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

Best OTA DVR Book Cover Best OTA DVR

Looking for the best OTA DVR to record all of your favorite programs on TV? We compare all of the top OTA DVR brands, and the Tablo DVR is our top pick!

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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 watch 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 2018 and now includes detailed DVR reviews of the top options.

5 Best OTA DVRs of 2018

  • TabloTV
  • TiVo Bolt
  • TiVo Roamio
  • Channel Master DVR+
  • Simple.TV

OTA DVR Comparison

#1 TabloTV (FREE two-day shipping with Amazon Prime; free 30-day trial)– TOP PICK

Tablo DVR

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:

#2 TiVo Bolt

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:

#3 TiVo Roamio

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.

The Roamio supports Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, and doesn’t require a separate streaming device. The guide looks nice and includes streaming content with OTA shows. And you won’t need an external hard drive, as it has plenty of internal memory. The Roamio can be purchased at a great price on Amazon, and you can get free 2-day shipping with Amazon Prime.

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:

#4 Channel Master DVR +

channel master dvr+

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:

  • Antenna
  • External hard drive or pay for additional memory
  • USB Wi-Fi Adapter
  • Streaming box (if you want Netflix, Amazon, etc.)

#5 Simple.TV

Simple.TV 2

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.

Want to stream to mobile devices? The Simple. TV 2 lets you do that as well. It has apps for both iOS and Android devices.

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:

  • Antenna
  • Set-top streaming device
  • External hard drive

Tablo Wins

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.

Have a question about OTA DVRs? Click here to ask me about it! Also, check out my homepage and learn more about how you can cut the cord.

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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?

  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.

  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,

  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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