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Best OTA DVRs 2018: OTA DVR Comparison for Cord Cutters

Want to record live OTA TV from your antenna? Check out this straightforward OTA DVR comparison and find out which is the best of 2018.

For cord-cutters, streaming local channels can be like pitching a no-hitter for baseball players—really hard to pull off. The most savvy cord-cutters use antennas to catch all their local channels.

One of the biggest downfalls of antennas was always the lack of DVR and guide; that’s not the case anymore, friends. Say hello to recording your local channels and goodbye to foot cream commercials with our list of the best OTA DVRs.

The best OTA DVR options

We ranked the best DVRs for antennas based on how many viewers you’ve got at home, how many shows you want to record, and what antennas you’re working with.

Any of the DVRs on our list will work well, but you want one that works well for you. Take a look below and see which one checks all the boxes you want.

Comparing storage, internet connection, and simultaneous recording streams

USB vs. SD external storageWi-Fi or ethernetWatch anywhere?Recording streams
Tablo Dual OTA DVRUSB storageBothYes2
Channel Master Stream+SD storageBothNo2
TiVO RoamioUSB storageBothNo4
USB vs. SD external storage Wi-Fi or ethernet Watch anywhere? Recording streams
USB storage Both Yes 2
SD storage Both No 2
USB storage Both No 4

We went through a lot of options and features to weigh out the best OTA DVR, but we finally came to a consensus on an overall winner. Let’s talk about it.

#1 Tablo Dual: Watch DVR content at home or on the go

What we like about it: Recorded content available anywhere with an internet connection

Drawbacks: Monthly subscription required for advanced TV guide access

Who it’s perfect for: Cord-cutters looking for the best overall deal

Mix the price, the easy-to-navigate interface, and the fact that you can watch recorded content on the go, and the Tablo Dual is our winner for the best OTA DVR. You can check it out on Amazon and get it for $179.99.

What sets the Tablo Dual OTA DVR apart

Where most DVR boxes connect to the TV, the Tablo Dual is a totally wireless system. It comes with an ethernet cord if you want to connect the box directly through your internet router, but you’ve also got the four best letters in technology—Wi-Fi. Since you don’t need to plug the Tablo Dual directly into your TV, you can set it and your antenna somewhere out of sight that gets great signal reception.

You access your menu and guide with Tablo Dual via an app you can download on your streaming devices, game consoles, phones, tablets, computers, and compatible smart TVs. Through the app, you control what you want to watch and record. It’s kind of like if Netflix were a live local channel service.

A whopping six devices can stream at the same time, so you won’t need to get in a fight with your kid when it’s your turn to watch TV.

Accessible anywhere, but the guide comes at a price

It’s true—to get a comprehensive TV guide that goes beyond a 24-hour period, you’ll need to pay a $4.99/mo. subscription fee. Out of the box, your Tablo Dual menu will have an updated guide for everything on TV that day, but it won’t go beyond that.

And no, you don’t need the service. You can always visit the TV guide website and get all the info you need there. Just make sure to set your recordings in the morning or set up permanent recordings so that Jeopardy! always gets recorded and you get your Alex Trebek time no matter what.

We’ve tested all the major OTA DVR devices, and though we love the Tablo Dual’s wireless capabilities, it does have some quirks. Occasionally, the app would crash on our iPhone and Apple TV devices, and we’d need to restart the app. Everything crashes from time to time, but the Tablo Dual startup process takes a moment to get going, and that was annoying to repeat. Thankfully, crashing was rare and just required the patience of a restart to get everything humming once again.

All in all, the Tablo Dual is a great OTA DVR option that works as a much cheaper TiVo alternative.

Compatible devices for the Tablo Dual app

Tablo Dual works with tons of apps, which is always nice. You can watch Tablo-provided local channels using the Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Xbox One, and more.

#2 Channel Master Stream+: The newest and cheapest OTA DVR on the market

What we like about it: Comes with built-in Chromecast

Drawbacks: B.Y.O.M. (Bring your own memory)

Who it’s perfect for: Cord-cutters looking for the cheapest OTA DVR option

If you’re looking for the cheapest way to pause, record, rewind, and fast-forward live TV over an antenna, then the Channel Master Stream+ is another great TiVo alternative. You can order it for $149 from the Channel Master website.

You provide the storage, and Stream+ provides the rest

If the Channel Master Stream+ allowed for out-of-home streaming like the Tablo Dual, then it would easily take the cake as our top recommended OTA DVR. Especially when you consider that there are no sneaky fees to speak of. Remember that thing with the Tablo Dual where you have to pay extra for a TV guide that expanded beyond the day? The Channel Master Stream+ channel guide just works right out of the box.

The product doesn’t come with any built-in storage, though, so you’ll need to provide that yourself in the form a microSD card if you want to record anything.  We recommend going with the Sandisk Ultra 64GB microSD, which costs about $20 on Amazon. With 64 GB of memory, you can easily record dozens and dozens of hours of TV. You’ll still get the channel guide without the microSD card, but you’ll probably still want one ASAP.

The Stream+ is easy to use right out of the box

For starters, the Stream+ looks better than any of the other OTA DVR boxes. It’s much smaller and would be easy to stick in an out-of-the-way place. It also works on a Wi-Fi or ethernet connection, so you can stick this bad boy wherever works for you. All you need to do is plug in the coaxial cable coming from your antenna straight into the Stream+ box. Just make sure you get decent signal strength wherever you decide to put the device.

Instead of working through an app like the Tablo Dual, the Stream+ uses a good old fashioned remote. This isn’t one of those remotes with a thousand different options where you can accidently press the self destruct button, either. You’ve just got your basic volume, channel, and DVR controls.

Apps compatible with the Stream+

The Stream+ comes with Chromecast built in and works as an Android TV-powered streamer, which you can use to stream basically anything you want. Anything compatible with those devices should work with the Stream+.

#3 TiVo Roamio: A more expensive OTA DVR, but with more fire power

What we like about it: Four recording streams at a time

Drawbacks: Very pricey

Who it’s perfect for: Cord-cutters sharing the device with a big family or roommate situation

For the cord-cutter who feels like they’re burning a TiVo-sized hole in their pocket, the Roamio offers a lot of power. If you’re familiar with Back to the Future II hoverboards, the TiVo Roamio is the PitBull of OTA DVR services—meaning it’s a lot more powerful than the competition.

Why is the TiVo Roamio such an expensive OTA DVR?

The main thing you pay for with the Romaio is being able to record four things at once. If you’re the type of person who can’t decide between recording This Is Us, Big Bang Theory, or The Good Doctor—you can record everything at once. If that isn’t enough, you can plug in an external hard drive through the USB port and record every episode of Young Sheldon as well.

Along with the multiple recording streams, the internal storage allows for over 150 hours of recordings. Let’s put that number in context—to record How I Met Your Mother from start to finish, it would require 104 hours of storage. You could record every episode and still have room for tons of other shows.

Oh, and don’t worry—you won’t need to pay anything extra for an updated programming guide. That makes the TiVo Roamio one of the best DVRs without a subscription cost.

Automatic commercial skipping? Yes, please

Can we talk about the TiVo remote for a second? With the click of a button, you can automatically fast forward to where your TV show picks back up. You won’t need to get your timing perfectly right while skipping at 20x speed.

Setting up the TiVo Roamio is pretty easy. Your antenna coaxial cable plugs right into the box, and your box connects to your TV through an HDMI cord. The TiVo Roamio connects to your WiFi, which will keep your guide up to date.

TiVo has been in the DVR game for well over a decade now, and the interface is a testament to that. The system is super intuitive, responsive, and looks very nice as well. You’ll even have a full TV guide to set all the recordings you want.

All in all, the TiVo Roamio costs a lot, but it offers a lot in return too.

TiVo Roamio compatible apps (DVR for Roku)

You can watch Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Roku, and YouTube straight from the device.

Setting up your OTA DVR

Setting up an OTA DVR isn’t too tough, thankfully. First things first, you need to purchase an antenna if you don’t have one already. Don’t stress out—we already have some favorite antennas we can recommend.

If we had to choose a top favorite, we’d go with the Mohu Leaf 50. It’s got a nice signal range, it’s easy to hide around an entertainment center, and it’s made from recycled materials (which is cool). All in all, it’s the best choice for most people.

Once you have your antenna, you’ll connect it to your DVR box with the coaxial port on the back. Once you do that, attach the DVR box to your TV with an HDMI cord, and make sure to plug everything in. With your box up and running, you can start it up, and connect it to your WiFi signal.

With that done, just fire it up and go through the setup process. Let us know in the comments below if you have any lingering questions.

Can I record Sling TV and other streaming services with a DVR?

Unfortunately, no. You can’t record shows on your streaming service with an external DVR device. You’ll need to use the cloud DVR service that comes with your streaming service of choice.

How do OTA (over-the-air) DVRs work?

Before we talk about the best OTA DVRs out there, you probably want to know how they work. Feel free to skip below if you already know a thing or two about it.

In a nutshell, OTA DVRs make your watching-with-an-antenna experience feel much more like a cable experience. The DVR’s guide shows you what’s playing and what’s coming up, and it gives you access to other streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. That’s not even the best part—DVR control also allows you to pause, rewind, and fast-forward live TV. That way, you can record your favorite shows and watch them whenever you like.

What DVR will you pair with your antenna?

We live in a day and age where we want control over what we watch and when we watch it. Thankfully, you don’t need to pay for cable to enjoy the magic of DVR. We’ve gone over our best OTA DVR options, but now you need to decide what’s best for you and your budget.

Let us know if you have questions about OTA DVRs. While we’ve got you here, we’ve got a few questions for you. What DVR did you decide to go with? How’s your experience been so far? Keep us posted in the comments below.

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