OTA DVR Comparison for Cord Cutters: Best OTA DVRs of 2018

For cord-cutters, streaming local channels can be like pitching a no-hitter for baseball players—really hard to pull off. The most savvy cord-cutters use antennas to catch all their local channels.

One of the biggest downfalls of antennas was always the lack of DVR and guide; that’s not the case anymore, friends. Say hello to recording your local channels and goodbye to foot cream commercials with our list of the best OTA DVRs.

The best OTA DVR options

#1
$179.99
(Tablo Dual OTA DVR)
Tablo Dual DVR is easy to set up and lets you watch recorded content on multiple devices with 40 hours of HD Recording Storage. That’s an OTA match made in heaven.
$179.99
(Tablo Dual OTA DVR)
#2
$149
(Channel Master Stream+)
You need to provide the storage space because it does not offer HD recording storage, but the Stream*& does everything else for a super cheap price.
$149
(Channel Master Stream+)
#3
$399.99
(TiVO Roamio)
The most expensive option by a mile, it allows for multiple recordings and comes with extra features like automatic commercial skipping.
$399.99
(TiVO Roamio)

We ranked the best DVRs for antennas based on how many viewers you’ve got at home, how many shows you want to record, and what antennas you’re working with.

Any of the DVRs on our list will work well, but you want one that works well for you. Take a look below and see which one checks all the boxes you want.

Comparing storage, internet connection, and simultaneous recording streams

USB vs. SD external storageWi-Fi or ethernetWatch anywhere?Recording streams
Tablo Dual OTA DVRUSB storageBothYes2
Channel Master Stream+SD storageBothNo2
TiVO RoamioUSB storageBothNo4
USB vs. SD external storage Wi-Fi or ethernet Watch anywhere? Recording streams
USB storage Both Yes 2
SD storage Both No 2
USB storage Both No 4

We went through a lot of options and features to weigh out the best OTA DVR, but we finally came to a consensus on an overall winner. Let’s talk about it.

#1 Tablo Dual: Watch DVR content at home or on the go

What we like about it: Recorded content available anywhere with an internet connection

Drawbacks: Monthly subscription required for advanced TV guide access

Who it’s perfect for: Cord-cutters looking for the best overall deal

Mix the price, the easy-to-navigate interface, and the fact that you can watch recorded content on the go, and the Tablo Dual is our winner for the best OTA DVR. You can check it out on Amazon and get it for $179.99.

What sets the Tablo Dual OTA DVR apart

Where most DVR boxes connect to the TV, the Tablo Dual is a totally wireless system. It comes with an ethernet cord if you want to connect the box directly through your internet router, but you’ve also got the four best letters in technology—Wi-Fi. Since you don’t need to plug the Tablo Dual directly into your TV, you can set it and your antenna somewhere out of sight that gets great signal reception.

You access your menu and guide with Tablo Dual via an app you can download on your streaming devices, game consoles, phones, tablets, computers, and compatible smart TVs. Through the app, you control what you want to watch and record. It’s kind of like if Netflix were a live local channel service.

A whopping six devices can stream at the same time, so you won’t need to get in a fight with your kid when it’s your turn to watch TV.

Accessible anywhere, but the guide comes at a price

It’s true—to get a comprehensive TV guide that goes beyond a 24-hour period, you’ll need to pay a $4.99/mo. subscription fee. Out of the box, your Tablo Dual menu will have an updated guide for everything on TV that day, but it won’t go beyond that.

And no, you don’t need the service. You can always visit the TV guide website and get all the info you need there. Just make sure to set your recordings in the morning or set up permanent recordings so that Jeopardy! always gets recorded and you get your Alex Trebek time no matter what.

We’ve tested all the major OTA DVR devices, and though we love the Tablo Dual’s wireless capabilities, it does have some quirks. Occasionally, the app would crash on our iPhone and Apple TV devices, and we’d need to restart the app. Everything crashes from time to time, but the Tablo Dual startup process takes a moment to get going, and that was annoying to repeat. Thankfully, crashing was rare and just required the patience of a restart to get everything humming once again.

All in all, the Tablo Dual is a great OTA DVR option that works as a much cheaper TiVo alternative.

Compatible devices for the Tablo Dual app

Tablo Dual works with tons of apps, which is always nice. You can watch Tablo-provided local channels using the Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Xbox One, and more.

#2 Channel Master Stream+: The newest and cheapest OTA DVR on the market

What we like about it: Comes with built-in Chromecast

Drawbacks: B.Y.O.M. (Bring your own memory)

Who it’s perfect for: Cord-cutters looking for the cheapest OTA DVR option

If you’re looking for the cheapest way to pause, record, rewind, and fast-forward live TV over an antenna, then the Channel Master Stream+ is another great TiVo alternative. You can order it for $149 from the Channel Master website.

You provide the storage, and Stream+ provides the rest

If the Channel Master Stream+ allowed for out-of-home streaming like the Tablo Dual, then it would easily take the cake as our top recommended OTA DVR. Especially when you consider that there are no sneaky fees to speak of. Remember that thing with the Tablo Dual where you have to pay extra for a TV guide that expanded beyond the day? The Channel Master Stream+ channel guide just works right out of the box.

The product doesn’t come with any built-in storage, though, so you’ll need to provide that yourself in the form a microSD card if you want to record anything.  We recommend going with the Sandisk Ultra 64GB microSD, which costs about $20 on Amazon. With 64 GB of memory, you can easily record dozens and dozens of hours of TV. You’ll still get the channel guide without the microSD card, but you’ll probably still want one ASAP.

The Stream+ is easy to use right out of the box

For starters, the Stream+ looks better than any of the other OTA DVR boxes. It’s much smaller and would be easy to stick in an out-of-the-way place. It also works on a Wi-Fi or ethernet connection, so you can stick this bad boy wherever works for you. All you need to do is plug in the coaxial cable coming from your antenna straight into the Stream+ box. Just make sure you get decent signal strength wherever you decide to put the device.

Instead of working through an app like the Tablo Dual, the Stream+ uses a good old fashioned remote. This isn’t one of those remotes with a thousand different options where you can accidently press the self destruct button, either. You’ve just got your basic volume, channel, and DVR controls.

Apps compatible with the Stream+

The Stream+ comes with Chromecast built in and works as an Android TV-powered streamer, which you can use to stream basically anything you want. Anything compatible with those devices should work with the Stream+.

#3 TiVo Roamio: A more expensive OTA DVR, but with more fire power

What we like about it: Four recording streams at a time

Drawbacks: Very pricey

Who it’s perfect for: Cord-cutters sharing the device with a big family or roommate situation

For the cord-cutter who feels like they’re burning a TiVo-sized hole in their pocket, the Roamio offers a lot of power. If you’re familiar with Back to the Future II hoverboards, the TiVo Roamio is the PitBull of OTA DVR services—meaning it’s a lot more powerful than the competition.

Why is the TiVo Roamio such an expensive OTA DVR?

The main thing you pay for with the Romaio is being able to record four things at once. If you’re the type of person who can’t decide between recording This Is Us, Big Bang Theory, or The Good Doctor—you can record everything at once. If that isn’t enough, you can plug in an external hard drive through the USB port and record every episode of Young Sheldon as well.

Along with the multiple recording streams, the internal storage allows for over 150 hours of recordings. Let’s put that number in context—to record How I Met Your Mother from start to finish, it would require 104 hours of storage. You could record every episode and still have room for tons of other shows.

Oh, and don’t worry—you won’t need to pay anything extra for an updated programming guide. That makes the TiVo Roamio one of the best DVRs without a subscription cost.

Automatic commercial skipping? Yes, please

Can we talk about the TiVo remote for a second? With the click of a button, you can automatically fast forward to where your TV show picks back up. You won’t need to get your timing perfectly right while skipping at 20x speed.

Setting up the TiVo Roamio is pretty easy. Your antenna coaxial cable plugs right into the box, and your box connects to your TV through an HDMI cord. The TiVo Roamio connects to your WiFi, which will keep your guide up to date.

TiVo has been in the DVR game for well over a decade now, and the interface is a testament to that. The system is super intuitive, responsive, and looks very nice as well. You’ll even have a full TV guide to set all the recordings you want.

All in all, the TiVo Roamio costs a lot, but it offers a lot in return too.

TiVo Roamio compatible apps (DVR for Roku)

You can watch Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Roku, and YouTube straight from the device.

Setting up your OTA DVR

Setting up an OTA DVR isn’t too tough, thankfully. First things first, you need to purchase an antenna if you don’t have one already. Don’t stress out—we already have some favorite antennas we can recommend.

If we had to choose a top favorite, we’d go with the Mohu Leaf 50. It’s got a nice signal range, it’s easy to hide around an entertainment center, and it’s made from recycled materials (which is cool). All in all, it’s the best choice for most people.

Once you have your antenna, you’ll connect it to your DVR box with the coaxial port on the back. Once you do that, attach the DVR box to your TV with an HDMI cord, and make sure to plug everything in. With your box up and running, you can start it up, and connect it to your WiFi signal.

With that done, just fire it up and go through the setup process. Let us know in the comments below if you have any lingering questions.

Can I record Sling TV and other streaming services with a DVR?

Unfortunately, no. You can’t record shows on your streaming service with an external DVR device. You’ll need to use the cloud DVR service that comes with your streaming service of choice.

How do OTA (over-the-air) DVRs work?

Before we talk about the best OTA DVRs out there, you probably want to know how they work. Feel free to skip below if you already know a thing or two about it.

In a nutshell, OTA DVRs make your watching-with-an-antenna experience feel much more like a cable experience. The DVR’s guide shows you what’s playing and what’s coming up, and it gives you access to other streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. That’s not even the best part—DVR control also allows you to pause, rewind, and fast-forward live TV. That way, you can record your favorite shows and watch them whenever you like.

What DVR will you pair with your antenna?

We live in a day and age where we want control over what we watch and when we watch it. Thankfully, you don’t need to pay for cable to enjoy the magic of DVR. We’ve gone over our best OTA DVR options, but now you need to decide what’s best for you and your budget.

Let us know if you have questions about OTA DVRs. While we’ve got you here, we’ve got a few questions for you. What DVR did you decide to go with? How’s your experience been so far? Keep us posted in the comments below.

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Tyler Abbott

Being a lifelong Lakers fan living in Salt Lake City, Utah, Tyler is passionate about how to watch sports from any location. He also loves watching popular HBO shows like Game of Thrones.
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54 Comments on "OTA DVR Comparison for Cord Cutters: Best OTA DVRs of 2018"

  1. Mary MacFarlane | April 4, 2015 at 8:01 am |

    We are Seniors, in our eighties, and I am waiting for the antenna to arrive. I am depending on this website to inform me as to how to leave Comcast completely. We are on a tight budget, our Comcast statements reflect a constant increase in our cost, since it seems a lot to pay because we have no premium channels, a phone, and internet with a monthly cost of 188. Looking forward to learning, and curbing our expenditures.

  2. Cyndi Hacker | April 10, 2015 at 9:31 am |

    Hi Steve,

    I’m planning to get the tablo 4 tuner. I have 2 TVs. Do I need 2 Rokus? Do I need 2 external hard drives?

    Thanks so much for this article!

    • You only need one external hard drive. You will need 2 Rokus. I often recommend going with a Roku streaming stick for the second TV, as it’s a cheaper option. You can also get it free with a 3 month subscription to Sling TV.

  3. Jen Palmer | April 23, 2015 at 6:03 pm |

    Hi Steve,

    I’m getting ready to cut the cord. My husband, not so much.

    I’ve downloaded the free Sling tv free trial. With what will I get local tv? The antenna? Don’t mean to sound so naive. We’re not kids and while I’m very Internet savvy, I’ll need to explain this to my husband in a very detailed way! We’re being held hostage by Comcast and I want to be freed!

  4. tony strother | May 17, 2015 at 6:28 pm |

    Hey Steve, thanks for the great info. I am getting ready to join the cord cutters. Have any of these devices gotten any better, worse? Do you still view Tablo as the best option? Is streaming easy, reliable?
    Thanks,
    Tony

  5. John Davis | May 29, 2015 at 11:26 am |

    Do you have any experience with the HDHomerun box? If so, what are your thoughts?

  6. RobMooreCA | June 2, 2015 at 9:49 am |

    I was seriously thinking about getting a Tivo Roamio OTA, plus 5 Mini-Tivos but I ran into something that was a deal breaker for me. Tivo Doesn’t support Sling TV and that was going to be the centerpiece or my streaming channels, in addition to the OTA channels. Tablo, on the other hand, will pick up the same channels, has the same four tuners, and uses the highly regarded Roku as their recommended TV adapter, in addition to Apple TV, Chromecast, etc. Tablo also doesn’t try to eliminate Sling TV. Tivo locks you into their ecoeystem and basically wants to dictate what services you can receive by requiring that all TV’s have a Tivo-mini to connect them. Where a number of new streaming services will probably show up in the next 12 months, the Tablo provides the flexibility to grow as the market changes. It was a no-brainer for me.

  7. Corey Stewart | July 15, 2015 at 6:17 pm |

    I’m getting away from DirecTV and on my own research decided on the 4 channel Tablo (and lifetime guide subscription) along with SlingTV, Netflix, Plex, and Hulu+ streaming to Rokus and Amazon Fire sticks around the house (and I did take advantage of the Sling/Roku 3 deal too). I also have a Slingbox set up at my sister’s house for all of my Pittsburgh sports! The two nagging problems with my setup are both from SlingTV… namely no DVR functionality and limiting the subscription to a single stream. I believe that things will get better in the future as channels are more receptive to negotiations with Sling, but right now it’s tough (and I only live with my wife). If I had a family in my home with 3 or 4 watchers, it might be a dealbreaker. Your thoughts? But I agree,… Tablo and Netflix are the no-brainer solutions out there right now.

    • Since we supplement Sling TV with Amazon Prime in my house, as well as antenna, we don’t typically butt heads on what we want to watch. If I’m watching Sling in the living room for example, my oldest daughter will watch something on network TV or Amazon. My youngest can watch on PBS Kids, etc. Multiple streams would be nice for Sling TV, but it’s not in the cards right now. However, it’s a new service still, so who knows if and when that could change!

  8. SO I have the Basic Cable tv service about 67 channels, can any of the boxes be used with the cable tv service or strictly antenna? I would rather pay for the box instead of having to rent one for $20 a month from cox.

  9. Steve,
    Currently I have a Mohu Curve 30 Designer HDTV antenna connected directly to my TV.
    What I want to do is –
    1. Antenna –> my HTPC (with XBMC) –> TV (this I think needs a tuner card) OR
    2. Antenna –> my AppleTV –> TV (external device for recording?)
    Can you suggest what my options are for either of these possibilities?
    Basically I am sick & tired of paying Disk Network for channel lineup, 90% of which I don’t watch.
    Thanks…

  10. Once set up is the tablo 4 portable to move to new house? Is there new expense with a move and or with a lifetime subscription or monthly?

  11. We watch Netflix for most everything except HGTV Programming and Denver Broncos Football. We can get all but 1 Broncos game OTA so cutting the cord is now feasible. I saw an RCA DTA880 DVR at Walmart so I tried it. Added a 1TB HDD. The picture looks pretty good, but there is a major limitation to this DVR. You cannot watch a program (nor anything else) while you are recording except what you are recording live. Big problem as I like to start a Football game an hour late and skip the commercials. Do all of these have this Feature? Second question: what’s the cheapest way to DVR HGTV shows in HD to one of these DVRs? Third question: most of my OTA channels are 1080i. My projector is 1080p. If I set the DVR to send 1080p, do they send in the native 1080i or upconvert?

    Thanks a bunch!

    • Marty,

      Sounds like you need a DVR with more than one tuner. Tablo makes a 2-tuner and a 4-tuner. As for recording HGTV, Sling TV carries HGTV, but you can’t DVR. However, they do make content available on demand–not certain the extent, but it looks like most shows are available for a few days after they air. I recommend you try the free trial and take a look. If you decide to try it, you can access the on demand programming by pressing up on the control pad when you select the channel. As for your third question, I honestly don’t know the answer. Let me dig/ask around and I’ll see if I can find anything for you. Thanks for commenting!

  12. LOVING YOUR SITE! Such great information!! I do have a question. Would I need to buy a Tablo (DVR) for each of the TV’s in my home? I can’t even fathom not being able to pause or record shows so this is a big deal for our family and would like it on each of our 4 TVs. I’m planning on buying 2 Roku3s for two TV’s, a Roku stick for one and already have an apple tv for the other one. Also planning on buying the Mohu Leaf antenna. Anything else I need?? Thanks for all you help and advice!

    • The Tablo will work on any supported TV/device you have connected. However, if you wanted to use it on 4 TVs at once, you’d need the 4-tuner, as opposed to the 2-tuner. Only catch is I don’t think Apple TV has a Tablo app, so the only way to play Tablo content on your Apple TV would be via airplay.

  13. Phillip Torres | September 8, 2015 at 10:24 am |

    I’m prepared to leave Comcast as soon as I can DVR my sports. Sling offers ESPN and BEIN. Can I use a Tablo to record these channels? Any other suggestions to have sports on demand?

    Thank you,
    Phil

  14. mike caldwell | September 16, 2015 at 11:38 am |

    I have had a 4-tuner Tablo for a year, and am putting it up for sale on Craigslist. The box is great, as are the specs, but the software feature content is very minimal, every “update” has terrible bugs (check the blog today; the new version buffers 20 seconds out of every 30). Even simple feature requests are met with “It’s on the list, stay tunned!!!” but never show up. There are many in the forum that are also fed up with how this unit actually works. If only it worked as advertised. You owe it to your readers to actually dig into this; most will be very disappointed by getting a Tablo on your recommendation.

    • Mike,

      I have a 2-tuner Tablo and it works great. Sorry you had a bad experience. You could always try one of the other options listed in the article. Maybe you’d like the Roamio better. I’d definitely stay away from the Simple.TV at this point.

  15. Will your recommended set up work with Receiver & Home Theater system? We had system professionally installed and they keep trying to talk us into having them “build” us a separate computer so we can cut the Comcast cord.

    Do you have recommendation for best internet service both in value and quality or do I need to stay with ComCast/Xnfinity?

  16. I want to get rid of cable so bad, but every option I see doesn’t really address what I am looking for and/or is very complicated. 85% of what I watch is just plain old network TV. I already have a subscription to Netflix and Amazon Prime that I watch over my Wii. So all I really want to do is find something that will replace my “cable DVR box”, and will tape OTA/Network shows and will copy up to 4 shows at a time. Also, I live in a big city VERY far from the network broadcasting, so outisde antennas just don’t work very well. I am not very tech saavy. So basically I’m looking for some way that I can DVR network TV, and play over my Wii, and not pay a recurring fee for what is essentially free TV.

    • Sent you an email-hope it helps!

      • Hi I am in the same situation as Lisa. Would love the same info/advice you shared. As a side note we also have the Amazon Fire and the sticks, Amazon prime and Netflix. But still watch mostly OTA.

      • Hi Mr. Cable Cutter, thanks for all the great info on here, it helps tremendously to make the cable cutting process a little less daunting. I am in a very similar situation to Lisa Magee, looking to get local station and be able to dvr them. I think I will try the Mohu Leaf antenna, as per your recommendations, that should give me hopefully all local channels I watch, but what then? How do I dvr them? Is the new Sling dvr function capable of that or does that only apply to shows found on Sling? Thnk you so much for your input!

  17. We are moving to a an area where comcast is no longer an option. So this is the perfect opportunity to cut the cord. My question is I have tmobile unlimited data, which includes me to use an unlimited wifi hot spot. I can use it for my computer, and smart tv’s. Will i be able to use any of these DVRs with that or will i have to get internet service?

  18. Since I really don’t need to record anything, can you recommend me an OTM with free or low annual payment EPG and Streaming capabilities?
    Can I install a Mohu Sky 60 Amplified Antenna to the Channel Master DVR +?
    I will appreciate any advice on the subject

  19. We are not “cutting the cord”–we never had a cord. (Gasp!) But we just got a smart Ultra HD TV, and now we are unable to use our “old” VCR to record OTA TV (we previously had an analog TV and converter box). I’m not used to the bells and whistles of DVR supplied by cable companies, so I would be happy just to know of a way to record basic OTA network TV, certain shows that we miss if we’re not home. Is the Channel Master DVR+ the only non-subscription device? It’s a pretty steep price for the very basic task I need it for. Is there any very basic DVR that would be cheaper? We have an antenna, and Netflix, no other streaming, but we don’t really want anything more at this point. Thanks for your thoughts.

  20. Can I use the Tablo with HDTV antenna and Apple TV box at main tv and use Roku sticks at my additional TV’s? Any help would be much appreciated.

  21. No, they won’t work with OTA television

  22. Tablo does not currently support surround sound.

  23. If Tivo Roamio works with Digital Cable, why does it not work with Sling TV?

  24. I must use the Roku remote to access tablo. When checking the ota guide my current station is not on the screen. The Roku remote has no access to previous channel making it difficult to switch back and forth. Is there a solution to these two problems?

    • Hm, that’s odd. I would say your best bet would be to post on the Tablo forums for assistance. They also have a subreddit where Tablo reps will answer support questions.

  25. That sounds correct. Just remember that you can only watch Sling on one TV at a time and you cannot record Sling channels, although some will be available on demand.

  26. My Verizon FIOS cable contract is coming to an end in May. I have Apple TV 4th generation and plan to buy a HDTV antenna. I just want to be able to record OTA channels and watch at my convenience. I do not want to pay any subscription fees whatsoever. Which antenna and DVR would you recommend I purchase? Thank-you!

    • I like the MOhu Leaf 50, but I recommend you run a TVFool.com report first to see what you can pick up in your area. As for no subscription for DVR, perhaps look into the Channelmaster.

  27. I have a Samsung smart TV. Do I still need a streaming device like Roku?

    • It depends on what apps the smart TV comes with and what apps you want to add. The limitations of most smart TVs is they don’t allow for app flexiblity (plus they’re generally slower functioning switching between apps).

  28. I have spent hours researching which streaming device/HD antenna, etc. for the following situation: 90+ year old Mom living w/50+ year old 10 hr work/day who needs to cut Verizon/Frontier STAT! Question: would the Amazon fire tv + stick or ROKU2 and/or 3 + HD Antenna be best for cutting cord? I would add SLING TV + HULU or NETFLIX; currently a T-Mobile cell phone customer (saw the article). Just don’t know which streaming device would work for us oldies? Current bill $170 w/taxes (tv/phone/internet) – too much!

  29. The Mohu Leaf 50 is only picking up 14 channels here in upstate New York. I thought it was a defect, replaced it and still only have 14 channels (only 2 or 3 that I would ever watch)….Mohu said that’s all I will get. Any other ideas for getting local channels in 14502 area code? Must have local channels for news and sports to cut the cord…also are there other internet phone choices? What about magicjack? Thanks, Bill

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