Best OTA DVR for Cord Cutters

Best OTA DVR for Cord Cutters

Best OTA DVR for Cord Cutters

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Cable and satellite can be expensive, but you don’t have to pay a huge monthly bill Watch the television. If you live in a city or town with good radio reception, install a tv antenna is an easy way to Cut the rope and access free television. Pair it with an OTA recorder and you can pause live TV, save your shows for later, and fast forward through commercials. Most of the DVRs we’ve tested will even let you stream your recorded content to multiple TVs or when you’re away from home.


The downside, of course, is that “free” can become, well, not free, especially if your DVR charges a monthly fee. For example, a basic DVR like the Air TV 2 starts around $100, before adding a hard drive, while a TiVo Edge with all the bells and whistles is currently $350 (with lifetime subscription). Yet, compared to the cost of cable TV and live tv streaming services such as Hulu Plus Live TV Or YouTubeTV, even the most expensive antenna DVR will pay for itself in due course.

It should be mentioned that the next version of the ATSC broadcast standard, called NextGen Television, is now available in more than 50% of homes. NextGenTV promises up to 4K visuals in the future as well as interactive features not possible with standard broadcast. Some TVs have built-in NextGen tuners, while there is currently one DVR available — the HDHomeRun Flex 4K. Meanwhile, the Tablo ATSC 3.0 Quad HDMI OTA DVR has been delayed for the foreseeable future.

There are three notable OTA DVR products to consider when buying a corded digital video recorder: the Air TV 2 and the TiVo Edge for antenna, and the Nuvyyo Tablo Quad. Each has its own characteristics, tuners and capabilities, but there is one that I would recommend for beginners and veterans alike. Unfortunately, our previous recommendation, the Amazon FireTV redesign, was dropped. Let’s dive in and take a look at the best OTA DVR options.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

TiVo has the best device name recognition here, and if you want a traditional set-top box DVR, the Antenna Edge is your best bet. While the Tivo Edge is more expensive than the other products here (especially after the addition of Lifetime OTA DVR service), the Edge for Antenna also offers a ton of features, including streaming apps, all of which come bundled with the TiVo interface.

Currently, Channel Master is offering the Lifetime Edge DVR plus service for $349 (up from $449).

Read our TiVo Edge hands-on.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The AirTV 2 has its advantages, especially since it’s the cheapest of our OTA DVR recommendations and works without incurring monthly fees. Still, this OTA DVR is really designed to supplement a $40-a-month Sling TV subscription by adding local channels. And you need to add an external hard drive (not included) to make the AirTV 2 work like a real DVR, though it lacks live TV pause. If you want pause functionality, it’s worth upgrading to AirTV Anywhere which includes a built-in 1TB hard drive for $200.

Read our AirTV 2 review.

You receive price alerts for AirTV 2

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Tablo Quad is the latest version of the popular cord-cutting DVR and offers full functionality. There’s room for an internal hard drive and the inclusion of four tuners should satisfy even the most demanding user. Everything is controlled via the Tablo app. However, this OTA DVR is not the easiest device to set up and you will have to pay a subscription to access many of its features.

Read our Nuvyyo Tablo Quad review.

Types of OTA DVR: set-top box vs. network TV streamer?

There are two main types of DVR options: a traditional set-top box, which connects directly to a single TV via an HDMI output; or a network TV streamer, which connects to your home network and streams to your devices at home or on the go. The TiVo Edge for Antenna is a traditional set-top box (which also has home streaming) while the AirTV 2 and Tablo Quad are direct network TV streamers.

A set-top box is best for people who usually watch on a single TV, while a network device is for people who want to watch on multiple devices – a streamer like a Roku or an Amazon Fire TV and other devices like phones and the tablets. In general, a network TV streamer is the most flexible OTA DVR option and can best complement live TV streaming apps or services like Netflix.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Other Features to Look For

Whichever style of OTA DVR you choose, there are some features that you should look for that are common to both.

  • Two or more HD tuners: One tuner is not enough. When it comes to HD tuners, the more your device has, the better. The bare minimum is two, so you can record two channels at the same time, or watch one while you record another, but heavy antenna heads might appreciate it even more.
  • 1 TB or more of storage: Depending on the device you have, one terabyte of built-in storage space should provide about 150 hours of program content. But if you choose a device like the TiVo that automatically records shows it “thinks you like,” you might run out of them very quickly. That’s why you also need…
  • The ability to add additional storage via USB or SD card: An external hard drive is a great option, provided your DVR doesn’t need a proprietary model. Generally, a 1TB external hard drive is cheap at around $50.

A 14 day program guide is essential on a modern DVR.

Sarah Tew/CNET

  • 14 days of guidance data: While seven days is really the minimum useful, two weeks gives you more flexibility.
  • No ongoing fees: Most people cut the cord to save money, so paying another monthly subscription doesn’t make much sense. TiVo offers a lifetime service option, so you pay for the device and data guide upfront.

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