OTA DVR Comparison for Cord Cutters

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OTA DVR Comparison for Cord Cutters

Posted on March 25, 2015 by Steve Belk

When I cut the cord, I discovered that an antenna provided me access to tons of live HD programming for free. This allowed me to catch NFL games, the local news, and all the popular network TV shows. However, I lost the capability to record these shows and watch them at a later date when the cable company took my DVR back. I also really missed having the ability to pause live TV and skip those annoying commercials.

Luckily, nowadays there are some good OTA DVR options available that allow you to record, pause, skip, and playback all channels you receive through your antenna. Here’s a look at the best DVR options currently available for cord cutters.

OTA DVR Comparison at a Glance
OTA - DVR Comparison

A Deeper Look at the Top OTA DVRs
TabloTablo DVR
To me, the Tablo is as good as it gets for OTA DVRs. By connecting to your antenna and your router, it allows you to record any programming coming in through your antenna, and watch it through any streaming device on your network. So if you have a Roku 3 in your bedroom, an Apple TV in your living room, a laptop…you can stream to them all. However, it’s worth noting that since the Tablo doesn’t connect directly to your TV, you must own some type of streaming device to watch the content.
Want to watch on the go? Tablo lets you. All you have to do is locally pair your mobile device with the DVR. Once you’ve done this, you can stream your recorded content on your device from anywhere. This can be done through the Tablo app, or an internet browser.

The Tablo requires an external USB hard drive for storing content, which is an additional upfront cost. This also enables pausing and skipping features. Keep in mind that a flash drive is too small for the job.

Tablo is available in three different versions. Here’s a quick rundown of each.

  • 2-tuner–Connect to your antenna (I recommend the Mohu Leaf) and record up to 2 shows at a time. Watch through up to 6 streaming devices simultaneously.
  • 4-tuner–Same as the 2-tuner, except you can record up to 4 shows at a time.
  • METRO 2-tuner–Designed for people in urban areas, the METRO features a built-in antenna. In other words, you don’t need a separate antenna when you have this version.

Tablo offers a 24-hour-in-advance program guide for free. But to get all the features of Tablo, you need a subscription. The subscription gives you full access to Tablo’s guide. This provides cover art, descriptions, and series synopses for all programming. Unlike most other OTA DVRs, the subscription price is cheap. $4.99 per month, $49.99 per year or $149.99 for a lifetime subscription. Keep in mind that every Tablo comes with a free 30 day subscription to their guide service.

Other Equipment Needed:

  • Antenna (unless you buy the METRO version of the Tablo)
  • Set-top streaming device (I recommend the Roku 3)
  • External hard drive (I recommend the WD Elements 2 TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive)

#2 TiVo Roamio
Tivo Roamio

The TiVo Roamio is a popular option for people who are still somewhat married to the idea of cable. It’s a well-known brand that is an easy “next step” for many, especially with the $49.99 price point. Let’s face it, TiVo is the best-known DVR brand. They’ve been around for years and have proven that they can be counted on to deliver quality products.

The Roamio supports Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, and doesn’t require a separate streaming device. The guide looks nice, and includes streaming content with OTA shows. And you won’t need an external hard drive, as it has plenty of internal memory.
However, I do have some gripes. My complaints begin with the setup. It takes forever. And once you get things running, the interface is difficult to navigate at first.

Then there is the expensive subscription. At $14.99 a month, I’m spending $180 per year. That’s over 3 times the yearly subscription cost of a Tablo. Not to mention, they don’t even offer a lifetime subscription. On top of that, if I want to be able to stream to my mobile devices, I have to purchase the TiVo stream for an additional $129.99.

Another negative is that it’s only built for one TV. If you want to use it on multiple, you have to buy their Mini option for your other TVs, at about $149.99 each. However, it is worth noting that the Mini also acts as a streaming box, so you won’t need additional Roku 3s or other streaming devices.

Other Equipment Needed:

  • Antenna
  • Mini devices for extra TVs
  • TiVo stream for mobile streaming

#3 Channel Master DVR +
Channel Master DVR

The Channel Master DVR+ is perhaps the most simple-to-use OTA DVR choice out there. It’s easy to set up, and offers a guide that looks just like the cable guide you are used to, with no monthly subscription fee. And as far as looks go, it’s super thin and sleek.

However, the Channel Master DVR + is pretty limited. The interface is as bare bones as it gets. And with no Wi-Fi capability, you’re probably going to need a separate adapter. Not to mention, it isn’t compatible with most of the popular streaming services. Currently the DVR only supports Vudu, YouTube, and Pandora.

The Channel Master DVR + also only works for one TV. And since it’s the most expensive DVR option on this list, well, it doesn’t really make sense to purchase multiples.

Other Equipment Needed:

  • Antenna
  • External hard drive or pay for additional memory
  • USB Wi-Fi adapter
  • Streaming box (if you want Netflix, Amazon, etc.)

#4 Simple. TV
Simple TV

The Simple. TV 2 is very similar to the Tablo. It connects to your antenna and router. This allows you to push content out to any TV in your house. With 2 tuners, you can watch and record two separate programs simultaneously, and stream on a total of 5 devices at once.

Want to stream to mobile devices? The Simple. TV 2 lets you do that as well. It has apps for both iOS and Android devices.

The Simple. TV 2 doesn’t come without its shortcomings though. First of all, unlike the Tablo, there is no wireless capability. So it’s limited to where you can place it, due to the fact that it must be connected to an ethernet cable. It’s also noisy, especially when there are multiple streams going.

Finally, there are also lots of complaints on how buggy it can be. While most of the time it works like a charm, it’s not 100% dependable. For example, you may occasionally get a black screen when trying to load a program. This will require you to reload the app to get it to work, which is a bit annoying.

Other Equipment Needed:

  • Antenna (unless you buy the METRO version of the Tablo)
  • Set-top streaming device
  • External hard drive

Tablo Wins
After it’s all said and done, Tablo wins out for me. Sure it has a higher initial price point than the TiVo, but the cheaper subscription more than makes up for that. It has more options, and is constantly being updated and improved. Want to give it a try? You can get the Tablo by clicking here.

Have a question about OTA DVRs? Click here to ask me about it! Also, check out my post, “How to Get Rid of Cable–Step by Step Guide” and learn more about how you can cut the cord.

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