There are a few over-the-air DVRs that operate without any subscription fees for guide data.
Not everyone wants to pay a monthly or annual fee just to watch local broadcast channels such as ABC, CBS, FOX, PBS or NBC.
Recording free over-the-air TV without a subscription can save you hundreds of dollars a year compared to paying for cable TV service. But you should be prepared to pay for some initial equipment up front.
You will need a TV antenna to get your local TV broadcasts. The OTA DVR will cost you some cash, along with an external hard drive to store your recordings. But cord-cutters have been enjoying free HD channels for years — long before streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu became popular.
Table of Contents
- OTA DVRs without subscriptions
- AirTV 2 and AirTV Anywhere
- Amazon Fire TV Recast
- Hauppauge Win-TV-dualHD
- Can I get a DVR for my TV antenna?
OTA DVRs without subscriptions
Some subscription-free DVRs are going to have more flexibility than others. For example, Tablo no longer requires a subscription to record TV programming as of 2023.
OTA DVRs made by AirTV operate without a subscription as well. These DVRs have apps that support Smart TVs and major streaming devices including Roku, Fire TV Sticks, Apple TV and Android TV/Google TV.
So looking over your current TV setup and where you watch TV should factor into what kind of DVR you want to buy. I began testing out various OTA DVR setups in 2017, and continue to run two to three within my home at any given time.
This overview of OTA DVRs with no subscription required is based on my experience.
Tablo became subscription free when its parent company released its 4th generation OTA DVR in August 2023.
The Tablo 4th generation OTA DVR has a 128GB internal hard drive. The hard drive provides about 50 hours of storage for recordings in HD resolution.
The Tablo has two internal ATSC tuners capable of receiving digital (ATSC 1.0) signals. After you record a show or movie, you can start fast forwarding through commercials.
You can simply connect the Tablo to your antenna. Tablo requires internet connectivity to work properly –either by Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
One Tablo DVR makes it possible to watch live TV and recordings from multiple screens across your home. The new Tablo app is supported on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV/Google TV and iOS mobile platforms as well as most smart TVs and mobile devices.
Apple TV, and Smart TVs from Samsung and Vizio are expected to be added later this year.
With their legacy hardware, Tablo offered a monthly fee, annual fee or lifetime subscription for guide data. The company began to sunset the lifetime subscription offer in 2022. But Tablo is expected to update legacy devices to the new Tablo app in the near future.
AirTV 2 and AirTV Anywhere
The AirTV 2 and AirTV Anywhere DVRs are made for Sling TV subscribers. You can integrate over-the-air broadcast channels within the Sling TV app.
Neither require a subscription to work to get a channel guide, but you can only record over-the-air channels.
You are likely going to be paying for Sling TV to get cable channels such as ESPN and CNN. These DVRs work without Sling TV as well. To record channels from Sling TV, you will need to use Cloud DVR.
The AirTV 2 has two internal TV tuners, allowing you to record one broadcast channel and watch another at the same time. You need to connect your own external hard drive to save recordings.
AirTV Anywhere has four internal tuners, and includes an internal 1TB hard drive. So you can record up to four channels at once. You can also watch one live TV channel, while recording three others.
These DVRs allow you pause, rewind and fast forward recordings.
Amazon Fire TV Recast
The Amazon Fire TV Recast was officially discontinued in 2022. But many second-hand units can still be found on eBay, at yard sales and second-hand stores.
This over-the-air DVR was made to work with Fire TV streaming devices. There is no fee for guide data. And no Amazon Prime subscription is required to operate the Recast.
The two-tuner model includes a 500 GB hard drive, or roughly 75 hours of recordings. The four-tuner model has a 1TB hard drive for about 150 hours of recordings. The Recast operates off a WiFi connection, but also has an Ethernet port. A TV antenna plugs directly into the Recast instead of your television.
The Recast doesn’t need to be near your TV. So you station the Recast where there is ideal antenna reception.
The Hauppauge WinTV-dualHD is a USB TV tuner. It can be plugged into a desktop PC or laptop. It also works with NVIDIA Shield.
The WinTV-dualHD comes with a small remote control and software for PC users. On the NVIDIA Shield, you can use the channels app to scan for channels and watch live TV. The palm-sized tuner lets you watch and record live TV on up to two channels at once. The antenna plugs into one end of the tuner.
The unit comes with a small TV antenna, but in my experience you will get more channels by using your own indoor TV antenna.
Can I get a DVR for my TV antenna?
Yes, there are a number of companies that make DVRs specifically for recording free over-the-air TV signals.
A number of OTA DVRs made by SiliconDust, Hauppauge, Nuvyyo and AirTV make over-the-air signals available across your home Wi-Fi network.