up as OTA DVR storage
- Choose Format
Tablo with –or– without a subscription
Tablo is a whole-home solution that streams recordings to nearly any connected device. The device connects to your local network instead of using an HDMI cord to connect to a single TV, so you can set it up in a room where it will get the best antenna reception. You can stream live or recorded HDTV shows to any connected high-speed internet device.
It’s simple to set up, everything you need is built into the device, and it can be used with or without a subscription.
- Cost: Free –or– with subscription $5/month, $50/year, or $150/lifetime
- Hardware: $200 dual TV tuner or $250 quad TV tuner
- Whole-home: This solution covers the whole home
Tablo has two- and four-tuner options, so you can discover, record and stream two or four simultaneous live or recorded HDTV programs on your iPad, Android tablet, laptop, or smartphone or your big screen TV through HDMI devices like Roku, Chromecast, AppleTV, Android TV and Amazon Fire TV.
Without a subscription, you get time shifting for live TV, you can record shows manually, and it displays one day of TV Guide data.
Add in the subscription option, and you’ll get cover art, series recordings, out-of-home streaming, two weeks’ worth of guide data, and enhanced recording controls. Tablo supports live and recorded TV on the go without requiring you to port the video to a Plex server or otherwise piece together a solution.
**To set up Tablo with or without subscription **
- Plug in an external hard drive and antenna
- Connect the Tablo box to your network (via Ethernet or Wi-Fi)
- Stream live or recorded TV through the Tablo app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, phones, tablets, computers, smart TVs and more.
Choose the best solution
The majority of people report that they decided to cut the cord to save money. At the same time, they say they’re willing to pay more for better features. In my experience, it’s worth investing a few extra bucks for a DVR that provides the benefits of an on-demand service for broadcast channels.
Over-the-air DVR solutions aren’t always elegant, but for the most part, you get more for paying more. The key is to determine a balance between what you pay and what you get.
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