Are you a cord-cutter who utilizes an over-the-air antenna to watch networks like NBC, FOX, ABC, and CBS? If so, you may be wondering how to record content from those channels to watch later. What you’ll need is a good DVR for over the air channels – one that’s specifically designed for this use. In this guide, we’ll help you find the best OTA DVR for cord cutters, based on our research and testing.
If you live in an area with good access to broadcast TV channels, using a good antenna is a great way to get reliable access to free TV – including some of the biggest sporting events, most popular shows, and breaking news. However, if you’re not always around to watch live, being able to record is a huge benefit. This guide will help you find the best DVR for cord-cutters in this situation, and show you how to use a DVR without cable.
The Best OTA DVR for Cord Cutters
There are a lot of DVRs on the market, but not all of them can be used to record OTA channels. It’s important to choose wisely to avoid disappointment. These are our top recommendations:
The Tablo Quad is perhaps the best OTA DVR overall. It’s designed specifically for cord-cutters, and allows you to record up to 4 OTA channels at the same time. You can even use it to automatically skip commercials! You can use it to browse upcoming shows, schedule recordings in advance, and of course browse your library of recorded programming.
One unique thing about the Tablo Quad is that it does not connect to your TV. Instead, it connects to your internet router. This allows recorded content on your Tablo to be viewed from any device that’s connected to your home internet. So you can watch on your TV, your computer, or even your mobile device! This DVR comes with basic features for free, and you can subscribe to Tablo Guide for expanded storage and more features, starting at $5 per month.
Amazon Fire TV Recast
The Amazon Fire TV Recast is another good option – and one that has no monthly fee, which cord cutters will appreciate. The Recast is a DVR built specifically for cord-cutters. It lets you record OTA TV directly to be stored on the built-in hard drive (500gb storage). You can record 2 shows at once, and store up to 75 hours of HD content on the device. Because the storage is built-in, there is no extra fee to store files digitally in the cloud.
However, to get the most out of this device, you’ll need to have an Amazon Fire streaming device, and you’ll probably want an Amazon Prime subscription as well. Prime is not strictly necessary, but it will improve your experience with the Fire TV Recast significantly. You can also watch recorded content on your mobile devices.
If you’re a Sling TV subscriber, the best OTA DVR for you is the AirTV. This device is designed to complement a Sling TV subscription by adding local channels, which integrate into the Sling TV interface. This provides a convenient way to watch and record OTA networks, and it also fills in the gaps of Sling TV’s otherwise-impressive channel lineup. You may wish to add an external hard drive to the AirTV to make it function like a true DVR, particularly if you don’t have Sling TV.
The AirTV is also quite affordable, and is the cheapest option of anything on this list. It lacks some of the extra features of high-end DVRs, but it provides a good baseline for those looking to save money. Ultimately, the AirTV is a great option for Sling TV subscribers, and a decent option for everyone else.
For those looking for a more all-in-one device, the TiVo Bolt is a good option. This is a standard set-top DVR, that also has built-in streaming apps. In a way, it functions as a DVR and a streaming device at once, so it can be used as your only streaming device plugged into your TV. Do keep in mind that the use of this device requires a TiVo subscription, which starts at $6.99 per month.
A TiVo subscription also comes with access to the TiVo app, which lets you stream recorded content on your mobile devices. With this setup, the TiVo Bolt functions as an all-in-one streaming solution, and replaces the need for other devices. With that said, the extra monthly cost should be closely considered.
Using a DVR without Cable – What You Need to Know
Now that you’ve seen our list of the best OTA DVRs, it’s helpful to learn more about actually using them. Here are some helpful things to keep in mind.
Features to Look For
Network Streamer vs Set Top DVR
There are two basic types of OTA DVRs: traditional set-top boxes, which connect to your TV via an HDMI cord, and Network Streaming DVRs, which connect to your wireless network. Traditional DVRs work only with 1 device; the TV that they are plugged into. On the other hand, Network Streaming style DVRs let you watch on most devices that are connected to your home network – including mobile devices. Most of our recommendations on this list are network streaming DVRs, except for the TiVo Bolt, which is a traditional set-top.
Number of HD Tuners
The number of HD tuners included on each DVR will dictate how many channels you can record (or watch) at once. If you have 2 tuners, you can record on 2 channels at once, or record on 1 and watch on another. You’ll want at least 2 tuners, but larger households may appreciate even more.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the storage space that’s included. DVRs can have either internal storage, cloud storage, or both. For the most part, cloud storage plans will be paid, meaning you’ll have to pay a monthly subscription to use them. Internal storage functions more like an actual hard drive, allowing you to store your shows locally. For a frame of reference, 500gb of storage space is usually enough for around 75 hours of HD recordings. If you don’t ant to pay for a subscription, check out our guide on best DVRs without subscription fees.
Some DVRs also offer the ability to expand your storage space, through the use of an external hard drive (or SD card). DVRs that have hard-drive compatible USB ports will typically allow you to plug in any sort of external hard drive in order to expand your recording storage.
Fees & Monthly Costs
Another important consideration is the monthly fees you may be required to pay, in order to use your DVR. Since most cord-cutters want to avoid extra costs, these should be closely considered.
Unfortunately, most OTA DVRs require some sort of monthly subscription in order to use all the available features. However, most provide basic functionality without a subscription.
For the most part, these fees range from $5 to $10 per month depending on the service. Most providers also offer yearly and even lifetime subscriptions at a discounted rate.
Devices like the Amazon Fire TV Recast do not require a subscription, which is a big selling point. You’ll want to consider the ongoing costs when choosing the best OTA DVR for your situation.
If you have any questions about choosing an OTA DVR for cord cutting, comment below and I’ll try my best to help you out! And don’t forget to check out our main guide on how to get rid of cable TV once and for all.