In 2023, cord cutters’ over-the-air DVR options have narrowed a bit since their heyday.
Amazon dropped out of the DVR business by discontinuing the Fire TV Recast in 2022, and TiVo has lost interest in DVRs as it focuses on streaming. Meanwhile, it’s been years since any new companies have entered the over-the-air DVR fray.
But don’t despair. If you have good enough antenna reception at home, you still have plenty of solid options for recording broadcast channels and skipping through commercials. While you don’t need an over-the-air DVR (or even an antenna) to cut the cord, having one can be a great way to get more content for less. Read on for some of the best ways to do that, based on our long-running series of antenna-based DVR product reviews:
Updated May 10, 2023 with our latest take on this product category.
Nuvyyo Tablo Quad DVR–Best OTA DVR for most cord-cutters
- Easy to set up
- Streams live and recorded TV to practically any device
- Ad skipping is great, when it works
- Internal storage is a nice touch
- Ad skipping doesn’t always work
- 1080i and 480i channels look choppier than 720p channels for news and sports
- Not all devices support out-of-home viewing
Tablo’s $200 networked tuner can capture up to four over-the-air channels at a time. It then uses your Wi-Fi connection to stream the video onto Roku players, Fire TVs, and other streaming devices. Set it up wherever you get the best reception, and you’ll have a whole-home DVR that works across all your devices. While its video quality doesn’t quite match that of native broadcasts—a limit of 30 frames per second for interlaced channels is a big downside—Tablo hits the sweet spot for ease-of-use, device support, and recording options.
Note that the standard Tablo Quad requires you to supply a hard drive, but you can buy one with a built-in 1 TB drive for $240. For a cheaper bring-your-own storage option, consider the $150 Tablo Dual Lite, which can play or record up to two channels at a time.
Channels DVR (2020)–Best OTA DVR for power users
- Records both over-the-air and live streaming channels
- Slick software with lots of DVR creature comforts
- Excellent audio and video quality for broadcast channels
- Complicated setup
- No Roku or game console support
- Subscription fee is higher than other over-the-air DVRs
Channels DVR can be tricky to set up, as it requires you to bring your own media server hardware, and its $8-per-month subscription fee is pricier than other over-the-air DVR solutions. But for those who invest the time and money, Channels provides an unparalleled level of polish, video quality, and power-user features—including the ability to record from some streaming sources.
AirTV Anywhere — Best OTA DVR with no subscription fees
- Combines over-the-air and Sling TV channels in one app
- Built-in hard drive simplifies setup
- No subscription fees for DVR service
- Can’t pause live TV, auto-skip ads, or get a visual preview while fast forwarding
- Limited ways to find and record over-the-air programs
- No 60-frames-per-second or surround-sound support
What the $200 AirTV Anywhere lacks in DVR features, it makes up for with its one-time pricing and Sling TV integration. Set it up anywhere and it streams over-the-air broadcasts directly into the Sling app, where you can set up basic series-based and one-time recordings. Video quality isn’t great and recording options are minimal, but it pairs well with Sling’s bundle of cable channels and is worth considering for non-Sling subscribers as a no-frills option.
What to look for in an over-the-air DVR
Evaluating over-the-air DVR solutions is tough, because there are so many factors that can make or break the experience. If you want to investigate further, here are some factors to consider:
Ad-skipping features: Advertising is still a staple of broadcast TV, but some DVRs provide tools to help you skip them. TiVo is the best in this regard, providing an auto-skip button for some programs, and a 30-second skip button for everything else.
Antenna placement options: Over-the-air DVR is useless if your antenna can’t receive channels, so unless you’ve got coaxial cable wired to the roof, you’ll need to set up your DVR in a place with solid indoor antenna reception. Tablo can operate anywhere in the house, HDHomeRun must be wired to your router, and TiVo and Channel Master are tied to your television. Plan accordingly.
Granular recording options: Perhaps you’d like to keep only a certain number of recent episodes, or replace your recordings with higher-resolution versions when available. Not all DVRs are equal in the recording controls they provide. Our full reviews will provide more details.
Live TV time-shifting and catch-up: Want to pause for snack breaks? How about watching partway through a program so you can skip the commercials? Most DVR solutions support this type of time-shifting, but HDHomeRun and Plex currently don’t.
Number of tuners: More tuners means more simultaneous recordings or live viewings. TiVo has four tuners, Tablo has two- and four-tuner options, and HDHomeRun lets you daisy-chain multiple dual-tuner units together.
Out-of-home streaming: Tablo and Plex both allow you to watch live and recorded TV from outside the house. TiVo requires a $130 TiVo Stream for mobile device access.
Storage options: With the exception of TiVo Roamio OTA, all the DVRs we reviewed support storage on external hard drives. Tablo has also started beta testing a cloud-based storage service, but we don’t yet know what it’ll cost, and we haven’t tested it yet.
Whole-home support: Unless you only plan to watch on a single television, you’ll want a whole-home system, which means buying a networked tuner (Tablo or HDHomeRun) or setting up extenders (such as TiVo’s $150 Mini units).
Streaming service integration: Many of the DVR products we’ve reviewed are whole-home solutions that you access via apps on your existing streaming devices. In these cases, you can access all your favorite streaming services alongside over-the-air video without having to switch inputs. TiVo is a notable exception. It supports some major streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, but you’ll still need a separate streaming box to access others, such as Sling TV and Philo.
OTA DVR solutions still in development
The over-the-air DVR space should get more competitive over time. If you’re on the fence about today’s solutions, here are some future developments to consider:
ATSC 3.0: Broadcasters are starting to test a new broadcast TV standard called ATSC 3.0 (also known as “Next Gen TV”), which can support 4K HDR video, better surround sound, interactive features, and easier access on phones and tablets. This new standard is incompatible with most of today’s over-the-air DVR solutions, which rely on the current ATSC 1.0 standard instead.
Still, it’s early days for ATSC 3.0. Major broadcast networks haven’t yet committed to supporting features like 4K, and the FCC is requiring all markets to support ATSC 1.0 until at least February 2023. That means you can still buy current over-the-air DVR solutions with confidence, even if they’re not guaranteed to last forever.
Other over-the-air DVR options:
- The TiVo Edge sells on Amazon for around $500 with lifetime service, but you’ll be stuck on a single TV without expensive add-on boxes, and you’ll likely need a separate device to access all the streaming services you care about. Factor in the ads TiVo inserts into users’ recordings, and this is an option best skipped.
- Plex is an option power users who want to run their own media servers. It’s less polished than Channels DVR—and its free streaming content may be a distraction for some—but it’s cheaper at $5 per month, $40 per year, or $120 for life.
- Jellyfin is another DIY-minded option that most cord-cutters should avoid due to its clunky interface and plethora of bugs. But it’s cheap if you have the requisite server hardware and can figure out how to supply your own TV-guide data.
- SiliconDust sells a range of HDHomeRun over-the-air tuners that tie into its own over-the-air DVR service, but you’re better off using the HDHomeRun hardware with either Plex or Channels DVR software.
- Mediasonic sells subscription-free DVRs for less than $40 under the Homeworx brand. The experience is cruder than every other option we’ve mentioned here, but you can’t argue with the price.