Over the years, many cable-disablers have asked me to recommend a DVR (digital video recorder) that can be used to record free broadcast TV from an antenna. For a long time, the best option was TiVo, but it has a monthly fee ($14.99 at the time of this writing) which is a show-stopper for me. The whole point of getting the antenna was to dump the monthly cable fee, and now we have to start paying again? Not gonna do it.
After seeing some good reviews online, I purchased the Channel Master DVR+ to see if it could be the DVR that free TV enthusiasts have been looking for. Continue reading for my full review or skip to the end for my conclusions.
What It Is
The DVR+ will record live broadcast TV to an external hard drive (or internal, if you buy the version with built-in drive), from the antenna connected to it. I used it with the Mohu Leaf. It has a channel guide that allows you to see up to two weeks in the future, and easily schedule recordings during that time. It allows you to pause live TV and fast forward or rewind to the point where you started watching that channel.
The DVR+ has HDMI output only. It will NOT work with an older tube TV without an adapter.
What You Get
The DVR+ unit (without internal storage) costs $249 direct from Channel Master. I purchased mine with 2-day shipping for around $13 and it arrived on my doorstep on time.
In the package, you get the DVR+ unit, a sleek black metal box smaller than a notebook, an IR remote control, power adapter, and manual. Here’s my unboxing video if you’d like to see more:
The rear panel has coax antenna in (where you plug in your antenna), digital audio out, HDMI out, Ethernet, two USB 2.0 ports (one for hard drive and one for Wi-Fi adapter), 12V power, and IR extender input.
Total Cost of Ownership
There is a version of the DVR+ with 1TB hard drive included. If you are not tech-savvy, and don’t want to mess with hard drives, you can get that. But, a better value is to attach your own hard drive to the unit.
Because I’m a bit of a computer geek, I had an old external hard drive lying around that I could use with the DVR+. But if you don’t have one, you can purchase one for around $60. You can even use a USB thumb drive if you have one of those, as long it is of decent storage capacity.
To get its channel guide data, the DVR+ has to be connected to the Internet. If you go with wired Ethernet, you’ll need an Ethernet cable to go to your router. If you want Wi-Fi, you’ll have to purchase the optional USB Wi-Fi adapter for $39.
Finally, you’ll need an HDMI cable to connect from your DVR+ to your TV.
Assuming you don’t have any of the accessories already, the real total cost of the DVR+ system becomes kind of pricy:
$249 (DRV+) + $60 (hard drive) + $39 (Wi-Fi adapter) + $10 HDMI + $13 shipping = $371.
Add tax, and we’re close to $400. So, if you don’t already own some of the required accessories, the DVR+ is expensive. But is it worth it? Read on.
There is some setup involved, but it’s not too hard. You’ll need to connect your antenna to the DVR+, then connect your DVR+ to your TV. Finally, plug in the power adapter. You can plug in the hard drive later.
Configuration for the DVR+ was very easy. I powered it on using the remote. I proceeded to do a channel scan. My DVR+ found a whopping 98 channels in the Los Angeles area with the Mohu Leaf antenna. I’ll do more testing and add to this review when I have some comparison data.
I selected the language and entered my zip code (it was nice having the numeric keypad of the remote instead of having to use a letter-picker).
I used the wired-Ethernet version, so I did not have to enter a Wi-Fi password. If you use the Wi-Fi adapter, you’ll need to enter your password.
The DVR+ will work without Internet access. You’ll still have crude channel guide, but of course no Internet-based channels, and no software updates.
Watching Live TV
Before long, I was watching live TV! The remote control was pretty intuitive. Pressing the “Guide” button brought up the channel guide which was simple but made sense. A few minor gripes though. It takes a second or two for the guide to come up when you press the “Guide” button. It takes two presses of the “OK” button to switch channels: one to select the channel, and another to tell the DVR+ that you want to watch the channel instead of record it. These are not showstoppers.
I verified that I was able to pause live TV, fast forward, and rewind to the point at which I had started watching that channel. These functions were pretty responsive. No hiccups or crashes here.
A few minor beefs: The remote buttons for these functions are at the bottom of the remote, making them a bit cumbersome to use while holding the remote in your hand. In addition, the Play button is not between the RW and FF buttons, but below, which seemed non-intuitive to me. Not a big deal.
TiVo does have a small killer feature that I wish DVR+ had. When you fast forward to skip over commercials, and then you resume play, the TiVo will start playback of the video a few seconds BEFORE the point at which you pressed the play button. This is because you always overshoot by a bit. This would have been great to have on the DVR+.
In its favor, let me say that the DVR+ powers on very fast. You don’t have to sit through a long the bootup process, something that really annoys me. The DVR+ starts playing live TV in seconds after you power up.
Okay, next it was time to plug in the hard drive to do some serious recording. I plugged in a really old (10+ year old) drive to make sure this would work with any old drive and it seemed to work fine. The DVR+ asked if I wanted to format it, and I proceeded. That’s really it! After that, you can start selecting programs to record.
Recording went smoothly. The DVR+ has two tuners so you can watch one show while recording another.
It also has a “season pass” feature where you can record all shows with the same name automatically, so you don’t have to remember to set up the recording each week.
Note that the hard drive format is different from what your computer or laptop uses, so unfortunately, you can’t just plug it into your computer and copy the video files without using special software.
Also note that the DVR+ will only record from your broadcast TV antenna. It won’t record from the Internet, Roku, Chromecast, and so forth.
The DVR+ offers a few Internet video services: Vudu for paid movies and video, Pandora for music, and YouTube, which was a pleasant surprise to me. They also just announced the addition of Sling TV!
It would have been great if the DVR+ also had Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and other services. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see those coming soon). But as is, you’ll have to get a Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, or Chromecast for most of those services.
A big concern with these hard-drive-based DVRs is reliability. Some of the lesser-known competitors have been known to crash often, corrupt video, and so forth. I have read about some problems that people have had with the unit (i.e., losing their recordings), but these have been relatively rare. The firmware in the DVR+ seems “fully baked”. I did get it to fail with an error the first time I tried YouTube. But after that it has been fine. For the most part, the DVR+ has good reviews with respect to reliability. I’ll report any problems I find, but so far so good.
During my testing, Channel Master pushed down a software update for the DVR+, which I did. It took a while, but it went smoothly with no problems.
The Bottom Line
I would say that the Channel Master DVR+ is the best DVR for broadcast TV which does not have a dreaded monthly fee. TiVo has a superior user interface, but the $14.99 per month fee is a showstopper for me.
Yes, the total cost of the DVR+ is closer to $400 when you include all of the necessary accessories. It’s pricey, but that’s the cost of about five months of cable TV for most people. If you are using an antenna right now and want to be able to record shows, I’d highly recommend the DVR+!
In addition, the DVR+ is the only over-the-air DVR that will work without an Internet connection!
You can order the Channel Master DVR+ direct from the factory here. Let me know what you think in the comments below! – BrianChannel Master DVR+ Bundle - subscription free digital video recorder with web features and channel guide (CM7500BDL3)
If You Have Multiple TVs…
If you need a whole-home recording solution for multiple TVs, I recommend Tablo TV. It requires a Roku box for each TV, but you only need one Tablo for all of the TVs in your home. As an added bonus, it’s wireless, so no need to string up an antenna cable to your TVs!
Tell me about your experience with the DVR+ or other video recorders below! – Brian
DISCLOSURE: This is a professional review site that receives compensation from the retailer or manufacturer when you purchase through the affiliate links such as the ones on this page. I test and/or research each product or service thoroughly before endorsing it. This site is independently owned and the opinions expressed here are my own. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.