Categories: Cord CuttingDVR

If not TiVo, then who? [Cord Cutter Edition]

As TiVo degrades their consumer DVR experience, and generally hasn’t morphed into the digital lifestyle company some had hoped for, folks are seeking out alternatives. And, for cord cutters, there are several great options to enjoy and manage that free antenna television… with or without an actual antenna.

First, most of the streaming aggregators (YouTube TV, SlingTV, etc) now provide access to local affiliates of national broadcasters (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) along with varying degrees of DVR capabilities. In fact, Hulu Live’s recent moves are led by TiVo alumnus Jim Denney.

For those those who’d prefer a home-based OTA DVR to round out their video toolbox, I’ve got several suggestions. While I’d prefer my recommendations had the ability to connect directly to a television, these are all of the “headless” network tuner variety. Yet, given relatively low price of streaming boxes many already likely own (Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV), it’s not really a burden and actually allows preferable placement for maximum indoor antenna receptivity. Beyond streaming set-tops, my top selections all also provide iOS and Android mobile device access.

The Best OTA DVR
Tie: Tablo & HDHomeRun with Channels

Channels DVR

We’re huge fans of both Tablo and Channels — you can’t go wrong with either solution. They’re both well-rounded, full-featured DVRs that include niceties such as advanced scheduling, commercial skip, and out-of-home access. Both are also a bit more geeky than TiVo as they are network tuners and require add-on storage, but implementation is well within the conception and skills of most. Channels ($8/mo) DVR software runs on whatever you have, from computer to NAS to Raspberry PI, and streams the live television from HDHomeRun hardware ($100 and up). Unfortunately, most HDHomeRun hardware requires an Ethernet connection and Channels only provides clients for Apple TV and Fire TV. By comparison, Tablo hardware ($150 and up + $5/mo) includes WiFi and additional clients, such as Roku and Xbox One.

The Best Fee-Free OTA DVR
Amazon TV Recast

Amazon is a relative newcomer to this space with the Recast DVR ($230 and up). It’s not quite as full featured as my top picks (but improving) and only streams to Fire TV devices and televisions, with their cluttered, inefficient presentation. HOWEVER it has the benefit of ZERO FEES.

The Others

Beyond my faves, there are additional ways to solve this problem and some will prefer the following:

View Comments

  • A long time TiVo owner I finally ditched it when the cable company kept raising rates — well past $100 per month for expanded basic package with cable card. Did Dish for two years since it was cheap. Good experience but price was going from $73 to $109. Just switched to Sling since it was the only solution I found that allows OTA combined with steaming channels on one input. $45 per month for Sling with cloud based 50 hour dvr. Two TB DVR I for OTA. Downsides are you can’t pause live tv, can’t search OTA channels except via guide, and some other clunkiness moving between OTA and streaming channels. Since I’m saving $60 per month I can live with it. Going to switch to toast.net since living on cheaper and capped internet packages won’t work. Gotta keep up the fight against growing cable bills. Sort of my hobby I guess.

  • As a user of Tivo, Tablo, and Recast in an OTA environment, allow me to add a few comments.

    TiVo attempted to be the center of the viewing universe with the Bolt, but the app selection, especially for OTT services, is wanting. The image quality is as the original broadcast. The hardware requirements are stiff, even using Minis for multi screen environments

    Tablo is a planetary system, working in shared orbits, but independent of other sources. It works with far more streaming devices than the other two. Hardware requirements ate additional, but minimal given that many folks have a streaming device that can run Tablo. The channel surfing experience is meh (as are all headless devices) and you need to be comfortable changing inputs on the TV. For over the air reception, I have found the transcoding of SD material (found on nearly all sub channels) to be problematic, with lots of de-interlacing mouse-toothing of angular lines, and other artifacts. That may not bother everybody, but once seen, it is hard to ignore.

    The Recast is a lunar orientation, revolving around the FireTV devices. While channel surfing is not optimum, the on screen guide does a good job of combining some source material, ala a CATV guide, including Prime channels, PSVue, and a few others. Transcoded image quality is better than Tablo, especially with SD sources. Hardware needs are specific, but somewhat minimal. One downside is that Recast will only stream two unique streams to two screens at the same time, even with four tuners on the DVR, so it may not be a choice for the busy household.

    The wife uses a TiVo Bolt. For a time, I used a Tablo, but now use the Recast full time, even for live TV from my antenna (helps to have a good video scaler in the TV). All three have advantages, and all are lacking just a bit to make them world-beaters.

Published by
Dave Zatz