There are a few over-the-air DVRs that operate without a subscription for guide data.
Not everyone wants to pay a monthly or annual fee just to watch local broadcast channels such as ABC, 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 DVR will cost you some cash, along with an external hard drive to store your recordings.
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, the Fire TV Recast has no fee, and free guide data. But it only works with Fire TV devices, tablets and Android smartphones.
Tablo has a better menu with a subscription, but can record TV programming without one.
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 makes a number of over-the-air DVRs that operate with or without a subscription.
The Tablo Dual Lite OTA DVR is the least expensive model, and requires an external hard drive for storing recordings. The Dual Lite has two internal ATSC tuners capable of receiving digital (ATSC 1.0) signals.
Using a Tablo DVR without a subscription still gives you a channel guide. But you get only one day of guide data with its free DVR service. You will also have to manually enter your recordings.
Buying a Tablo DVR without a hard drive does give you the flexibility of choosing the amount of recording space you get. Tablo says that the Dual Lite can connect to hard drives up to 8TB. External hard drives are connected to the USB port, which supports USB 2.0 and 3.0.
Tablo recommends using Western Digital Elements drives, or Seagate Expansion Drives for the best experience.
Whenever you buy a new or refurbished Tablo, you will get 30 days of its subscription DVR service for free. Once the 30 days are over, you will revert to the free plan.
A subscription costs $4.99 per month. Subscribers get a 14-day channel guide, and additional menus. The added menus break down available sports, movies, Prime TV and series information.
You can read my review on the Tablo Dual Lite. Tablo also makes OTA DVRs with internal storage in case you don’t want to buy an external hard drive.
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 is an over-the-air DVR 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 Amazon, SiliconDust, Nuvyyo and AirTV make over-the-air signals available across your home WiFi network.
Read “How to Choose the Best TV Antenna & OTA DVR” for more hands-on tips, and detailed breakdowns of over-the-air TV setups.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble