The Channel Master DVR+: The Best Recorder for Broadcast TV with No Subscription Fees

Channel Master DVR+

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.

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.

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.

Channel Master DVR+ rear panel

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.

Setup

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.

Channel Master DVR+ channel scan
Scanning for channels

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).

Channel Master DVR+ setup
Setting zip code and time zone

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.

Channel Master DVR+ channel guide
Channel guide. You need to press the Info button to get more detailed info on the show.

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.

Recording

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.

Other Services

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!

YouTube on DVR+
The YouTube App

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.

Reliability

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.

Channel Master DVR+

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! – Brian

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

  • Chub

    Brian: You keep recommending the Tablo DVR, I was wondering if the internet is required to operate it. My whole point
    here is to stay away from the internet.

    • Hi Chub,

      You definitely need Wi-Fi to use it, as well as a Roku or other set-top box connected to your TV to use it. I’m not sure if you need Internet capability, but you might need it for the channel guide. So, I’d say you “probably” need Internet to use it.

      The Channel Master DVR+ will work without Internet however.

      Best,
      Brian

  • Chub

    The volume on most programs that I record is okay. However, on some programs I have to turn the volume up to to maximum and still can barely hear the program. On other programs the volume will go up about half way, you can hear what is being said but you have to strain a bit. Am I doing something wrong to cause this. I need help!

    • Hi Chub,

      I don’t think you are doing anything wrong. That is just the way the shows were broadcast.

      Best,
      Brian

  • LOIS HOLLON

    Hi Brian and thanks for the great article. I have a question about the Channel Master DVR+. We are wanting to completely cut the cord and only go with local channels. We have 2 older TV’s that are not digital. We are thinking of buying an Mohu Leaf and a digital converter for each TV (1 upstairs & 1 downstairs). The way I understand it from the Mohu website is that we would hook up the Mohu antennae to the converter box and then the converter box to our TV. Do you know if the Channel Master DVR+ will record using this type of set up? If so, how would we hook it up? We do have internet capability to update the Channel Master in the same room as the TV.

    • Hi Lois,

      Great question. The DVR+ won’t work with an old analog tube TV, unfortunately, because the DVR+ only has HDMI output. You could get a converter, but at that point, it would be cheaper and better to simply buy a whole new TV.

      Actually, you might want to consider getting new TVs. You’d save the cost of the converter, have much better picture quality, be able to hang it on the wall, and save electricity, not to mention you’d be able to use it with a DVR.

      By the way, for multiple TV’s, I recommend the Tablo DVR:
      http://disablemycable.com/blog/tablo-dvr/

      Theoretically, you could use this with old Tube TVs if you hooked them up to Roku 1’s.

      Best,
      Brian

  • Chub

    When I first got the Channel Master DVR + the program guide was working pretty well, but now most of the channels do
    not show what program is on. Is this because of the software update in January? I’m not hooked up to the internet so I have not been able to update the latest software.

    • Hi Chub,

      I’m not sure, but in some areas, the channel guide might not work without Internet access anymore…

      Best,
      Brian

  • Chub

    I was just wondering if I could add an external tuner so that I could record two programs and watch a recorded program at the same time.

    • Hi Chub,

      You can get Tablo TV with four tuners, if that is what you’d like to do.

      Best,
      Brian

  • Chub

    Is it possible to add one or more external tuners to the ChannelMaster DVR +

    • HI Chub,

      I don’t believe so. What are you trying to accomplish?

      Thanks,
      Brian

  • Conni

    I am also trying to “cut the cord”; however, when asking about the dvr at a local electronics store, I was told some shows are copyrighted and have a scrambler making it impossible to record. Have you found this to be true?

    • Hi Conni,

      Free broadcast TV is unencrypted. I’ve never had a problem recording it. They might have been talking about cable.

      Best,
      Brian

  • Emily Talbott

    I know you hate monthly fees, but you still have a monthly fee for Internet service, no?

  • Emily Talbott

    I wish I was more tech-savvy. I’m a reference librarian and I spend half my work day showing folks how to upload their resumes or open attachments or download and print from a flash drive, but when I read your info about Mohu Leaf and Channel Master DVD+, it’s like my brain caves in. I really want to discontinue cable (my 88-year-old Dad and I watch mostly PBS and Jeopardy), but one thing we must have is the means to record shows. Can I figure all this out, Brian??

    • Hi Emily,

      Yes, give it a try! You can do it.

      Brian

  • mkj3757

    I would like to disable my cable. I have 2 big screen Smart TV’s & 1 13″ old TV. I would like to get a DVR that will record local channels and Sling TV. What all do I need? I would like 4 tuner DVR. I have WiFi & Internet. My one TV is about 4 years old & the other about 2.

    • HI Mkj3757,

      I don’t know of any DVR that will record Sling TV.

      However, there’s an internet service called PlayOn which might be able to do it: https://www.playon.tv/features#

      For recording broadcast TV and playing back on multiple TV’s, I would recommend Tablo: http://disablemycable.com/dvr/

      Let me know how it goes!

      Thanks,
      Brian

      • mkj3757

        Thanks Brian!

      • mkj307

        Thanks Brian!

  • ocass66

    I have two USB devices. One 64 gigabyte, and another 32 gigabyte. If I get a USB hub to combine the space of the two drives, will they work with my DVR+?
    Fun fact: The DVR+ and also some previous Channel Master DVRs have been developed by EchoStar.(The parent company of Dish)

    • HI ocass66,

      I asked my contact at Channel Master about this, and he said that the DVR+ will only read one drive at a time.

      Interesting fact – I didn’t know that!

      Best,
      Brian

      • ocass66

        Oh. One crazy way I thought of to expand the storage of the DVR+ is to unscrew an old computer, tkae the hard drive from it, wipe it clean, then go find a converter and sleeve to make it USB compatible and also work externally. This is an odd question, but will the DVR+ be able to format the hard drive itself so I don’t have to wipe it clean using my other, working computer?

        • That should work. Yes, the DVR+ will reformat the drive.

          Thanks,
          Brian

  • Katy

    I do not have Internet. I understand that I will only have the TV schedule of two days, but will it be a problem not getting updates?

    • Hi Katy,

      It should work fine without updates. Worst case, if there is some bad bug, you could take it to a friend’s house with Internet and update it there if necessary.

      Best wishes,
      Brian

  • Richard Powers

    This might sound like a silly question, but your review didn’t really mention it… Is this unit capable of recording shows from a cable connection too, or is it ONLY for over-air broadcast?

    • Hi Richard,

      Sorry I wasn’t clear. The Channel Master DVR+ only records broadcast TV, not cable.

      Best wishes,
      Brian

      • Richard Powers

        Ok.. is there an adapter or some additional unit which could be added that would enable the Channel Master to be able to record Comcast cable channels? (I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, but there is a reason I ask, which just isn’t worth explaining!)

        • Hi Richard,

          I doubt it. Channel Master’s whole business model is to sell antennas and encourage people to cancel cable.

          Thanks,
          Brian

        • ocass66

          The Channel Master DVRs wont do this, but the Tivo Roamio base model can record broadcast TV and cable TV, but it has a 15 dollar monthly fee. However, you can get a lifetime subscription for 400 dollars, if you really want to.

  • Jeep Jeff

    Brian, I have a laptop PC hooked to my TV via an HDMI cable direct and it is getting a wireless wifi signal from elsewhere in the house (great having a 50″ screen for streaming). Will the DVR+ be able to hook up to my laptop next to the TV via an HDMI cable and run it direct for wifi or do I need to set up the DVR+ with wifi/internet access another way? My TV is a Panasonic Plasma Viera model about 5yrs old and my laptop does not have a TV tuner.

    • Yes, the DVR+ can use your current Wi-Fi signal, but you need to purchase the optional Wi-Fi adapter for it. It should work fine for your setup as long as your TV has at least two HDMI inputs: one for your computer and one for the DVR+.

      Best wishes,
      Brian

  • Andrea Ewell

    if you record on this DVR, can you watch the shows are other TVs in your house?

    • Hi Andrea,

      No, you can only play back the recorded shows on the TV that it is attached to. For multi-TV playback and recording, check out Tablo TV, half way down on this page: http://disablemycable.com/dvr/

      Best wishes,
      Brian

  • Sweetbrandigirl2004

    Hey Brian what size jump drive do I need to be safe ? Also is the a DVR on the market that allows me to record shows from Hulu, Sling, and others ?

    • Hi Sweetbrandgirl2004,

      A 1TB drive holds 160 hours of HD video. 1TB drives are pretty affordable these days.

      PlayOn claims to be able to record shows from the web, but I have not tried it:
      https://www.playon.tv/features

      Let me know what you think if you try it!

      Best wishes,
      Brian

      • Sweetbrandigirl2004

        Brian yes I known a 1TB extrenal hard drive holds 160 hr but that wasn’t my question I was told you could use a usb thumb drive also. How large of a thumb drive would i need ?

        • 1GB can hold 0.16 hours. So, just multiply your drive size by 0.16 to get the number of hours.

          Or, divide the number of hours by 0.16 to see how many GB you need.

          Brian

          • Please see my updated answer: multiply your drive size by 0.16 to get the number of hours.

  • Tony

    Love you review of the Channel Master DVR. Just have one question. Instead of purchasing a separate hard drive, can you connect the DVR to a PS3 or Xbox and use that as a hard drive instead?

    • Hi Tony,

      Sorry, I don’t think that is possible.

      Thanks,
      Brian

  • Wei

    Hi Brian,

    I’m a newbie when it comes to DVRs. For the Channel Master DVR+, do you need to purchase an external hard drive to record shows? I’m a cheapskate myself ; )

    • Hi Wei,

      Yes, you do need an external hard drive for any usable recording capacity on the Channel Master DVR+. I had an old one that I used, and it worked fine.

      You can also get it with hard drive included, but it’s more expensive than buying your own HD.

      Thanks,
      Brian

  • Megan

    Brian, I see you said that you can record one thing while watching something else. Would I be able to record two things if I am not watching anything?

    • Hi Megan,

      Yes, the DVR+ can record two programs at the same time.

      Thanks,
      Brian

  • David L

    Great review. I have some questions about internet access. You said that without internet access, “You’ll still have crude channel guide…” Are you saying that the channel guide is different depending on whether you’re connected to the internet? Does it download an updated channel guide when connected to the internet?
    I use tethering through my smartphone for internet access, so I don’t always have it on (I usually turn it on for about 30 minutes a day). Will the experience change as soon as I turn my internet off, or will I not even notice the difference?

    • Hi David,

      Yes, the guide is different depending on whether the unit is connected to the Internet or not. If not connected, you get a 2-3 day guide. If connected, you get more.

      I’m not sure if the guide will update after being connected for only 30 minutes a day. I’ll have to check sometime and try to get back to you when I have a moment.

      Brian