Recording your local stations was once a piece of cake back when almost every home had a trusty VCR. Nowadays, recording your favorite programs in high definition without a cable or satellite TV package can be a little tricky. We made this guide to showcase the best DVRs on the market so that you can find the perfect product to playback your favorite shows or home security footage.
Why buy a DVR?
Almost everyone likes free stuff, so it makes sense that TV antennas are making a comeback in a major way now that more people than ever are canceling cable TV. However, your TV antenna does present a problem since it doesn’t allow you to record programs or skip commercial breaks. To do this, you’ll need a DVR. Thankfully, there are quite a few great OTA DVR options to choose from that are considerably less expensive than the one you were renting from the cable company.
Additionally, many home security systems utilize a DVR in order to conveniently record security cam videos. These videos can be incredibly important in the event of a burglary or other home emergency, so making sure your security footage is secure is imperative.
What should you consider in a DVR?
- Functionality: You’ll want your OTA DVR to perform as reliably as the DVR that came with your old cable package, so features such as fast-forwarding, scheduled recordings, and the ability to record multiple programs at once are musts. Some DVRs will even allow you to playback shows on mobile devices, which is a great feature for those who like to travel. Also, be sure to take note of how many channels can be recorded and watched at a time when shopping for your new DVR.
- Recording Quality: Watching shows in HD is preferable. However, since video quality also determines the amount of space a show will take up on your device’s hard drive, sometimes a compromise will need to be made. Some DVRs allow you to choose the recording quality yourself so that you can find a nice balance between media quality and file size. Keep in mind, however, that your antenna’s reception quality will be the biggest factor concerning the quality of a DVR’s recordings.
- Interface: An intuitive, easy-to-use interface will go a long way in determining a DVR’s usability. A high-quality interface will make it easier to navigate to the program you want to watch, skip commercials, and schedule recordings. The interface should also be highly responsive so that you won’t have to wait too long after selecting a command.
What are some must-haves to be able to use an OTA DVR?
The most important thing you’ll need is an HD OTA antenna. Thankfully, you should be able to find a great HD antenna without spending too much money. However, how well the antenna will perform is another key factor. Urban areas are better-suited for picking up a wide variety of broadcasts and are often a perfect match for an inexpensive indoor antenna. If you have an antenna and it’s been picking up clear HD signals, you should be all set for a DVR. However, keep in mind that some OTA DVRs connect directly to your network via Wi-Fi or ethernet, so robust internet performance is a must-have if you choose one of these products.
Tablo Quad OTA DVR
This DVR sports an intuitive guide interface and allows you to record up to four programs at the same time.
Pros: If you’re seeking an OTA DVR that gives you a lot of options, the Tablo Quad is for you. This DVR can record up to four channels at once and is great for multi-TV households since it connects to your router instead of your TV. Thus, multiple devices can utilize it at once as long as they’re on the same network. This DVR also scores points for its intuitive, cable-like guide interface and doesn’t require a subscription for its TV recording and playback functions.
Cons: The Tablo Quad doesn’t feature a built-in hard drive, so to make the most of this product, you will have to purchase a hard drive if you don’t have one lying around. However, this does give you plenty of options in terms of available storage space. Also, keep in mind that picture quality is largely determined by network quality, so reliable internet is a must for this DVR.
Bottom Line: This product gives you a ton of value for the price and is a really great option for those who already have reliable high-speed internet. Tablo’s guide interface is the cleanest and easiest to use among OTA DVR options, making the Quad a no-brainer for those who want their DVR to do more for less.
Amazon Fire TV Recast
This DVR impresses in terms of its voice control functionality and mobile playback options.
Pros: Those who live life on the go will love the mobile functionality of the Fire TV Recast. It allows you to watch your recordings using a mobile device at no extra charge, whereas most OTA DVRs charge a subscription for this service. It also features plenty of built-in storage and Alexa functionality, which really adds to this DVR’s ease of use. The TV Recast is also insanely easy to set up with your Fire TV stick, making it a solid choice for those who have already invested in Amazon products.
Cons: Simply put, this DVR’s UI is a definite step below other premium OTA DVR options in terms of responsiveness and usability. Thus, manually navigating and finding programs can be a pain. However, this factor is mitigated entirely if you use the device’s intuitive voice control functionality to locate the channel you are looking for, as this works like a dream.
Bottom Line: While a clunky UI keeps this DVR from being the best of the best, it still has plenty to offer. Those who value Alexa integration and mobile playback will be hard-pressed to find a better DVR at this price point, and its user-friendly setup process makes it a great choice for the tech-challenged.
Tablo Dual LITE
This budget-friendly DVR is compatible with a wide range of devices and sports an intuitive UI.
Pros: Featuring an unbeatable price and most of the great functionality that made the Tablo Quad our Best Overall pick, the Tablo Dual LITE offers an amazing bang for your buck. It’s compatible with a wide range of services and devices, including Apple TV, Xbox, and Roku, and sports an easy-to-navigate UI that has quickly become the standard for OTA DVRs. This device even lets you skip commercials at the press of a button and watch shows from mobile devices, although these premium features do require a subscription to unlock.
Cons: Setting up this device is no walk in the park, as it might require a bit of troubleshooting for optimal results. It might even be a good idea to link it with your router using an ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi, as this will promise a more steady connection. Also, like other Tablo models, this DVR requires a hard drive in order to store recorded programs.
Bottom Line: While this DVR can only record two programs at a time (compared to the Tablo Quad’s ability to record four at once), many people will find this a great tradeoff in exchange for the device’s budget price. While it’s not the easiest OTA DVR to set up, once it’s up and running, it leaves very little to be desired in functionality or ease of use.
ANNKE 5MP Lite
A feature-rich surveillance DVR recorder with advance functionality that belies its budget price point.
Pros: This DVR can connect with up to eight security cameras, including TVI, AHD, CVI, and IP models. It also allows for seamless motion detection and remote viewing functionality, as well as video recording when paired with a compatible hard drive. Despite its budget price tag and feature-rich design, however, this DVR is incredibly simple to set up for those who have used a security camera DVR in the past.
Cons: Since this device is designed to run continuously, it’s somewhat surprising that a built-in fan is not included to keep its internal components cool. While this DVR is fairly adept at dissipating excess heat, it’s not a model that you would want to keep running in a hot environment for extended periods of time. However, during room temperature use, it runs admirably and quietly.
Bottom Line: Given the amount of flexibility and functionality this DVR can add to your security system, it really is a stunning deal at its price. While this DVR lacks some of the bells and whistles of newer security DVR setups, its ease of use, wide compatibility, and simple setup process make it a must-have for those seeking to upgrade their security cameras.
TiVo MINI VOX
This budget-friendly DVR extender allows you to access programs on your TiVo DVR from another TV in your home.
Pros: If you have TiVo and cable access in your living room but nothing for your bedroom TV, the TiVo MINI VOX is a cost-effective solution to extend your cable and DVR access. It even features voice controls and 4KUHD playback, ensuring you aren’t missing out on functionality while extending your DVR. As a nice bonus, this DVR extender sports a bunch of integrated streaming apps and will reference these (as well as your DVR programs) when you request a program.
Cons: While getting your MINI VOX set up is not overly complex, it’s made trickier than necessary due to unclear manufacturer instructions. However, if you are prepared to reboot your TiVo DVR as well as the extender and potentially look online for troubleshooting tips, you should be able to get through the process in time.
Bottom Line: Seeing how much cable and satellite TV companies charge for an additional DVR, this is a product that can pay for itself in short order. While it’s not the most user-friendly device to set up, it’s reliable once it is up and running. If you have a compatible TiVo DVR, this is by far your best option to spread the joy to another TV.
With so many DVR solutions available for OTA HD antennas, cutting the cable is rapidly becoming an attractive option for many. While many DVRs share similar functionality, most of the top models specialize in at least one aspect that will make them a great choice for some. Be sure to do your research before choosing the best DVR for you to ensure it is a natural pick for your TV and lifestyle.