Recording Over-the-Air Channels with a Set-top Box

Over the Air DVR Options

Your options are plentiful, but the interfaces and functions can vary widely between models.

over the air channels

Making the Leap. You have either just discovered the power of accessing over the air channels for free, or your a long time cordcutter who is now looking to supercharge your viewing experience. Either way, you are heading down a very fruitful path. Deciding upon a manufacturer and model can be difficult. Initial cost, tuner features, difficulty of setup and subscription fees can all play a part when choosing the right one for you. If you want to KilltheCableBill without losing the functions and features you enjoy the most, this is a good place to start your search! Though there are plenty of options out there, the following are some of the best DVR (or PVR) devices around based on user satisfaction and included features. Depending upon your computer’s operating system and functionality preferences, one of these could be the choice for you!

over the air channels

The Nuvyyo Tablo is a strong offering in the OTA DVR category that offers a variety of options for watching and recording TV with your current equipment.

The unit price for Tablo TV ranges from about $220 for the dual tuner model to about $300 for the four tuner option. Comparable to similar options in its category, a monthly fee of $5 will get you access to programming information and make recording your shows a bit easier, though the Tablo will also function without a subscription. A lifetime subscription is also available for $150. Additional costs could come into play, depending on your current setup. You’ll need to pick up an antenna, USB hard drive and a streaming box to cast to your TV (i.e. Roku) if you don’t have them already.

Unlike some of its competitors, the Tablo uses its built-in Wi-Fi to stream content to a variety of devices throughout your home. The most common is probably a Roku box or streaming stick, which features built-in functionality with an available app. You’ll also be able to use an Apple TV or Chromecast with a little bit of setup effort, and streaming directly to an iPad or Android tablet is available for viewing while on the move with a native app. Remote streaming is possible after pairing your phone or tablet with the Tablo, which will keep viewing uninterrupted when you’re away from home. The Tablo features an option for full 1080p recording, which should allow for better video quality than some of its competitors, particularly when watching sports.

Drawbacks include a lack of clear QAM signal support, so you won’t be using this device to capture signal from your cable line. If you receive adequate OTA signal in your area, however, the Tablo is a great option to consider in its price range.


TiVo manufactures a variety of models that could serve as your OTA DVR, but the TiVo Roamio OTA is often a favorite among users.

With an initial cost of around $50, the price is right. Don’t forget to include the subscription fee, however, which will set you back about $15 per month for the life of the device. Featuring a 500GB hard drive and four tuners, the TiVo Roamio OTA will allow you to record four shows at once totaling about 75 hours before you’ll need to clear space. Additional features worthy of consideration include an RF remote control, Wi-Fi compatibility and the famously intuitive TiVo interface. In my opinion the monthly subscription cost is too high. And I think if TiVo really wants to capture the attention of cord-cutters, the subscription price should be closer to $4.99 a month. (hello TiVo! Were trying save money here!)

If you want to learn more about the different TiVo options out there, click here to read their full product list overview.


Simple TV is an impressive, first generation option for OTA DVR functionality with some handy additional features.

Costing about $200, the recently discontinued Simple.TV may prove difficult to find. A used device ($67 on Amazon), can be purchased through a variety of outlets, but they aren’t eligible for the lifetime service subscription. At only $5 for a monthly subscription, however, the lifetime service purchase may be less important than on other devices. The main benefit of this model is the ability to stream your recorded content to a wide selection of compatible devices from Roku boxes to iPads. On the downside, to record over the air channels you’ll need to purchase an external hard drive and digital antenna separately for this unit, which adds to the cost. Also, since the Simple.TV is a single tuner DVR, you’ll only be able to record one program at a time. Despite these setbacks, a well-designed interface makes this DVR a formidable option to consider when shopping for a device.


The Channel Master DVR+ is a great option to consider if you aren’t a fan of monthly subscription fees.

Clocking in around the $250 price point, the Channel Master DVR+ is an option for truly free recording of OTA programming. Rovi service is provided at no extra cost, which will give you programming data and allow for future recording. Dual tuners will give you capability to record two programs at once, or record a program while watching something different. Similar to the Simple.TV, you’ll need to add an antenna, hard drive and Wi-Fi adapter, which is something to consider in addition to the base price. Its utilitarian interface doesn’t feature many frills or the polish of a TiVo device, but the DVR+ still provides a great option for completely subscription free recording of OTA programming.


The Magnavox MDR533H combines a large internal HDD and DVD burning capability to ensure you are ready to record all of your favorite programming.

At a price point around $305, the Magnavox MDR533H is a unique option when considering DVR devices. Adding DVD recording and playback, this DVR features an internal 320GB hard drive which can store up to 75 hours of HD content ($349 with a 1 Terabyte Hard Disc Drive). Recording is limited to one program, but an additional tuner will allow you to view another channel while recording takes place. A lack of a proper programming guide will make this option less appealing to some users. As a result, recording will need to be scheduled using the device’s clock, similar to an old VCR. On the plus side, however, this means that subscription fees don’t exist. A simple, less user-friendly option, the MDR533H could be attractive if native DVD burning capability is important to you.


Finding the right OTA DVR for you will depend on which features interest you the most.

Over the air DVRs are available in plenty of shapes and sizes, but a few basic features separate the majority of models. User interface, internal storage, programming guides and subscription fees are all important aspects to consider before making a purchase. Regardless of your decision, take advantage of free OTA DVR possibilities, start recording your over the air channels, and KilltheCableBill today!


Additional Resource

If you have a Media Center PC and are interested in building your own OTA DVR – check out “Using a TV Tuner Card to build a PC based DVR for Recording OTA Free TV”. If you want to learn more about the different TiVo options out there, click here to read their full product list overview.


As always, comments are welcome and encouraged. Cheers!

Is there an OTA DVR that we missed? If so which one and what can you tell us about it?

p.s. If you really enjoyed this post, please consider helping me out and spreading the word below! Thanks!


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5 thoughts on “Recording Over-the-Air Channels with a Set-top Box”

  1. also, Mohu has a “Mohu Channels” device that provides many services (including pause & rewind) but does not yet have DVR functions.

  2. Discontinued? Hadn’t heard that.

    As I mentioned Seattle is very hilly! About 7 or 8 giant hills make up the city. Very few, if any, city locations can get all TV channels OTA. So I have one Simple TV were I am in central Seattle and receive FOX, PBS and CW. My other Simple TV is at my son’s place in north Seattle where ABC, CBS and NBC come in.

    Watching stuff can be confusing. I connect with his Simple TV on the Roku. And with an iPad app I contact with mine . . and AirPlay it to my Apple TV.


  3. Thanks for reaching out. What else can you tell us about your setup? Sounds like you have more than one – is that for multiple TVs? Do you find that they have been discontinued to be an issue?

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