In an age of streaming media, one might think that the days of recording our favorite shows through a hulking DVR box are over. That’s not necessarily the case. While streaming devices and smart TVs keep us connected to our Netflix and Hulu accounts, today’s leading OTA receivers are sleek, can store up to hundreds of shows and movies, and some models can even connect to the Internet.
In our opinion, the TiVo Edge for Antenna is the best over-the-air receiver in our opinion. With its 500GB of DVR storage, class-leading interface and content selection screens, dedicated remote, built-in streaming apps, and support for 4K, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos, it’s the Ferrari of the OTA receiver world.
We’ve spent a lot of time setting up OTA antennas, installing receivers, and generally tweaking these systems to get the most out of them. We believe the TiVo Edge for Antenna is the best OTA receiver for most people, but we do have some other suggestions in case it’s not right for you. Each offers very specific strengths, and one just might be the perfect fit.
Why you should buy this: You can cut the cord without losing any of the features you love.
Who it’s for: Cord-cutters who still want a remote control, 4K, HDR, and voice search, plus a cable-like experience.
Why we picked the TiVo Edge for Antenna:
Moving into the world of OTA TV can feel a little bit like you’re taking a leap into the unknown, but going OTA with the help of a TiVo makes the transition almost unnoticeable. With a traditional remote control and an HDMI cable that plugs into your TV or A/V receiver, the TiVo Edge for Antenna works just like the set-top box from your cable company.
The Edge for Antenna replaces our previous pick, the TiVo Bolt OTA, thanks to improved support for HDR (Dolby Vision has been added) and Dolby Atmos.
TiVo’s hallmark auto-record feature and 500GB of available storage ensure there’s always something to watch — an even bigger benefit when dealing with fewer channels than cable or satellite — and the redesigned TiVo Home screen curates everything into an intuitive carousel view. The traditional on-screen guide is superbly laid out, with each channel clearly labeled. We also love options like voice-enabled search, as well as the ability to hunt for something to watch while your current TV channel continues to play in the corner.
Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos won’t do much to improve your OTA experience (even the newer ATSC 3.0 OTA standard doesn’t support Dolby Vision yet), but it makes a big difference when using the Edge as your streaming media player.
Streaming services like Netflix, Plex, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and Hulu are preloaded, so you likely won’t need a third-party box like an Apple TV or a Chromecast, potentially saving you money while simplifying your setup.
To get the most out of the Edge, you’ll need to pick a TiVo service plan: $7 monthly, $70 annually, or $250 for a lifetime, transferable package.
Extending your TiVo experience to other TVs in the house requires a $200 TiVo Mini Lux for each additional TV, but you can also download the TiVo app for your smartphone or tablet, which lets you watch and manage your content from any iOS and Android device.
Why you should buy this: You want to experience a simple OTA receiver, complete with recording and multiple hookups, but don’t want the major investment of a Tivo or higher-priced OTA box.
Who it’s for: Those that want to experience the benefits of an OTA receiver while shopping on a minimal budget.
Why we picked the MediaSonic ATSC Digital Converter Box:
If you’re looking to get yourself nudged over into the world of cord-cutters and OTA receiver ownership, but aren’t willing to drop the heavy dough required of a robust Tivo interface, the MediaSonic ATSC may be more up your alley.
In terms of hardware, there are multiple connections to get you started. Once lined into your home’s antenna coaxial connection, you can output video to practically any TV in the home thanks to the box’s HDMI, coaxial, and composite video outputs. The included remote will net you all of the basic functions you’ll need to enjoy your recordings (more on that below), complete with play/pause, rewind/fast-forward, and an option to program your favorite stations into the clicker.
For recording purposes, this is where the “budget” handle certainly comes into play. Don’t expect the automatic recording of content across multiple tuners that you’ll find with some of the heavyweight OTA receivers on this list. While the MediaSonic is capable of 2TB of storage, that’s off of an external hard drive (USB 2.5 and 3.0 with MBR formatting). As the product name suggests, the MediaSonic is also only capable of picking up and recording ATSC signals, so apologies to our NTSC hopefuls.
When all is said and done, though, you’re simply not going to find a cheaper way into OTA viewing and recording. While the MediaSonic ATSC Digital Converter Box may lack streaming apps and an intuitive user experience, it’ll definitely get the job done.
Why you should buy this: It integrates perfectly with Fire TV devices and doesn’t require any ongoing fees.
Who it’s for: Fire TV owners who want to add free over-the-air TV viewing and recording to their media choices.
Why we picked the Amazon Fire TV Recast:
If you’ve already taken the first step toward ending your dependence on cable or satellite by buying one of Amazon’s excellent Fire TV media streamers, you should seriously consider going all the way with the Fire TV Recast. It is designed to augment the Fire TV’s already very comprehensive set of streaming apps, like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+, with free local TV and a DVR.
Like the Tablo Dual below, the Fire TV Recast can live almost anywhere in your home as long as it can connect to a power source and your antenna’s cable, making it much easier to place your antenna where it can get the best reception. The Recast then uses your home Wi-Fi network to transmit both live TV and your recordings to any Fire TV devices you have at home. You can also access the content from a mobile device using the free Fire TV app.
Because the interface is handled by your existing Fire TV device, it’s clean and easy to use. If you own any Alexa-enabled smart speakers like an Echo Dot, you can control the experience with your voice, just as you can with other Fire TV functions.
The best part of the Fire TV Recast is that there’s no additional fee for any of its features. Simply plug it in, set it up using your existing Amazon account and that’s it. It comes in two versions: A 2-tuner 500GB model and a 4-tuner 1TB model, which means there is a Fire TV Recast for almost any budget or household size.
It’s not as clever as a TiVo: There’s no automatic recording of shows you might be interested in, and no ability to skip ads with a single click, and it only works withstreamers. But these are minor drawbacks to what is otherwise a perfect OTA DVR upgrade for those in Amazon’s media ecosystem.
And while theisn’t exactly cheap, you can equip each TV in your home with access to its live and recorded content for just $30 (or less) with the new .
Why you should buy this: With rock-solid Wi-Fi and support for tons of devices, this OTA DVR does it all.
Who it’s for: People with existing smart TVs or streaming devices like Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast.
Why we picked the Tablo Dual Lite:
For starters, the Tablo Dual Lite is super easy to set up and use. Its app-based interface is clean and simple, and after a quick scan, it lets you pick which of your available channels you’d like to add to your guide instead of assuming you want them all. But the Tablo’s key advantage is its ability to be placed anywhere in your home, whether that’s near your TV or router. Unlike other receivers, which need to be connected to your antenna, hardwired to your router, and in some cases connected to your TV, the Tablo only needs an antenna connection and power. In fact, it has no TV output at all.
Instead, Tablo streams your OTA channels to your TV via a compatible media device, like an Apple TV 4th generation or a Roku. If you have the right smart TV, you may not need an external device at all. Here’s the full list of compatible devices, which is extensive and offers something for almost everyone, with the exception of PlayStation console owners.
With two OTA tuners, the Tablo Dual Lite can receive and record two different channels simultaneously, but you’re not limited to two devices. Depending on the speed of your home network, up to six devices can watch content simultaneously. Given how many of us watch content on our phones and tablets, that’s a lot of potential screens powered by a single receiver.
The Dual Lite doesn’t come with any built-in storage (Tablo sells a 128GB version if that’s what you want), but this adds to its flexibility: You can decide how much storage you want by simply adding your own USB hard drive. Some kind of storage is required, however, even if you decide not to record shows.
On its own, the Tablo will give you 24 hours of guide info and the ability to record and livestream any OTA content you can receive. For a subscription fee of $5 per month, $50 per year, or a one-time fee of $150, you get 14 days of guide info, advanced recording features (like the ability to start a recording two minutes earlier or later), and a must-have feature for frequent travelers: Remote-view capability for access to the entire system from anywhere with a decent internet connection.
For $2 more per month or $20 per year, you can add Tablo’s Premium Service, which enables the platform’s automatic commercial skip feature.
The Tablo’s interface is composed of a mix of the traditional on-screen channel guide and curated “suggested” content, sorted by genre, making it easy to see what’s on tap. If you’re the impatient sort, though, channel changes may prove frustrating since, unless you’ve got a very solid Ethernet connection, there’s a pretty notable lag as the Tablo tunes in to the new channel and starts up the stream. There’s also no way to keep watching one channel while you surf the guide for something else.
Still, theis one of the easiest and most affordable ways to get your OTA channels on demand.
If you like the idea of connecting an OTA receiver to your TV, with a dedicated remote like the Edge for Antenna, Tablo’s new $150 Dual HDMI DVR is a much more affordable way to go. Just keep in mind that, unlike the Dual Lite, it must be connected to a TV.
Why you should buy this: It’s the only OTA receiver that lets you jump on the ATSC 3.0 train for the next generation of broadcast TV, and Plex makes it even more powerful.
Who it’s for: DIY aficionados with a dedicated Plex server, a fast local network, and a desire to be on the leading edge of OTA TV.
Why we picked the HDHomeRun Connect 4K Plus Plex Live TV:
ATSC 3.0, or NextGen TV as it’s also known, is the latest and greatest version of free, over-the-air TV. When it’s fully adopted, we’ll see all of our favorite TV stations start to make content available in 4K resolution, with HDR video, and even Dolby Atmos for immersive surround sound. For a deep dive into its many benefits, check out our full ATSC 3.0 explainer.
As exciting as ATSC 3.0 is, there are a few caveats. First, only select markets in the U.S. have ASTC 3.0 broadcasts. Second, and more importantly, you need an ATSC 3.0-compatible OTA receiver to watch these channels. That’s where the $200 SiliconDust HDHomeRun Connect 4K comes in.
As the only currently available ATSC 3.0 receiver designed to replace your existing OTA receiver (be it a set-top-box or your TV’s built-in receiver), the HDHomeRun Connect 4K is your connection to a world of future-proofed TV viewing. Unlike some earlier HDHomeRun products, the HDHomeRun Connect 4K can connect over Wi-Fi as well as Ethernet, for greater placement flexibility.
It’s got four tuners (two that can do ATSC 3.0 and 1.0 and two that only do ATSC 1.0) so you can watch and/or record up to four channels simultaneously.
Speaking of recording, the HDHomeRun Connect 4K has no built-in storage, so if you want to record, you need to sign up for SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun DVR service — a $35 per year subscription that lets you save programs to a NAS drive, or a PC, and watch them from a variety of supported devices.
However, we think that Plex Live TV is a more flexible option. Plex is an incredibly full-featured media server platform that organizes and lets you watch all of your music, TV, movies, and photos on just about any device you can think of. When you subscribe to the Plex Pass service ($120/lifetime), you get Plex Live TV, which can use the HDHomeRun Connect 4K as a live TV source.
Plex displays all of your available TV shows just like the rest of your media library, and organizes them into three main sections: On Right Now, Starting Soon, and New Episodes Tonight. It’s a friendly, familiar interface for Plex users, and naturally, it works on every device that Plex supports, including smart TVs, Apple TV, Roku, iOS, Android, etc.
The beauty of the Plex integration is that your Plex Media Server is the DVR, so no additional storage is needed. Running Plex on a honking 16TB NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive? Congrats, you’ve theoretically got a 16TB DVR. If your Plex Media Server has power to spare, you can even enable a “remove commercials” feature, which will automatically attempt to strip all ads from your recordings.
Unfortunately, much more than with TiVo or Tablo, your Plex Live TV and DVR performance will vary based on your hardware and network. Because Plex clients don’t natively understand MPEG-2 video, which thedistributes from OTA signals, they must be transcoded to the H.264 format. Mac and PCs can handle this task effortlessly, but if you run Plex on a NAS drive, like the WD My Cloud Mirror we used for testing, you may find limited support for your Plex clients.
The channel guide view can display up to two weeks of program info, if available for your region. Channel changes are similar to the Tablo: There’s a distinct lag as the new stream gets going, and there’s no way to watch one stream while hunting for another.
Spending $200 on the HDHomeRun Connect 4K and. say, a one-time cost of $120 for a lifetime Plex Pass, is not a bad investment when you consider it puts you way ahead of the ATSC 3.0 curve — especially if you’ve already got lots of Plex-enabled devices around the house and a dedicated Plex Media Server. But if this doesn’t sound like you, or the thought of setting up aserver and using it to watch TV leaves you in a cold sweat, you should probably look at our other picks.
How does an OTA receiver work?
An OTA (over-the-air) receiver works in conjunction with your home’s TV antenna to provide you with an experience closer to a cable subscription. Once your antenna is lined in, OTA receivers allow you to record over-the-air programming, sometimes across multiple stations at once. Many OTA boxes can store up to 500GB or more of recorded shows and movies, just like a cable-DVR package. Advanced OTA receivers even have access to streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu.
Will ATSC 3.0 improve reception?
Yes. Once broadcasters are beaming signals in 4K with added HDR support, the picture we’ll see on our TVs should be noticeably improved, especially compared to older ATSC broadcasting. Like most major tech advances, though, the format has arrived before hardware has fully caught up. It may be awhile before ATSC 3.0 is standard in every OTA receiver-home.
Do Smart TVs have a built-in antenna?
Not quite. While certain smart TV brands can connect you to free programming through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections, OTA signals are only captured by an external antenna that requires a connection to your home’s TV (or compatible OTA receiver).
Get ready for ATSC 3.0
ATSC 3.0, officially known as NextGen TV, is the next version of over-the-air HDTV broadcasts. With support for 4K resolution, HDR, and Dolby Atmos, it’s eventually going to replace the existing ATSC system. The rollout of ATSC 3.0-compatible OTA receivers has been slow, but they’re beginning to show up now, and we expect to see more soon.
Getting the most out of your OTA setup really begins with your antenna. The kind you buy and where you place it will determine how many channels you receive. Digital Trends has a comprehensive guide to selecting the right antenna for your home, which we encourage you to check out before you commit to an OTA receiver. And don’t worry — any antenna that you buy today will work with NextGen TV when it’s time to make the switch.
Change of heart?
If you tend to have misgivings about changes to your entertainment options, you may want to consider the. It offers all of the same great features as the , including a four tuner OTA receiver, but it’s also 4K- and CableCARD-ready, so if you decide you can’t live without your cable subscription after all, at least you won’t have to trade in your receiver.