2017 Best DVRs for Recording OTA TV





2017 Best DVRs for Recording OTA TV


Best DVR 2017Often included in the price of a cable or satellite subscription, one of the most often missed aspects of being a cord-cutter is the DVR. If you plan on watching live TV through an antenna, rather than just watching your content on-demand. The loss will be felt even more when you are forced once again to sit though commercial after commercial. Fortunately, there are now some great HD 1080P DVR options available and some don't even charge a monthly fee so ownership costs are free once you have purchased the needed hardware.

Our #1 Recommendation

Choosing only one DVR is kind of tough because there really are some great options out there. If we had to choose just one DVR as the best for the cost, then the Magnavox MDR868H would probably be near the top of the list. This digital video recorder includes a 2 Terabyte hard drive to store up to 2000 hours of HD recordings from an ASTC over the air antenna. It will also let you pause live TV while recording your favorite shows. It is 100% subscription free something that goes a long way to help put extra money in your pocket month after month that can pay for other streaming TV services to let cord-cutters watch even more TV shows and movies than they had before. It even doubles as DVD player so if you have a large collection of DVDs this DVR can eliminate one extra device in your entertainment center. Setup is super easy so there is no long learning curve.

What to Look For in a DVR

The acronym DVR stands for Digital Video Recorder. One of the most important things to consider when shopping for a new DVR is storage space. Some of the better ones come with a hard drive built inside to store your media. Typically a 2Terabyte hard drive is more than enough space for recording many hours of content in HD.  Other DVRs may require an external drive that plugs into a USB port. This can add more to the initial overall cost and is something that should be considered when choosing your DVR.
Storage space depends largely on if you plan on keeping your shows, or if you just watch them one time and delete them. If you like to save your shows, then you should look for a DVR that will let your recorded content to either DVDs with an included DVD burner or save your video files or you may want to also invest in a Network Attached Storage Device (NAS) for later viewing like a top rated Synology or QNAP NAS.
A DVR can either attach directly to your HD TV set just like a DVD player, or attach to your network and stream it's recordings directly to your favorite streamer like a Roku or Android TV Box. These media streaming devices can then be used to access your recordings to play back your video recordings.
No matter which DVR you buy, you will want one that is easy to setup and use. TiVo has one of the most intuitive user interfaces around plus they include an excellent guide which lets you choose programs to record up to weeks in advance. The Guide is something that many DVRs charge a monthly fee for and this cost can really add up over the years. The better solution is to find one that does not charge any extra fees. Although this means you may need to manually program your own recordings. Anyone that is familiar with a VCR should have no problems setting up a DVR to record their favorite shows by a simple time of day schedule. They work pretty much the same way, although instead of recording to VHS tapes, they record digital content directly to a hard drive or DVD. Once setup, schedules can even be repeated daily and weekly so you won't need to touch it again and all the episodes of your shows will automatically be recorded.
Now we will move on to one of the most important features of a DVR the onboard ATSC tuner. The tuner is just like what you would find in your television. The cable from your Over The Air Antenna will be attached to a splitter and then attached to the tuner input or inputs on your DVR. Once you start splitting your antenna connection too many times, if you have multiple TVs or maybe your DVR has two tuners you should also consider getting a high quality amplifier. An amplifier will boost the signal which is lost every time you split your antenna connection. For a high quality cable amp, have a look at this combination Amp/Splitter to ensure you record the best HD picture quality possible.
Best DVR 2017
While this may all seem be a bit confusing at first, once you get your DVR setup it will pretty much run on auto pilot. The most important thing is to get a DVR that will be easy to use and that it works reliably to record a nice quality picture with minimal signal loss. While there are really quite a few DVR options available, the ones we list here all have good user reviews and will provide an easy way for you to enjoy the same benefits you had when you were a Cable TV or Satellite subscriber.

If you want to delve deeper into DVRs, you can even build one yourself using an old computer. Simply purchase a PCI Tuner card and install it in your computer and hook your antenna to it. You will need to use media software that records your shows on a schedule. And then play it back to your media streamer of choice with a compatible app unless your computer is attached to your TV.
Back in the days of Windows XP their Media Center software was among the best to use for home built DVR computers. Now that Microsoft no longer includes Media Center in their latest operating system, there are a few other good alternatives you can try out instead. Kodi and Plex are among the most popular and both will even run on a Nvidia Shield so a HTPC computer is no longer even required. HDHome Run which is another stand alone Network Tuner is developing an Android App to record and play your shows right on your Shield external or internal drive depending on which model you have. If you own a Mac, the excellent EyeTV software also works amazing with an HDHomeRun and will let your computer do double duty as a DVR.

TiVo Guide

Anyone that may have used a TiVo in the past probably loved their guide. Recently TiVo the company that makes the hardware sold to Rovi. They are a company that generates online program guides. Using a TiVo without a lifetime subscription can be very expensive. They charge $14.99 a month and require a one year contract. This is on top of the cost of buying the TiVo DVR hardware. Unless all you watch is live TV with an antenna, we recommend using this money instead to pay for a nice Netflix or Hulu subscription and pocket the difference. Look for a DVR that has no monthly fee or build your own instead.

Quiet Operation

DVRs that use a hard drive for storage are usually very quiet. Recording your shows to a DVD can sometimes be a little noisier. Hard drives in a DVR generally run at two speeds, 5400 RPMs or 7200 RPMs. You will find the 7200 RPM drives are a little faster but they can also be just a bit louder. If noise is a big concern, the 5400 RPM Hard Drives are the best way to go. For the ultimate quiet drives, choose an external drive that is solid state (SSD). They are lighting fast and totally quiet as they contain no moving parts. We have even used USB flash drives to record our content to and they work acceptably well. You will want to use one of the fastest you can find. If you store a lot of content, the larger ones can get quite expensive.

Room to Grow

If you purchase a DVR that let's you choose an external hard drive option, this does give you one big advantage over models that include a built in drive. You will have room to grow if you find yourself needing more storage space for recordings. Adding a new hard drive is as easy as plugging it in. Internal models can sometimes be upgraded but this does requires much more work as the software is often on the same drive that runs the DVR and will need to be copied over to the new drive before it can be installed and used.

Timely Updates

Firmware updates are also an important consideration. Choosing a DVR with a company that supports further development and updates is much more desirable than a fly-by-night company that will leave you with a buggy product soon after you buy it. This is why we only list companies that already have a long history of providing excellent user support and who regularly update their products as new features or bug fixes become available.

The Best DVR Models

Channel Master DVR Bundle

Very easy to use set and forget DVR and the recording quality is top notch. The Channel Master DVR Bundle has no monthly fee. To get full functionality, you will need to use an external drive with this DVR. Shows are saved in TS format so to watch your recordings on other devices the files will need to be transcoded first. For a nice TiVo replacement that records over their air TV shows and movies, the Channel Master DVR ranks among the best. If sharing your recordings easily with other devices is your primary goal, this DVR may not be the one to get. Setup is super easy and the Guide will go out 14 days if hooked to the Internet and will cost nothing extra but is not as polished as some of the other guides. The guide also lacks some features like choosing to only record new episodes or automatically recording suggestions. The Channel Master DVR can be purchased either with 16GB of internal storage, which you would then need to add your own external drive. Or, with a 1TB drive already built in for about $100 more.

Magnavox MDR868H

If you don't want to mess with adding extra external hard drives, or have to pay additional monthly subscription fees the Magnavox MDR868H DVR should be at the top of your list. It records both to the large 1 TB internal hard drive, or save your recordings to DVD with the internal DVD recorder. It can also take recordings from the hard drive edit out commercial and then save them to DVD. You can also burn live TV directly to DVD in multiple formats like DVD-R, +R, -RW or +RW. Unlike previous models this one can record in 1080P HD from either of the 2 tuners. You can also stream recordings across your network to other devices. Something you can't do with the Channel Master DVR. For ease of use and full features this DVR is hard to beat. If you don't need DVD and want a little nicer guide the Channel Master may be a better option. You just won't be able to share your media to other devices without first transcoding them to other formats which makes the Magnavox a better buy.

Tablo 2-Tuner DVR

With 2-tuners built in this DVR from Table will let you record from your antenna to an external drive. There is no internal storage so you will need to attach an external hard drive to the Tablo DVR before you can record. You have the option of recording without a guide. If you want to use a guide it will cost you an extra $5/month. You can pay for a full year in advance and save $10. Or, choose their lifetime guide plan which is a one time fee of $150. Their guide provides 14 days of data, and includes cover art for shows and brief synopsis to give you a better idea what you are recording. The Tablo hooks to your network by WiFi or Ethernet. Setup is not as easy and requires the user to download an app and use a tablet or smart phone to schedule all your recordings. If 2-tuners are not enough they also make a model with 4-tuners. Just make sure to get a good amplified splitter or your signal quality can suffer.

As we mentioned earlier, if you already have a PC to record your shows to the HDHomeRun Network tuner can save you some money. Just hook it to your Network and plug your Antenna to it. Then save your recordings to your NAS or PC and you can stream them back to your Roku or other devices. The HDHomeRun does not come with any software so you will need to choose your own depending on your OS. Some of our favorites are Windows Media Center which no longer comes with Windows 10 although here is a work around. Other software that works great with the HDHomeRun is Elgato’s EyeTV for OS X, and MythTV for Linux and other Unix platforms. 

While there are several models to choose from.The model we like the best is the Extend because it records in HD and will convert native DTV formats to H.264 on the fly with a built-in hardware encoder. This will dramatically shrink your recordings size and the amount of storage space needed plus also reduce the bandwidth required for streaming. H.264 is compatible with Roku so you can then watch your recordings on your TV without needing to hook your computer to your TV. 
Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list, and as other high quality DVRs become available we will be sure to update this list to include them here for you as well.
Next, we will focus on the best DVR for specific uses.

Best DVR for DVDs 

While DVDs may be going away in favor of streaming. DVDs are still useful for long term archiving of videos that you may want to save and watch again and again. It allows you to store more files than if you only have a hard drive alone.

2017 Best DVRs

Magnavox MDR868H/F7

Since the Magnavox MDR868H/F7 is the only one of DVR model listed here that comes with an included DVD burner this HD model is perfect choice for burning your content to DVD. It offers some great editing tools to name your files and delete commercials. Perfect for those that want to save their movies and shows for later viewing for other family members which can save your data usage. Especially important now that Comcast and other Internet providers have implemented data caps.

Best DVR for Plex or Kodi

Plex and Kodi is media player software that organizes and lets you play your files to a variety of streamers. Plex can run on a computer or NAS which can also be used to store your recordings. This eliminates the need for a large hard drive either internal or external to your DVR.

HDHomeRun and Plex DVR

Plex DVR is included with Plex Pass and works perfectly with an HDHomeRun TV Tuner. Your recordings are all organized to be available on any device.

LiveTV with Kodi

If you are a Kodi user and have either an internal or external TV tuner you can use Kodi to record Live TV. It is a little more complicated to setup and not as easy to use as many stand-alone models.

Best DVR for Roku

Roku is one of the most popular media streamers for a reason. They have a huge amount of free channels available and many can be found right here on our A-Z Roku Private Channels page.
If you happen to own one of the Roku TV's that has the built in Roku. Their latest software OS 7.5 will now let you pause live TV if you insert a USB thumb drive. You can read more about this exciting new update... here

The best way to stream your recordings to Roku if you own an HDHomeRun is with the HDHR Fling 
This Roku channel will give you access to all your recordings on your PC or NAS and let you easily play them back to your Roku. This saves you from needing to hook your computer to your television to play back your recordings. 

Best DVR for Beginners

While building your own DVR is rewarding it does require a bit of technical knowhow to get everything to work correctly. While it will cost you more buying a ready to play DVR is often the sure proof way to plug and play DVR without the added hassle:

Magnavox MDR868H/F7

The Magnavox is your best bet for those that love the idea of a VCR like DVR. While the guide is not as nice as what you get with a Channel Master this is a good solid DVR for beginners. Two Tuners and 2 TB of storage will give you plenty of space for your show. Hook it right up to your TV, plug in your Antenna and your ready to start recording Live TV.

Channel Master DVR Bundle

If you want a more comprehensive guide and don't want to pay a monthly fee yet still have an easy to use DVR the Channel Master Bundle is for you. With options for either external or internal drives you have a full featured DVR that can easily record all your favorite shows.

The Best DVR for the Money

Buying a stand-alone DVR can be the most expensive way to go. Building your own DVR can save you a ton of money compared to renting a DVR from your cable provider.

HDHomeRun

Our number one choice for a network tuner for your computer is the HDHomeRun. With many options available to stream to a number of devices this is a top notch Tuner to build your DVR.

Tablo 2-Tuner DVR

If you don't mind using your Phone or Tablet to control your DVR the Tablo is an affordable option. While you can still use it without the guide which adds a monthly fee. The guide does add some nice extra features and is way more affordable than the guide service from TiVo which is 3X more expensive.

Conclusion

While a DVR from your TV provider is a nice option, it can cost you a lot of money over time. By purchasing your own DVR to record over the air TV it will give you many of the same benefits without the added monthly expense. Figuring out which DVR is best may seem a little intimidating at first. Hopefully we took away some of the mystery and you will be able to make a smart informed decision when buying your own DVR.