The Best Broadcast TV Recorders (DVRs) for 2023

Jul 10, 2020

If you are using an antenna to watch TV, I highly recommend picking up a broadcast TV DVR (digital video recorder) to record entire seasons of your favorite shows so you can watch them anytime. It makes the broadcast TV experience much more like a streaming service!

Tablo, AirTV, TiVo, and Homeworx DVRs
Tablo, AirTV, TiVo, and Homeworx DVRs

Considerations

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when looking for a DVR:

  • Does it have a recurring fee for the channel guide?
  • Does it show upcoming TV shows and movies, not mixed in with paid content?
  • How many channels does the tuner pick up?
  • Does it come with internal storage?
  • Does it need to be connected directly to your TV, or can you watch through apps?
  • Can you watch on multiple TVs?
  • Can you watch live TV and recordings away from home?
  • Can it connect to your network through Wi-Fi, or does it need wired Ethernet cable from your router?

There is no one DVR that is best in every situation. Here are the broadcast DVRs that I recommend depending on your setup and needs.

1. AirTV 2 / AirTV Anywhere – Best Option with No Fees

AirTV 2 DVR
AirTV 2 DVR

The AirTV DVRs from Sling (which is owned by DISH) are my top choice because they have great tuners, are completely wireless, and have no channel guide subscription fees.

The AirTV DVRs have two tuners to allow viewing or recording of two broadcast TV show at a time.

They can connect to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. There are apps that allow viewing from many different devices including web, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, iOS, or Android.

The AirTV 2 requires an external drive, while the AirTV Anywhere has a built-in 1TB drive. Note that the AirTV 2 only uses the first 2TB of drive space, so don’t buy a bigger drive for it. And, I found it to be picky about which drives it works with; it didn’t work with my 15-year-old USB 500MB hard drive.

No paid subscription is required, making the AirTV products worthy of consideration. You just need to sign up for a free Sling TV account.

If you don’t want to pay the channel guide fee for Tablo, then consider the AirTV 2 or AirTV Anywhere. However, the Tablo has a superior channel guide that presents all of the shows or movies available in a Netflix-style grid which makes it easy to find shows you want to record in the future. Read my full review:

2. Tablo – An Easy-to-Use DVR with Wi-Fi

Tablo used to be my top recommended DVR for most people. Unfortunately, they have eliminated the lifetime channel guide subscription option, which was a good deal financially. Now, you have to pay a monthly or annual fee to get the two-week channel guide (the Tablo TV Guide Data Service), which in my opinion is a “must” to get the most out of the device. I believe the subscription offers some unique features that make it worth the money, but I also recommend some other DVRs for those who don’t want to pay fees forever.

Tablo comes in several versions with two or four tuners, HDMI output or no HDMI, and 1TB internal storage or user-provided storage options. Which one you get depends on your particular TV and antenna setup.

You get a free channel guide that goes 24 hours into the future. For $4.99/month or $49.99/year for the Tablo TV Guide Data Service, you can get a two-week channel guide, plus some other features.

The version with HDMI (a TV-connected Tablo) does not let you watch your recordings on your mobile device or in a browser. You can watch on another TV in your home using a Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast with Google TV, or Nvidia SHIELD, but this requires a subscription to the Tablo TV Guide Data Service.

A Tablo without HDMI (Network-connected) does allow you to watch your recordings and control your Tablo from all of the above devices plus iOS and Android mobile devices and the Tablo website. If you subscribe to the Tablo TV Guide Data Service, you can watch your recordings from anywhere that has Internet access, not just your home.

Tablo is easy to use and has a killer Netflix-style matrix showing upcoming broadcast movies, TV shows, and sporting events that makes it really easy and fun to discover new shows to record. I believe this feature makes the channel guide worthwhile, even though I loathe recurring fees.

Tablo Dual Lite DVR
Tablo Dual Lite DVR

Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. I test or research each product or service before endorsing. This site is not owned by any retailer or manufacturer. I own this site and the opinions expressed here are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

3. HDHomeRun Flex and Scribe DVRs – Great Tuner, But Can’t Watch Away from Home, and No Wi-Fi

HDHomeRun Flex Duo
HDHomeRun Flex Duo

The HDHomeRun DVRs by Silicon Dust have lots of satisfied users on various cord-cutting Facebook groups, with people praising the tuner quality as being the best out of the major DVRs. The big caveat with these DVRs is that they require a direct Ethernet connection to your home network. There is no option for Wi-Fi. For some people, this is a show-stopper because they don’t want to run CAT-5 cable through their homes. If you’re OK with this requirement, then keep reading!

You can watch live TV and your recordings using the HDHomeRun app, available for Windows, Mac, and most streaming TV platforms and mobile devices. However, you are not able to watch live TV or your recordings outside of your home network using the HDHomeRun app. So, this unit is not a good choice if you want to watch away from home.

The Scribe 4K has 1TB of built-in internal storage with four tuners. The Flex models do not have internal storage, but you can plugin in an external USB hard drive. The Flex Duo has two tuners, while the Flex 4K has four.

There is no HDMI output, so you won’t be connecting these directly to your TV.

The 24-hour channel guide is free, but there is a $35/year charge for the two-week channel guide and DVR functionality. The app features a grid showing upcoming shows, movies, and sports, similar to the grid that I love on Tablo. This is a great way to discover new content that every DVR should have, but sadly, doesn’t.

Setup of the tuner is plug-and-play. But in my unit, there were no instructions on how to set up the DVR functionality. I found some online and got it set up, but overall the included documentation is lacking.

If you don’t mind connecting your router directly to your DVR (as opposed to using Wi-Fi), and you are not looking to watch your recordings outside of your home, then the HDHomeRun DVRs are well worth your consideration due to its excellent tuner and easy-to-use software.

Other DVRs

These DVRs are not my top choices, but they may be appropriate in some circumstances.

TiVo Edge for Antenna DVR with All-In Service – Requires Direct HDMI Connection to Your TV

The TiVo Edge for Antenna has two tuners and an internal 500GB hard drive for recording. I got mine with the All-In Service where you pay a flat fee for lifetime channel guide access, which makes the total cost of ownership less than that of the Tablo with channel guide.

Setting up the Tivo Edge for Antenna requires that it be connected to a TV via HDMI and some settings are only available through that connected TV. Therefore, if you get this unit, you’ll probably want to keep it near your primary TV even though you can watch recorded shows on the TiVo Online website or through an app available for iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku, and Fire TV.

The TiVo Edge also supports external USB drives, so you can add almost unlimited storage capacity by swapping drives.

TiVo Edge for Antenna
TiVo Edge for Antenna

The TiVo Edge for Antenna is a good option if you want to avoid paying recurring fees for a channel guide, AND if you are OK with connecting your DVR directly to your TV. Just make sure you get the version with “All-In Service”, which means you’re paying for a lifetime subscription with no recurring fees.

The TiVo app definitely has some quirks that could be show-stoppers for you. For example, not all of your recorded shows are available for viewing when you are away from home. Read my detailed review:


Converter Boxes that Record – Extreme Budget Option

Many outboard TV converter boxes (or “tuner boxes”) also record to outboard USB storage devices. These usually run for only about $40!

Mediasonic HOMEWORX HW130STB
Mediasonic HOMEWORX HW130STB

So, what’s the catch? Well, these boxes don’t connect to the Internet, so the channel guide is not as slick as with the other units I’ve mentioned. Also, the user interfaces are not as refined. You can’t watch one channel while recording another. But, these are SO much cheaper than the other options, it may be worth looking at if you’re willing to tolerate these shortcomings. We tolerated much worse when we were using VHS VCRs!

On the upside, you can take the hard drive from this unit and plug it into your computer and watch the recordings that way. You can’t easily do that with the Tablo since the recording format is proprietary.

Among the many cheap tuner boxes with recording, I recommend the Homeworx DVR Digital Converter:

PlayOn – Requires Subscription, Records Internet Video, Not Live TV

This service (not a hardware box) lets you movies and shows from Internet streaming services, as opposed to broadcast TV. For example, say you want to record a TV episode from Hulu, or a movie from Netflix or Disney+. PlayOn lets you do this. Cost starts at $39.99 for 350 cloud recordings or unlimited recordings to your computer.

You install the software on your computer and choose from channels to record from. Current channels include Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO, Disney+, and many network and cable TV websites, but not all (it doesn’t work with Sling TV for example). I personally have not tried it, but several readers recommended it. Let me know what you think!


The Bottom Line: Which DVR Should I Get?

If you refuse to pay a recurring fee for your channel guide, consider getting an AirTV DVR. Just note that it does not have the grid view showing only upcoming broadcast TV shows and movies that Tablo has. Also, it is picky about what hard drives it works with; you may not be able to use an old hard drive that you have lying around. On the plus side, the tuner brought in more channels than Tablo did (for me).

If you want an easy-to-use DVR for discovering new movies and TV shows to record, and you don’t mind paying a fee for the channel guide, get the Tablo.

If you don’t mind connecting your DVR to your router via Ethernet cable (as opposed to Wi-Fi), and you want to get the most channels possible with a lower-cost channel guide, check out the HDHomeRun DVRs.

If you refuse to pay a recurring fee for a channel guide and are OK with connecting your DVR directly to your TV via HDMI, then you can consider the TiVo Edge for Antenna with All-In Service. I would probably recommend one of the other DVRs on this list over the TiVo for most people, since the app does not let you view all of your recordings when you are not on your home network.

If you want the absolute cheapest DVR solution, and you know exactly what you want to record and when is airs, then a generic solution like the Mediasonic Homeworx DVR might be best for you.

What Happened to the Amazon Fire TV Recast?

Amazon Fire TV Recast
Amazon Fire TV Recast

Amazon’s DVR, the Fire TV Recast, was discontinued in August 2022 unfortunately. It’s too bad because it had a polished user interface and was easy to set up with its internal drive. You might still be able to find one on eBay, but it’s unclear how long Amazon will continue to support it, so I would not recommend buying one used at this point.


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