DVRs - Recording Broadcast TV
For some people, one of the impediments to moving over to broadcast TV is not having a way to record shows like they did with their cable DVR box. Well, here are some solutions that allow you to record broadcast TV. None of these are perfect in my opinion, but they might be enough for you.
TiVo Premiere supports broadcast antenna input, so you can use it to record free digital TV! TiVo has the best user interface in the industry, and their units are reliable, and offer Internet access to YouTube, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and other services.
However, what I hate about TiVo is the $14.99 monthly fee. As a "free TV" purist, I really don't like having to pay a fee just get program information. As of this writing in 2013, you can pay $499 for a lifetime subscription to the service as an alternative. Although I love the TiVo hardware and interface, I just can't bring myself to pay these fees. But, some people swear by these boxes, and maybe it's right for you.
There is a new DVR that I want to talk about: Simple.tv. The device is a white set-top box which is a cheaper option than TiVo. You plug in your own antenna and supply your own USB hard drive to store the recordings. One big limitation is that it actually does not have any kind of TV output such as HDMI. You need a Roku connected to your TV to watch recordings from Simple.tv. It will, however, stream to your computer, iPad, and other Internet-connected devices, so it's kind of like a Slingbox in that respect. The product is $150 plus $50 per year for the subscription, or $300 for the product plus lifetime subscription. This product is still in its early phase. Unless you like tinkering with new gadgets, I'd wait a little while for the kinks to be worked out of the product.
Channel Master CM7400
This is a digital video recorder that has a built-in tuner, so you can plug your antenna right into it. It features 320GB of storage which translates to about 35 hours of hi-def storage. Program information for the current day comes free from the broadcast signal. If you want longer term program info, it costs about fifty bucks a year. Reviewers have reported bugs but most seem to have been solved with firmware updates. One constant complaint is that the unit gets really really hot. People have solved this by placing the unit on spacers or even putting a fan under it. The unit is somewhat expensive at $399, but on the bright side there are no monthly fees like there are with TiVo. Learn more about it here:
If you want the ability to record to hard drive AND burn to DVD, the Magnavox MDR series is a unique solution. The big downside that I see is that it doesn't have program information. So, you have to program it using the old-school method of entering time and date to record on. But, if you really want the ability to record to DVD, this solution is for you.
Yes, if you are technically inclined, you can turn your computer into a DVR. You'll need to install a TV tuner card so that it can accept a TV antenna. These are notoriously fussy and many have dubious-quality drivers and software, so beware. I had the best results when I bought a computer with the TV tuner card pre-installed. It worked with Windows Media Center like a charm, almost as good as TiVo, but totally free!
Then, I "upgraded" to a high-def TV tuner card (Pinnacle Systems PCTV 800i), and it's never worked with Windows Media Center. It has it's own software but the user interface is vastly inferior.
If you don't mind messing with software, drivers, and so forth, this could be a good solution for recording broadcast shows. But, I wouldn't recommend it unless you enjoy tweaking.
PlayLater: A DVR for Internet Video
Wouldn't it be great if you could record shows you find on the Internet? For example, say you want to record a TV episode from Hulu, or a video from YouTube. PlayLater is a service that lets you do this. Cost is $39.99 for a lifetime license. You install the software on your computer and choose from channels to record from. Current channels include Netflix, Hulu, and many network and cable TV websites. I personally have not tried it, but a reader recommended it. Let me know what you think!
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Tell us about your DVR experiences. Which ones would you recommend?