Tivo Roamio OTA and Channel Master DVR+ are competing head to head on both features and price. They will appeal to the end users who want the product that just works out of the box with no necessity for technical know how.
Let’s see how they compare at the beginning of 2017.
Tivo user interface and ease of use cannot be matched by any of the OTA DVR solutions. It also has all of the streaming apps (Amazon Video, Netflix, Hulu, etc.) already on the box so it becomes a single solution for all of your cord cutting needs. OneSearch which allows you to search across live TV, your recordings and online streaming services is a tremendous time saver. SkipMode which skips the commercial block with a single press of the button is another great feature. I wish other OTA solutions would replicate it as trying to fast forward through commercials is a bit of a pain. All of this comes in a box that is extremely easy to setup and run and requires no technical knowledge whatsoever.
Tivo Roamio OTA is a clear winner here no matter what scenario you are in. Currently Amazon.com is running a sale on the 1TB model and it can be had for $369.99 shipped. Occasionaly Tivo is on sale for as little as $200 including All-In (Lifetime Guide Subscription). Most recent sale happened during the Black Friday of 2016 when refurbished Tivo Roamio OTA 500GB model could be had for $200. I honestly cannot see the reason to buy the Channel Master DVR+ at this point unless their pricing structure changes or they extend their feature set.
Tivo is by far the best OTA DVR solution on the market and if you can afford it you should look no further.
It all boils down to how important the recording of OTA is to you. I think a lot of people don’t realize what a staggering amount of content is available to them via antenna. In my area I am now picking up 58 channels (after the last re-scan few days ago). Out of those there are quite a few channels with quality content. Being able to watch on your own schedule and skip right over the commercials is a huge time saver. I myself cannot stand watching live TV unless it is sports and even then I prefer to time-shift through commercials as much as I can.
Depending on your media consumption habits you might get away with having OTA DVR and one streaming service at a time.
In the previous post I went over how to setup the Android TV 7 Live Channels DVR functionality. How that we have it up and running let me fill you in on what it can and cannot do.
You can record from live TV play controls by using the record button or from the EPG guide.
Once selected you will be presented with the option to either record a single program or to start series recording
Selecting “This single program” will start or schedule recording right away.
Selecting “Entire series” will take you through few additional options where you can select the priority of this series in relation to other recordings you have scheduled as well as recording this program on all channels or only the one you selected.
If you select all channels it seems to be showing “conflicts” with itself. It does not affect the operation.
Here is what the empty DVR section looks like without any recordings
This screen shows one episode of “Shark Tank” recorded and scheduled “Saturday Night Live”
From here you can play and delete your recordings and find them by series and genre.
Here are some more scheduled recordings added to the DVR. You can also see how you can filter what you want to see by the type of program.
Here you can see the full schedule for all of your DVR recordings where you can adjust them as necessary.
Let’s go over the functionality.
EPG guide only shows 48 hours of data and there is no search either. You will have to browse through the EPG guide to find what you want to record. This is a major pain and since only 48 hours are shown you have to wait until your desired program is available through EPG so you can schedule it. Once you start series recording it’s automated from there on. Sports are also considered as series and you can choose what you want to record by type/league such as NFL, NHL, NBA, Soccer and others. This was one of the major reasons I wanted to record live TV.
Application is very fast and there is hardly any wait while switching channels, selecting functions, scheduling, playing recorded content, etc. This is a nice change compared to Tablo which was slow pretty much everywhere. I will record the video of functionality and post on Youtube in the next couple of days.
There are a few pain points which I would like to discuss:
EPG guide only shows 48 hours as previously mentioned
There is no search so you have to browse through EPG to find what you want to record
Only what is currently airing is shown when filtering via EPG
Once recording is started you have to wait until it is finished to watch it. You cannot go back to the beginning and watch while it is recording. This is the biggest problem for me for sports. I hate watching football live due to the outrageous number of commercials. On other DVR solutions I was able to start watching the game at any point this allowed me to fast forward through commercials. No such luck here. It would be great if it allowed this functionality.
All approved USB tuners are single tuner only which results in a lot of conflicts. It would be nice if dual tuners or HD Homerun tuners (Connect, Extend or Prime) devices were allowed. Maybe it’s possible to connect two USB tuners… I’ll try once I get my hands on one.
Overall I am very satisfied with this solution. Granted there are limitations which I hope will be resolved soon but it works great and while you are connecting couple of hardware pieces together it requires minimum tinkering to get it working. Hopefully Nvidia Shield TV will enable this support soon so more of you can take advantage of this.
It doesn’t hurt that I had all the pieces of this setup laying around the house so my cost was very minimal (USB adapter cable and USB hub as discussed here)
Android TV Live Channels OTA DVR functionality was announced in October of 2016. It is now standard on the Android TV 7 and up. Unfortunately at the time of this writing there is only one device that supports it (Asus Nexus Player) and it is now discontinued.
Few weeks ago Nvidia announced the new Nvidia Shield TV which by default comes with the Android 7 operating system. System update will also be rolled out to original Shield TV owners. I don’t have the Shield myself but early reports suggested that Live Channels app is still old but according to Nvidia this will be updated shortly.
I was able to pickup Asus Nexus Player when they were on the clearance at Target some time ago but I haven’t really used it much since I found it pretty clunky compared to the original Fire TV which is our primary streamer. It was collecting dust until the Live Channels DVR was announced. Right before I purchased Tablo but I was not happy with it and I ended up returning it but that is another story. Back to Live Channels DVR.
If you are one of the happy owners of the Asus Nexus Player with Android TV 7 all you will need is:
USB tuner – I had the Xbox One (made by Hauppage) laying around but you can use of the following:
USB hub – so you can connect both USB tuner and external hard drive at the same time. I am using this one.
USB adapter cable – Micro USB B Male to USB 2.0 A Female adapter – apparently Asus didn’t think that full size USB port is needed. This will allow you to connect the USB hub. I am using this one.
Any external USB hard drive – I’m just using 320GB I pulled from the old laptop inside the USB case
Here is the quick overview of the setup process (step-by-step is right below):
Plug in the USB hub and start with attaching the external USB hard drive. Format it as internal storage and move all apps to it. Both of those steps are necessary for the DVR to work.
Plug in the USB tuner into the hub. It will be recognized by the Android and it will ask you to scan for channels.
Aaaaaand…… that’s it!
Here is step by step setup with screenshots:
Plug in USB hub and external USB hard drive. You will be presented with the following popup. Select “Setup as device storage“
Next screen will ask you to confirm that you want to format as device storage. Select “Format“
Now we wait
Once format is complete you will need to move data to the external drive. This is necessary for DVR to work.
And we wait again.
Once data is moved let’s plug in the USB tuner. I am using Xbox One USB tuner. After few seconds “Live Channels” will be added to your apps on the home screens and you will have the option to “Scan for TV Channels“.
This is the next screen. Verify that coax cable from your antenna is plugged into the USB tuner and hit “Continue“
Now we choose “Antenna“
And the scan starts. This step will take couple of minutes
As you can see it found 52 channels at my house. Lots of them in HD and all of them FREE! I am 37 miles away from the transmitter using RCA ANT751 antenna mounted in my attic.
Next you can add some more IPTV sources from Google Store. I didn’t bother.
Some welcome screens and we are all set.
Now you can go into the Live Channels. You can view all channels or narrow down your selection by different categories. Programs that can be recorded are marked DVR Recordable. It shows approximately 48 hours of programming. I was forced to take the pictures with my phone since Asus Nexus Player no longer takes screenshots once you have the TV channel playing in the background (probably due to copyrights). Here they are.
In the next post I am going over the Live Channels OTA DVR usage, functions, strengths and weaknesses. You can find it here.
So… you have the great antenna and are receiving loads of free over the air channels. Wouldn’t it be great to record them so you can watch on your schedule and more importantly skip those dreaded commercials. Let me take you on show you what OTA (over the air) DVRs are available and what worked for us.
We obviously started with the great antenna which I will get to at some point but today I wanted to write about the DVR options.
Good news is that we have many options now and gone are the days when you had to build your own setup using the Windows MCE or Myth. You can still do that but I will focus on the solutions that are more user friendly. They are ordered according to the level of “tinkering” you are willing to undertake and that factor is directly linked with the price. Usually easiest solutions are most expensive and vice-versa.
Tinkering level – EASY – MSRP $399.99 – if you want the box that will do it all on a single screen and all you have to do is plug it in look no further. Tivo is by far the easiest and most reliable solution out there. If you can live with the price there is no better option. I know, I know it’s expensive but sometimes they can be had for as little as $200 all in. Most recent sale happened during the Black Friday of 2016 when you could get refurbished 500GB model with lifetime service for $199.99.
Tivo also has all of the streaming apps (Amazon Video, Netflix, Hulu, etc.) on it and it effectively becomes a single solution for all of your cord cutting needs.
So why isn’t everyone using Tivo? Quite simply the price especially without any discounts it is cost prohibitive for most. Adding each additional screen requires a costly Tivo Mini (MSRP $149.99).
Easiest and most reliable setup
All streaming apps on the box itself
SkipMode – skip commercial breaks in recorded shows with a single button – this is an amazing feature
OneSearch – search broadcast TV and streaming content all at the same time – another great feature
Great for live TV and time-shifting
Adding screens requires additional purchase of Tivo Mini
Tinkering level – EASY – MSRP $249.99 – $349.99 depending on the model
So you want the simplicity of Tivo setup but can’t quite afford it. Channel Master might be a good fit for your OTA DVR. There are two models 16GB one ($249.99) which requires external hard drive and 1TB one ($349.99) which has the hard drive built in. There are no subscription fees just like the Tivo Roamio OTA. Both of those boxes have a very serious limitation. They cannot be extended to any additional screens. If you only have one TV that is not an issue but households with multiple TVs should probably look elsewhere. I don’t have first hand experience with their offering but the word is that they are pretty solid.
Great for live TV and time-shifting
Unable to extend to additional TVs
No streaming apps
Price difference between this and Tivo OTA is minimal
Tinkering level – EASY/MEDIUM – MSRP starts at $219.99 + subscription fees + hard drive cost + streaming box (Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, etc.)
I really wanted to like Tablo. On paper this is a great solution that was supposed to do exactly what I needed. Whole house OTA DVR that gives you ability to stream from practically every device. In practice it execution is average at best and in my opinion doesn’t justify the cost.
Lets start by saying that Tablo only makes sense if you are planning to play your recordings on the multiple TVs and devices. Startup costs are high but cover the whole house and outside of the house as well (this feature doesn’t work so well). There are two models 2 Tuner (MSRP $219.99) and 4 tuner (MSRP $299.99). Both have been discounted in the past by about 20-25%.
Subscription is not included and while Tablo will tell you that the box will work without it it is severely crippled on it’s own. Subscription costs $5 per month or $50 per year or $150 for a lifetime. Since subscription is linked with the user account it can be used on multiple Tablo boxes (some reports state that as many as 10 boxes can be linked at the same time). This is nice compared to Tivo and ChannelMaster where if the box dies subscription goes with it.
Next you will need the external hard drive for the recordings. Here you can choose the size and cost depending on your needs. Recordings are in further compressed (h264) which is nice compared to both Tivo and ChannelMaster. 1TB drive at native resolution of 1080i will give you about 200 hours of recording. Not every channel is broadcast at 1080 so this would be the worst case scenario. You can also adjust the quality and record at different resolution to save space. More on this topic here.
But wait it’s not over yet. You still need something to play those recordings with. Any type of streaming device will do here: Fire TV, Roku, Android TV, Apple TV, Xbox One, Chromecast, LG WebOs TVs and last but not least the wonderful Kodi. Chances are you already have one or two. Tablo supports all of them so choice only depends on your preference.
So let’s say we want to replicate Tivo OTA features. We’ll need the 4 tuner model ($299.99) + lifetime subscription ($150) + 1TB hard drive (approximately $50). We are already at $500 and we haven’t accounted for the streaming device. I’m assuming everyone has one but at the very least you would have to add $40 (Fire TV or Roku) for each TV.
So what makes Tablo a viable solution. If you want to play your recordings on many TVs you won’t have to pay for each of them as is the case with Tivo. You can simply stream via the device you already have. You can also watch your recordings via portable devices like phones and tablets. Recording options are also great. It allows you to choose shows, movies, kids programming or sports and it will show you what is coming up in the next 2 weeks. You don’t have to go through the grid to find what you want to record.
There is one large problem with Tablo though. Watching live TV is delayed by about 10 seconds which they explain is due to the fact that the stream has to be encoded to mp4 on the fly. This is only noticeable when you switch channels but is there and as such “channel surfing” is extremely painful. Guide update and navigation is pretty slow too.
We might have overlooked live TV lag if it wasn’t for the fact that the whole solution was not 100% stable. We’ve encountered different issues which when you consider the price are not something you should see in the product that carries such a high price tag. In the end we returned it.
whole house DVR server
plays on as many streaming devices as you’d like
plays on portable devices on iOS and Android
works well for recording
lifetime subscription covers multiple devices and is linked to user
worthless for watching live TV – too much delay and lag
not 100% stable stable solution
4.) Android TV 7.0 with Live Channels DVR
Tinkering level – EASY/MEDIUM – MSRP varies since only requirement is to have the Android TV 7 device, USB OTA tuner and sufficient storage. Guide data is free.
Currently on the market we have an Asus Player (discontinued) and Nvidia Shield which recently got updated to Android 7.0 but apparently Live Channels is still an old version. That is supposed to be resolved soon.
If you have the Asus Player or Nvidia Shield (support soon) and the cost is the factor this one is for you. Xbox One tuner can be had for as little as $40 and all you have to add is an appropriate storage (1TB drive is about $50) which you might have laying around as well.
This is the solution I am currently using. Since I already had all the pieces I was able to put it all together as soon as it was released and it has been running at our house ever since.
It works very well and guide data is free. You can record series and sports by type. So for instance if you want to record NFL games you can tell it to start recording every game moving forward. Unfortunately there is no search and you can only select your recordings from the guide which only shows you about 48 hours ahead. Once you select the series to record it will add all instances for the upcoming 14 days. It is also currently limited to single tuner models.
I’ll have the full write up on this soon along with the video.
fairly easy to setup
works for live TV and time-shifting
great fit for people who bought Xbox tuner in the anticipation of DVR functionality – myself included
only one device supports it at the moment – Asus Player – Nvidia Shield should be added very soon
recordings need to be selected from the guide
single TV solution – no way to extend to other TVs
5.) Plex DVR
Tinkering level – MEDIUM – PlexPass license and HD Homerun ($100 – $180) tuner needs to be purchased. You will also need to provide a server to run the Plex software and a streaming box to attach to your TV.
This one is hard to compare apples to apples. PlexPass which is a requirement for the DVR gives you a lot of other options and might be worth it to a lot of people even without the DVR and having a Plex server is also a requirement. More on Plex in other articles.
If you already have a Plex server and love it then this is the one for you. All you will need to add is the PlexPass and one of the HD Homerun tuners (Connect, Extend or Prime). You can have multiple tuners added to Plex which will allow you to record more simultaneous programming. Even mix OTA and Cablecard recordings.
EPG has 14 days of data and recordings can be scheduled via search or genre. All completed recordings are categorized inside Plex and available to watch alongside all of your other media.
So let’s go through a scenario with the least tinkering required. You could buy the Nvidia Shield Pro which already has the hard drive built in ($300) to run your Plex server and add lifetime PlexPass ($5 per month, $40 per year or $150 for lifetime). Then you need one of the HD Homerun tuners, let’s say Connect which retails for $100. This would give you a full single TV solution and additional screens could be added with any Plex capable device. This is already in Tablo price range but it gives you much more with Nvidia Shield and Plex. Obviously you can build it for much less and you can also scale it to be much more expensive. This is the beauty of this setup. There is a lot of flexibility and it will adjust to whatever your needs and budget is.
In this setup live TV has to be done with either a 3rd party plugin for Plex or with a native HD Homerun View client. This is a one major weakness that there is no way to watch live TV from within the same interface. Hopefully future releases of Plex will resolve this.
Now Plex DVR is still in beta so it’s not a finished product but it has a lot of potential and in my opinion has already surpassed the Tablo offering.
flexible with streaming apps for every possible device
centralized with all recordings alongside all other Plex media
start small and build into a larger system
PlexPass gives you a lot of other options, DVR is just one of the perks
if you already have Plex this is for you
subscription is linked to your account not the device
still in beta
can be expensive especially if you are starting from scratch
no native Live TV or time-shifting (can be accomplished with 3rd party plugins or HD Homerun View app)
Tinkering level – MEDIUM – $60 for software license and 1 year of EPG ($30 per year after that), HD Homerun tuners (Connect, Extend or Prime) ($100 – $180) and a recording device (Windows/MacOS/Linux or one of the NAS systems from Synology, Qnap or WD).
This one is very similar in it’s architecture to Plex DVR offering above. You are using the same tuners and you still need the storage device. Major difference is that this supports live TV natively but on the other hand Plex gives you a lot more features outside of the DVR.
flexible – clients on a lot of streaming devices (not as much as Plex)
subscription is linked to your account not the device
works for live TV and time-shifting
still in beta
can be expensive especially if you are starting from scratch
As you can see from this article the solution you choose will be dependent on multiple factors primary ones being your budget, technical ability and number of screens you’d like to play the recordings on.
If budget is not an issue and you don’t have the technical skills or just don’t want to tinker then Tivo Roamio OTA is probably the best fit for you. You will be able to just plug it in and go. If you can pick one up on sale then that’s even better.
If you are a current Plex user or have a lot of local media and would like to try Plex then that’s probably the best way to go. It’s not cheap but it is extremely flexible and allows to centralize your Plex media and recordings.
If you are one of the people (like yours truly) that were burned by Microsoft when they scrapped their plans for Xbox One DVR but you already purchased the USB tuner then Android TV Live Channels might be an option for you. You could also start here with the Nvidia Shield (as soon as Live Channels are updated). Then you still have the option to install Plex add HD Homerun tuner and start recording via Plex. This is my plan and I am sticking to it…