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Free over-the-air TV is one of the most powerful tools at a cord cutter's disposal. With an over-the-air antenna, you can watch all the free TV you want to without a cable or satellite contract. But what about one of cable's more modern perks: the ability to pause, rewind, and record live TV? Can you use a DVR without cable? Is there such a thing as an antenna DVR?

There is! Thanks to OTA DVRs, it is possible to pause, rewind, and record live TV using an over-the-air TV antenna. Below, we'll explain the concept, show you how to record over-the-air TV and how to use a DVR without cable, and lay out your best options for OTA DVRs and similar solutions.

How to Record Over-the-Air TV

When you plug an antenna into your television, you're connecting it to a TV tuner that reads the over-the-air TV signals picked up by your antenna and then displays them on your TV. That means, generally, that you can't do much besides just watch the free over-the-air TV – recording it is out of the question if all you're using is a TV and an antenna. And for each additional TV, you'll need an additional antenna.

Again, though, that's only the case if you use nothing but TVs and antennas. But what if we open up our options a bit and start considering additional technologies that work with over-the-air antennas? Well, then we'll find that we actually don't need an antenna for every TV in the house.

One type of device in particular – the OTA DVR – is particularly relevant to this discussion. An OTA DVR is just an antenna DVR. Like a regular DVR, it has an input for your TV source (just plug in the antenna where the cable would go) and writes what it records to a hard drive, allowing you to later access that recording and play it on demand.

Let's take a closer look at the OTA DVR, our best answer to the question of how to record over-the-air TV.

OTA DVRs and How They Work

A typical OTA DVR looks something like this:

An antenna DVR? Believe it! You can use a DVR without cable - How to record over-the-air TV

That's the Tablo, but there are plenty of other dark gray boxes on the market for your purchasing pleasure. Somewhere on the thing, you'll find a coaxial jack, which is what you plug one of these into:

Coaxial cable - the cable that connects an over-the-air antenna to your OTA DVR, allowing you to record free over-the-air channels

There's one of those on your over-the-air antenna, so, naturally, that's what you'll stick on the coaxial jack on the OTA DVR.

Then you'll need a hard drive to store all the good stuff you'll be recording. On some models, this is built in; in other cases, you'll need to rely on an external hard drive that you'll purchase separately.

Next up: actually recording the shows. There are two main ways that OTA DVRs work in this respect.

The first is to use an app. The Tablo up there doesn't actually connect to your TV at all – you can put it (with its attached antenna) in a totally different room, if you so desire. That's because it uses Wi-Fi to allow you to pick recordings – and play them – with an app. You can get the Tablo app for smartphones and other devices. You can get it for streaming devices like the Roku, so if you still want to select recordings with your TV and a remote, you can do that. It's just that the device recording the stuff isn't actually physically connected to your TV – it's using Wi-Fi.

Then there are OTA DVRs that do connect to your TV. In these cases, you're still plugging the antenna straight into the DVR, but you are then connecting your DVR to your TV with another cable. Some of these devices also have apps, though, so the difference is kind of academic: in all cases, you can set recordings from mobile apps or right on your TV, and can view the recorded goodies on your TV.

One more thing is worth mentioning here: OTA DVRs, like regular DVRs, typically have subscription fees. In many cases, you can get bare-bones functionality without paying for a subscription, but the bells and whistles – like fancy program descriptions and mobile features – require you to sign up for a premium service. In some cases, you can swap the monthly fee for a big lump sum payment that nets you a lifetime subscription. Those sorts of specifics depend on which brand and which device you choose.

Which OTA DVR Is Right for You?

You can use a DVR without cable! There are a lot of great companies out there making OTA DVRs right now. Let's cover a few of them right here.

TiVo

TiVo is the biggest and baddest of the DVR companies, and for good reason – they have been doing this quite literally since the invention of the DVR. They're well known for their cable DVRs and their history with the technology, but they also make OTA DVRs, and their products are excellent.

TiVo OTA DVRs:

Tablo (Nuvyyo)

Tablo's claim to fame is that they were a cord cutting company from the start. Or, technically, Nuvyyo was a cord cutting company from the start, and they made a product called the Tablo – but they never use “Nuvyyo” on their stuff, and everything from their website to their ads says “Tablo” and not “Nuvyyo,” so it's confusing. Don't worry about it, though, because the point here is that they make really good OTA DVRs.

Tablo OTA DVRs:

Channel Master

Channel Master has been in the over-the-air TV game for ages, so it's only natural that they also make products to help you record over-the-air channels. Channel Master has phased out some of their older and clunkier models and is getting ready to launch the Stream+, a device that has the whole cord cutting community pretty excited.

Channel Master OTA DVRs:

Alternatives to OTA DVRs

If you're a tech-savvy person, you may have realized by now that an OTA DVR is a pretty simple device. It's just a TV Tuner, a little computer, and a hard drive. As you might suspect, this means that you have some DIY and semi-DIY options for recording over-the-air TV.

For starters, you'll need a PC TV tuner like this Hauppauge model that we reviewed a while back.

They typically come with software, and sometimes that means basic OTA DVR functionality right out of the box. But unless you want to watch everything on your computer, your next step is to start thinking about servers.

There are various ways to set up free media servers and OTA DVR programs to get OTA content (including live and recorded content) onto other devices. But for simplicity and functionality, it's hard to beat Plex, one of our favorite media services.

If you're willing to pay for Plex's premium subscription service, Plex Pass, you'll get live TV and OTA DVR support. Run a Plex server on your computer with an antenna connected via PC TV tuner, and you'll be able to stream live and recorded OTA TV on any device running the Plex app. And since the Plex app is widely available for popular streaming devices, this makes things pretty simple!

The Power of Over-the-Air TV

So there you have it: now you know how to record over-the-air TV. But this is just one example of the ways in which you can get more out of your free over-the-air TV setup. So be sure to check out all of our free over-the-air TV coverage here on Cordcutting.com, and follow us on social media for more tips and tricks for getting the most out of OTA TV!

24 thoughts on “How to Record Over-the-Air TV

  1. Nathan says:

    If the user doesn’t want to pay any monthly fees, that is still doable in 2018. The TiVo Roamio OTA sells directly from TiVo for $499. Including their guide without monthly fees. Tablo has a free guide 2-3 days, or a subscription guide 14 days. Channel Master Stream+ is $150 with a free guide. Only 24 hours are displayed, but 14 days of data can be searched and setup to record. They also offer a basic device that can be used as a very basic DVR for $89. Ebay & Amazon sell several low cost DVR’s with names like MStar, & Ematic for under $50.

  2. Becky says:

    Stephen, can the Channel Master Stream+ OTA DVR work with a smart TV and a Roku Stick?

  3. Ted Beckwith says:

    You left out SiliconDust HDHomeRun Connect and Emby, both better options than Hauppauge and Plex.

    1. Cordcutting.com says:

      Thanks for pointing out, Ted! Our list wasn’t meant to be definitive. However, you’re right in that HDHomeRun and Emby are excellent choices.

  4. Ron says:

    There are many PVRs to choose from — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_DVR_software_packages

    I have used SageTV for about ten years now and I am, also, impressed with the HDHomeRun software — https://www.silicondust.com/dvr-service/

  5. Mark says:

    TiVo never gets enough love in my opinion. I bought 3 Roamios, one for each room we watch TV in, with lifetime subscriptions and an antenna on the roof. With a cable bill of $120/month it paid off the investment in 18 months. TiVo does a great job of integrating search – it searches across the OTA guide and streaming services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc. The apps have got much better and the 3 TiVos network together so my kids don’t have to deal with multiple remotes to watch anything, anywhere. I also have lots of old TV shows and movies on a Plex server the TiVo works great with. All I pay for is the streaming services I use, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. My only complaint is that they abandoned TiVo Desktop, it was a much more seamless way of getting downloaded TV shows onto the TiVo than using Plex.

  6. Randy says:

    I have a Tivo Premiere and a Tivo Roamio – can these be used with an OTA antenna, or do I need to replace them with an OTA-dedicated device?

  7. Charles Dobson says:

    I have a Samsung Smart TV. I use over the air TV and I use Philo obviously Philo doesn’t have my local channels so isn’t there a way to where I could just record my shows from OTA to the memory stick?

  8. doug says:

    article was phoned in. products aren’t even available.

    1. Larry says:

      It was written some time ago, it was *updated* in 2019…some people just loooooove to complain!

    2. alcortaj@rocketmail.com says:

      An OTA DVR with pause live TV any good ones not cheap but not pricey

  9. Bobbie says:

    Why is it so difficult to record OTA antenna programs? I don’t want a subscription I don’t understand why I can’t just hook it up and record. I don’t care about streaming at all.

    1. terrence shumaker says:

      I agree with this guy. I just picked up a simple dvr,but my question is how much data space do I need in my external usb hard drive to record a couple movies?

      1. Stephen Lovely says:

        For just a couple of movies, you won’t need much! Figure that each hour of HD content can take up to around 5GB (at most, and it depends on a few other factors). You could cover a couple of movies at a time with 32 GB, and you could cram in more if you set your DVR to record at 720 instead of 1080. Storage is pretty cheap these days, though, so you might want to grab something a bit bigger and buy yourself a bit of breathing room.

  10. J Pick says:

    What happened to the “set and record” functions of the old VCR’s? Can you not set the channel, time on and time off to record any more on some device? Do DVD recorders not have the ability to preset timed recordings? All of a sudden the 1980’s seem desirable again.

    1. Kriss says:

      I need this too. I font have wifi. I JUST hsve an ondife anntena. Yhe only thing i miss is not being tied down to sir times. Cant i use an old dvr or vhs recorder ??

    2. Tony says:

      I can do that with my channelmaster DVR, not sure if their new stream + is the same way though

  11. Rori says:

    I need to cut the cord! Problem is finding the best product for my Samsung smart TV’s. I need tuner and dvr with built in storage, because I’m not a DIYer and I’ll be doing all I can to get apps going and connect/position antenna and tuner to my router. Would like 1000 hours of storage, but I could live with 500. Likewise 4 tuner capability would be great, but I can live with 2. Please help!

    1. Stephen Lovely says:

      Tablo makes a four-tuner DVR, and you could add as much storage as you’d like with a simple USB hard drive — no real DIY work necessary. Thanks for reading and I hope this helps!

  12. terry shumaker says:

    Why is over the air recording so complicated. I purchased a Homeworx dvr for 36 bucks and an Easystore external usb hard drive for 54 bucks. I bridged the antenna to the dvr and tv and connected the dvr to the tv with an hdmi cable. There you go,it can’t be anymore simpler then that.

  13. Mick Emrick says:

    So, can anyone tell me if you can record OTA tv without internet or WiFi?

    1. itstheboz says:

      Most of the ones with better features require at least wifi to connect to the device. I have a Tablo, but also an iView-3500STBII that has a guide/remote/signal meter built in and is a DVR with USB storage capabilities. It’s not even close to my primary DVR option, but it does work OTA without networking–but only to a single tv that it is connected to. Hope this helps!

      1. Oldiesbutgoodies says:

        Can you watch a channel while recording a different one? Thanks!

        1. Stephen Lovely says:

          It depends on the DVR setup, but generally, yes!

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