If you’re considering cutting the cord and you want to watch local channels, you’ll be looking at an over the air antenna or a service like Hulu. If you decide on an antenna and you want a DVR recording device, the best over-the-Air DVRs are from TiVo and ChannelMaster. As more and more cord-cutting consumers abandon cable or satellite, their DVRs don’t have to go out with them. With a decent antenna, you may be able to watch network and local over-the-air (OTA) stations. For those who have grown attached to the DVR, the new-generation OTA DVRs make it possible to hold onto that recording experience.
The TiVo Roamio and the ChannelMaster DVR closely resemble the DVRs that we’re all used to with cable and satellite TV. They both have HDMI outputs to directly connect the DVR to an AVR, surround processor, or a TV.
For TiVo, there’s the new “OTA” model, which is obviously designed for OTA use only, is only available with a monthly $14.99 subscription. That runs to about $180 per year and over a three-year period, the total is almost $590. Although other TiVo products have a lifetime subscription available, that runs $399.00 and is only applicable to one DVR. So if that DVR breaks or becomes obsolete, that lifetime subscription dies with it. TiVo also has a base model Roamio which also can be used with cable if you add a CableCard (it has to be OTA or cable, but not both.)
By comparison, the OTA only ChannelMaster DVR comes either with 16GB of internal storage (to which more can be added) or with 1TB or 3TB of internal storage and the ability to add even more with external drives. The external drive option is actually very practical because the hard drive is usually what fails in a DVR and an external drive is easily replaced since it basically just plugs into the DVR.
The major benefit of Channel Master and TiVo is their ability to connect directly to the local entertainment system via HDMI. With either model, you can easily use Channel Up/Down buttons or select a channel the old-fashioned way using the numeric keypad on the remotes. Because both units are using direct OTA tuning without the compression applied by cable or satellite delivery, the HD images are the best that you can get with a broadcast signal.
One major difference between TiVo and Channel Master is that TiVo had four tuners whereas Channel Master only has two. While this may seem like an advantage, there are rarely more than two programs worth recording at the same time on network television. And network channels are all that you can record on OTA DVRs. While TiVo had streaming services including Netflix, Hulu+, Vudu, Pandora, YouTube, and more, you cannot record any streaming. Additionally, all of these applications can be found on other devices such as Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, and even most Smart TVs. Channel Master currently only has two channels available for streaming: Pandora and YouTube.
Although the TiVo Roamio OTA costs around $49.95, the consumer must subscribe to the guide service mentioned earlier at $14.99 per month. While the Channel Master costs more, from $250 to $450 to set up, it can be less expensive in the long run when considering TiVo’s subscription costs.
ChannelMaster DVR is a highly capable product for OTA DVR. The most popular option is the 1TB model at $399, and you can add the WiFi adapter for another $39. I prefer the $250 model with a 3TB external hard drive. This gives me more storage and I can easily change the hard drive. Best of all, Channel Master has no subscription fee for the 14-day electronic program guide.
The ChannelMaster DVR delivers the impressive image quality that you would expect from a direct connection and the TV guide is straightforward and easy to navigate. Given its low cost, excellent image quality and ease of use, this DVR is my overall favorite. When budgetary considerations are high, ChannelMaster’s basic 16GB model at $249 with the addition of 1TB external drive for under $100 delivers all the added capacity and functions you will really need. Unless the TiVo’s four tuners are a requirement, the ChannelMaster is an exceptional value for OTA recording and time shifting.