Cable and satellite can be expensive, but you don’t have to be pay a large monthly fee to watch TV. If you live in a city or town with good air intake, install a TV antenna is an easy way to cut the rope and get access to free TV. Pair it with an OTA recorder and you can pause live TV, save your shows for later and fast-forward through commercials. Many of the DVRs we tested will let you stream your recorded content to multiple TVs or when you’re away from home.
The downside, of course, is that “free” can be, well, not free, especially if your DVR charges a monthly fee. For example, a basic DVR like Air TV 2 start around $100, before you add a hard drive, while a TiVo Edge with all the bells and whistles is currently $350 (with a lifetime subscription). However, compared to the cost of cable TV and live TV-streaming services like Hulu Plus Live TV or YouTube TV, even the most expensive antenna DVR will pay for itself in time.
It is worth mentioning that the next version of the ATSC broadcast standard, called NextGen TV, is now available in over 50% of homes. NextGenTV promises visuals up to 4K in the future as well as interactive features not possible in standard broadcast. The others The TVs have onboard NextGen tuners, while there is a DVR available for this — the HDHomeRun Flex 4K. Meanwhile, the Tablo ATSC 3.0 Quad HDMI OTA DVR has been delayed for the near future.
There are three unique OTA DVR products to consider when purchasing a cord-cutting digital video recorder: the Air TV 2 and the TiVo Edge for antenna, and the Nuvyyo Tablo Quad. Each has its own unique features, tuners and capabilities, but there is one I would recommend to both beginners and old hands. Unfortunately, our previous recommendation, Amazon FireTV Recast, has been discontinued. Let’s take a look at the best OTA DVR options.
TiVo has the best name recognition of the devices here, and if you want a traditional set-top DVR the Edge for antenna is your best option. While the Tivo Edge is more expensive than the other products here (especially after adding the lifetime OTA DVR service), the Edge for antenna also offers a ton of features including streaming apps, all wrapped up in TiVo’s interface .
Channel Master currently offers the Edge DVR plus lifetime service for $349 (down from $449).
Read our TiVo Edge hands-on.
AirTV 2 has its advantages, mainly because it is the cheapest of our OTA DVR recommendations and it works without a monthly fee. However, this OTA DVR is actually designed to supplement a $40-a-month Sling TV subscription by adding local channels. And you’ll need to add an external hard drive (not included) to make the AirTV 2 function as a true DVR, even if it doesn’t stop live TV. If you want more functionality it’s worth upgrading to AirTV Anywhere which includes an onboard 1TB hard drive for $200.
Read our AirTV 2 review.
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The Tablo Quad is the latest version of the popular cord-cutting DVR and has all the features. There is room for an internal hard drive and the inclusion of four tuners should serve even the most demanding users. Everything is controlled through the Tablo app. This OTA DVR isn’t the easiest device to set up, however, and you’ll need to pay a subscription to access many of its features.
Read our Nuvyyo Tablo Quad review.
OTA DVR types: Set top vs. networked TV streamer?
There are two main types of DVR options: a traditional set top, which connects directly to a TV via HDMI output; or a networked TV streamer, which connects to your home network and streams to your devices at home or on the go. TiVo Edge for antenna is a traditional set-top (with in-home streaming) while AirTV 2 and Tablo Quad are straight network TV streamers.
A set-top is best for people who usually watch one TV, while a network device is for people who want to watch on multiple devices — streamers like Roku or Amazon Fire TV and other devices such as phones and tablets. In general, a network TV streamer is a more flexible option than an OTA DVR, and can better complement live TV streaming apps or services like Netflix.
Other features to look for
No matter what style of OTA DVR you choose, there are some features common to both that you should look for.
- Two or more HD tuners: One tuner is not enough. When it comes to HD tuners, the more your device has the better. The minimum is two so you can record two channels at the same time, or watch one while you record another, but heavy antenna heads will appreciate it more.
- 1TB or more of storage: Depending on the device you have, one terabyte of built-in storage space should offer about 150 hours of program content. But if you choose a device like TiVo that automatically records shows that it “thinks you want,” you can quickly run out. That’s why you should also…
- The ability to add more storage via USB or SD card: An external hard drive is an excellent option, providing your DVR without the need for a proprietary model. Usually, a 1TB external hard drive is cheap for around 50 bucks.
- 14 days guidance data: While seven days is definitely the minimum amount that is useful, two weeks gives you more flexibility.
- There are no ongoing fees: Most people are cutting the cord to save money, so paying another monthly fee doesn’t make sense. TiVo offers a lifetime service option so you can pay for the device and carry the data forward.