When I cut the cord, I discovered that an antenna provided me access to tons of live HD programming for free. This allowed me to catch NFL games, the local news, and all the popular network TV shows. However, I lost the capability to record these shows and watch them at a later date when the cable company took my DVR back. I also really missed having the ability to pause live TV and skip those annoying commercials. Then, I found out about over the air DVR devices!
Luckily, nowadays there are some good over the air (OTA) DVR options available that allow you to record, pause, skip, and playback all channels you receive through your antenna. Here’s a look at the best OTA DVR options currently available for cord cutters. This guide has been updated as of 2017 and now includes detailed DVR reviews of the top options.
OTA DVR Comparison: A Look at the Best OTA DVRs of 2017
#1 TabloTV (FREE two-day shipping with Amazon Prime; free 30-day trial)– TOP PICK
For my money, the Tablo (if you live in Canada, click here for more info on it) is the best OTA DVR, and perhaps the best DVR in general. The company is based in Canada and makes some excellent OTA DVRs. By connecting to your antenna and your router, it allows you to record any programming coming in through your antenna and watch it through any streaming device on your network. So if you have a Roku 3 in your bedroom, an Apple TV in your living room, a laptop…you can stream to them all. However, it’s worth noting that since the Tablo doesn’t connect directly to your TV, you must own some type of streaming device to watch the content. Since most cord-cutters will already have a device, we consider this to be perhaps the best cord cutter DVR on the market.
Want to watch on the go? Tablo lets you. All you have to do is locally pair your mobile device with the DVR. Once you’ve done this, you can stream your recorded content on your device from anywhere. This can be done through the Tablo app, or an internet browser.
The Tablo requires an external USB hard drive for storing content, which is an additional upfront cost. This also enables pausing and skipping features. Keep in mind that a flash drive is too small for the job.
Tablo is available in three different versions. Here’s a quick rundown of each.
- 2-tuner– this DVR for antenna requires you to connect it to an antenna (I recommend the Mohu Leaf) and record up to 2 shows at a time. Watch through up to 6 streaming devices simultaneously.
- 4-tuner–Same as the 2-tuner, except you can record up to 4 shows at a time.
- METRO 2-tuner–Designed for people in urban areas, the METRO features a built-in antenna. In other words, you don’t need a separate antenna when you have this version.
Tablo offers a 24-hour-in-advance program guide for free. But to get all the features of Tablo, you need a subscription. The subscription gives you full access to Tablo’s guide. This provides cover art, descriptions, and series synopses for all programming. Unlike most other OTA DVRs, the subscription price is cheap. $4.99 per month, $49.99 per year or $149.99 for a lifetime subscription. Keep in mind that every Tablo comes with a free 30-day subscription to their guide service.
In short, the Tablo is the best over the air DVR available. Plus, since the Tablo is available for a great price on Amazon (if you live in Canada, click here to get it on Amazon), you can get FREE 2-day shipping using Prime. If you don’t have Prime, click here to start your 30-day free trial!
Other Equipment Needed:
- Antenna (unless you buy the METRO version of the Tablo)
- Set-top streaming device (I recommend the Roku 3)
- External hard drive (I recommend the WD Elements 2TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive)
#2 TiVo Bolt
The TiVo Bolt is the latest and greatest over the air DVR from TiVo. The Bolt brings all your entertainment options together in one simple device. Not only can you record and watch TV on your Bolt, but you can also stream video from Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, and countless others. So, it’s a DVR for antenna, and also a streaming player.
Basically, the TiVo Bolt eliminates the need for several devices. All you need is your TV and your Bolt – say goodbye to switching back and forth between cable, DVR, and streaming device – now, it’s all in one! Plus, you can also stream on your computer or mobile device via your Bolt, which truly means the Bolt is an all-in-one media device. If you’re just getting ready to cut cable, this can be a good cord-cutter DVR because you don’t need to also buy an external streaming device.
As the latest TiVo device, the Bolt offers a 3x faster processor than its predecessor, 3x as much DDR memory, and it’s 33% smaller. This compact, lightweight and highly functional device also offers innovative new features like OnePass, which can help you organize TV show episodes into a unified watchlist – even if season one is on Netflix, season two is on Hulu, and season three is still airing on cable TV!
And with SkipMode, you’ll never have to sit through another annoying commercial again. The ability to record up to 4 shows at once, and even record in 4K, ensures that you’ll never miss a show and makes the TiVo Bolt one of the best DVRs on the market.
If you pick up a Bolt on Amazon, you can get a great deal on the device plus the first year of TiVo service. Like most TiVos, the Bolt requires a $14.99 a month subscription plan, although you can get a better deal by prepaying for a year. Also, remember to sign up for Amazon Prime’s free trial to score free 2-day shipping and a ton more.
Other Equipment Needed:
- TiVo Minis for additional TVs
#3 TiVo Roamio
The TiVo Roamio is a popular option for people who are still somewhat married to the idea of cable. It’s a well-known brand that is an easy “next step” for many. Let’s face it, TiVo is the best-known DVR brand. They’ve been around for years and have proven that they can be counted on to deliver quality products. Their over the air DVRs are no different.
However, I do have some gripes. My complaints begin with the setup. It takes forever. And once you get things running, the interface is difficult to navigate at first.
The newest TiVo Roamio comes in a 1tb version that does not require a monthly subscription! It’s a greater upfront cost than the older Roamios, but well worth it if you want to avoid another monthly bill.
Another negative is that it’s only built for one TV. If you want to use it on multiple, you have to buy their Mini option for your other TVs, at about $149.99 each. However, it is worth noting that the Mini also acts as a streaming box, so you won’t need additional Roku 3s or other streaming devices.
Other Equipment Needed:
The Channel Master DVR+ is perhaps the most simple-to-use OTA DVR choice out there. It’s easy to set up and offers a guide that looks just like the cable guide you are used to, with no monthly subscription fee. And as far as looks go, it’s super thin and sleek.
However, the Channel Master DVR + is pretty limited. The interface is as bare bones as it gets. And with no Wi-Fi capability, you’re probably going to need a separate adapter. Not to mention, it isn’t compatible with most of the popular streaming services. Currently, the DVR only supports Vudu, YouTube, and Pandora.
The Channel Master OTA DVR + also only works for one TV. And since it’s the most expensive DVR option on this list, well, it doesn’t really make sense to purchase multiples.
Other Equipment Needed:
- External hard drive or pay for additional memory
- USB Wi-Fi Adapter
- Streaming box (if you want Netflix, Amazon, etc.)
The Simple.TV 2 is another good OTA DVR and is very similar to the Tablo. It connects to your antenna and router. This allows you to push content out to any TV in your house. With 2 tuners, you can watch and record two separate programs simultaneously, and stream on a total of 5 devices at once.
The Simple.TV 2 doesn’t come without its shortcomings, though. First of all, unlike the Tablo, there is no wireless capability. So it’s limited to where you can place it, due to the fact that it must be connected to an ethernet cable. It’s also noisy, especially when there are multiple streams going.
Finally, there are also lots of complaints on how buggy it can be. While most of the time it works like a charm, it’s not 100% dependable. For example, you may occasionally get a black screen when trying to load a program. This will require you to reload the app to get it to work, which is a bit annoying.
Update: I’ve heard countless complaints about Simple.TV’s customer service. Just thought I’d throw that in the mix.
Update 2: Here’s a complete write up of what has gone on and what to expect from Simple.TV.
Other Equipment Needed:
- Set-top streaming device
- External hard drive
After it’s all said and done, the Tablo is the best OTA DVR. Look at DVR reviews and you’ll see that most customers are fully satisfied with their Tablos. Sure it has a higher initial price point than the TiVo, but the cheaper subscription more than makes up for that. It has more options and is constantly being updated and improved. Want to give it a try? You can get the Tablo by clicking here.
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