If you're a cord cutter, you probably know about free over-the-air TV. But you may miss cable's ability to record live TV. That's where over-the-air (OTA) DVRs come in. DVRs have been a staple for cable users for years now, but cord cutters haven't been left out in the cold. Cord cutters have access to OTA DVRs, which can record live TV from antennas – meaning you can record your free TV! And if you're ready to invest in an OTA DVR, you're going to want to choose the best OTA DVR.
We've compiled this list of the best OTA DVRs available today by aggregating reviews from the most trusted tech sites on the web. These devices have earned acclaim from critics all over, and with good reason. Check out the list below, and find the right fit for your goals and price range!
- Price Range: $0 per month
As of this writing, ChannelMaster is still taking preorders for this as-yet-unreleased device. But this new version will replace the Channel Master DVR+, which was one of the best non-subscription OTA DVRs available in its day.
And the new version promises to correct the primary issue with the DVR+ – a less-than-elegant interface – by adding Google’s Android TV streaming platform to the mix. That’s a powerful alliance that allows the Stream+ to combine the features of a quality streaming device with those of an OTA DVR. The fact that this device requires no subscription and costs just $99 – less than its predecessor – only makes it more clear that the Stream+ belongs on our list of the best OTA DVRs.
The major review sites haven’t gotten their hands on this one yet, so keep that in mind. But it is already generating a lot of buzz with reputable review sites like CNET – and Cordcutting.com, too.
- Price Range: $0 per month
Nuvyyo’s Tablo Dual OTA DVR is the newest OTA DVR model from a company that has been solely focused on over-the-air fans and cord cutters from the start. Tablo devices have been a staple on our list of the best OTA DVRs for some time now, and this year is no exception thanks to this well-reviewed device. While we can’t vouch for it personally, the Tablo Dual OTA DVR has gotten solid marks from around the cord cutting web.
The Tablo Dual OTA DVR also corrects some of the most frustrating things about past Tablo models. No longer will you be expected to provide your own external storage to record your shows: sensibly, this model includes 64GB of on-board storage. Because of this, it can actually, uh, do what it’s supposed to do without making you buy more stuff (well, besides your antenna – but that’s a pretty standard expectation in this space).
Tablo offers a subscription service that will fill out a nice pretty TV guide for you and make recording content feel a bit more like you’d expect from a decent DVR. The catch on that is that Tablo’s service costs $5 per month (though you can pre-pay for a lifetime subscription and not worry about those monthly payments, if you’re sure you’re going to be using Tablo for the long haul).
- Price Range: $0 per month
TiVo has been dominating the DVR market for a long time now, so it comes as no surprise that it is back on our list yet again. The price of the TiVo Roamio OTA has come down since its initial release, but the quality of the product remains elite, and it’s more than deserving of its spot on our list of the best OTA DVRs.
The TiVo Roamio OTA isn’t perfect, of course. While The TiVo Roamio family of products has long enjoyed positive press, critics and cord cutters alike have complained about TiVo’s pricey subscription service. At $14.99 per month, the extra bills can really add up. Still, if you’re looking for the best possible solution to your OTA DVR needs, it’s hard to make a case against the TiVo Roamio OTA. TiVo gets away with that pricey DVR service for a reason: it remains the high-end superstar of the DVR market, OTA and cable alike.
The whole Roamio family of products is worthy of the TiVo name (cord havers, consider the Roamio Pro). The Roamio offers lots of streaming apps and a world-class user experience. Professional reviewers like the ones at CNET and amateur reviewers like the ones who have populated the device’s Amazon page with starred reviews agree: this is a next-level device.
- Price Range: $4.99 - $119.99 per month
- Free Trial: None
How does an OTA DVR work, when it comes right down to it?
It has a TV tuner, which allows it to receive and interpret the signals that the antenna picks up. It has storage (or asks you to provide it), so that it can write a video file to your computer, translating from the over-the-air signal as it goes. Then it has Wi-Fi, so that it can allow that file to be streamed on a different device. Then the makers of the OTA DVR need to provide an app that you can use on that different device to do that streaming.
As it turns out, you can replicate this entire setup yourself without actually having to buy an OTA DVR at all. You’ll need the premium version of the media server service Plex (called “Plex Pass”), device capable of running a Plex server, and (assuming your Plex-running device doesn’t already have one), a TV tuner.
So let’s say you choose to run Plex on your computer. You download Plex on that computer, connect an over-the-air antenna via a PC TV tuner like this one, and voil : you’ve created your own OTA DVR. Using the Plex app, you can now stream live over-the-air TV on other devices and can record live TV (just keep in mind that you can’t do both at the same time, because you’re only using one TV tuner).
This is a great way to keep costs low, as you’ll need relatively few things that you don’t (probably) already own. Just keep in mind that Plex Pass will cost you $4.99 per month (or $39.99 per year, or $119.99 for a lifetime subscription). Considering all the other good stuff Plex can do, this is a pretty cost-effective solution. Why not just make the best OTA DVR you can imagine?