Whats the Best DVR for Cord Cutters?

Whats the Best DVR for Cord Cutters?

Many cord cutters experience a rude awakening while watching OTA (over-the-air) and realizing they can’t pause, rewind, fast forward or record like they used to with cable. Luckily there are a few DVRs on the market designed for cord-cutters to retain the most useful of modern television features.

TiVo Roamio OTA

TiVo is the most widely known provider of DVRs in the business, and to Tivo is synonymous with record. Most of their products have been designed with the cable subscriber in mind, but they recently introduced the Roamio OTA DVR specifically for cord cutters. At $399 it is one of the more expensive of the DVRs on the market. But keep in mind that this price includes a lifetime (of the device, not the user) subscription to the TiVo service.

TiVo Roamio

The TiVo Roamio OTA comes with 1TB of internal storage, which is good for up to 150 hours of HD recording. There are four tuners built in, allowing simultaneous recording of up to four channels at one time. The DVR can be connected to the internet via Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable. In addition to the DVR functionality, it also has built in apps for several video streaming services including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vudu, and PLEX. There are also built in apps for Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody and Live365 Internet Radio.

TiVo has a mobile app for Android and iOS devices that give users complete control of the DVR from their smartphones. Add a TiVo Stream box for $129 and you can watch recorded shows or in-progress recordings through the app from anywhere. The TiVo Mini is another add-on, and it enables a multi-room system. At $149 per box, it isn’t cheap, and the Mini doesn’t support wireless connectivity.

TiVo Roamio with TiVo Minis

The TiVo Roamio has the most polished and user-friendly on-screen interface of the devices we looked at, which is no surprise given the company’s history and focus. It also has some slick features like SkipMode, which jumps right over commercial breaks on the major networks. But our favorite feature is the OneSearch, which searches through all the streaming services, DVR, and OTA guide to shows and movies. This eliminates lots of time.

OneSearch also lets people put together a unified watch list for binge watching multiple seasons of the same show. So if past seasons of a show are streaming through Netflix or Hulu, but current episodes are stored on the DVR,  TiVo will just assemble them into a list, making the different sources more or less transparent as you plow through multiple episodes.

Lastly, for cord cutters tight for time, there’s a QuickMode function that speeds up the show by up to 30% while pitch correcting the audio, avoiding any chipmunk voices.

Overall the TiVo Roamio OTA DVR offers the richest set of features with the most flexibility and the most polished user experience. However all this comes at a price as a multi room system with streaming capability will quickly add up to $1,000+ in hardware and wiring.


Tablo is another DVR targeted at cord cutters, and the main product offering by Nuvyyo. Unlike the TiVo, which consolidates all of your TV experiences into a single device, the Tablo seems to be designed for those looking to add DVR functionality to their existing television experience. It is currently available in a dual-tuner version for $219, and a four-tuner version for $299.  Neither version comes with any built in storage, but instead requires you to purchase an external USB hard drive.


This can be plus or a minus. On the minus side, this is an extra cost on top of the purchase price of the box. On the plus side it lets you buy as much or as little storage space as you want. The specs do not list an upper limit on drive size, but their site states that most users choose a hard drive with 1 to 5 TB of storage, and that 1TB can store between 250 to 500 hours of HD programming. As of this writing, a 1TB external hard drive can cost as little as $50.

The Tablo is unique in that you cannot actually connect it directly to a television set. There is no HDMI connection or any other video output on the device itself. The Tablo works by connecting to your home Wi-Fi network, and then it streams its output to any number of smart TV devices that are connected directly to your television. Currently supported devices include Roku, Android TV, Apple TV (4thgen and up), and Amazon Fire TV.  It can also connect using Google Chromecast or older Apple TVs via Airplay.

Tablo back

A big advantage of this type of setup is that upgrading to a multi-room system will cost far less than with TiVo. Amazon Fire sticks and Roku Streaming Sticks cost just $40 and $50, respectively, and both work just fine with Wi-Fi connections. Tablo states there is no theoretical limit on the number of devices that can be connected to the Tablo, but bandwidth limits will constrain simultaneous use. There are no streaming services built into the Tablo TV, which makes perfect sense since the smart devices it uses for the TV connection are already equipped with dozens of streaming apps. 

A 30-day trial subscription to the optional Tablo guide data service is included with the original purchase. Continuing the subscription will cost $50 per month, or a discounted $50 for a year. There is also a lifetime subscription for $150. That price includes access to 14 days of TV Guide data and a bunch of features that you probably take for granted, like series recording and advanced search and filters.

The subscription also unlocks Tablo Connect service, which allows you to watch recordings outside the home through Tablo’s Android, Amazon, or iOS apps. The app also functions as a remote control to the device.

The Tablo TV can function without the subscription, but TV Guide data is limited to 1 day of advance info, recordings require manual setting, and you can’t stream content to the app.


Simple.TV is another DVR option for cord-cutters, and it’s very much like the Tablo device, with some minor differences. Simple.TV is available in a single tuner version for $199 and a dual-tuner model for $249. There’s no onboard storage, so data storage is again provided by the end user as an add-on USB hard drive, and also just like Tablo, the DVR connects to a television through a smart streaming device or a PC. Supported streaming devices include Chromecast, Roku, and Apple TV, or through a web browser on Windows PCs and Macs. Unlike Tablo, Amazon Fire is not listed as a supported device.


You can also stream contentfrom the DVR to an app, and here Simple.TV distinguishes itself as the only DVR with an app for Windows Phone, in addition to Android, iOS, and Amazon. The support site doesn’t mention device limits, but only five can stream simultaneously. This limit includes streams sent to mobile devices both in and out of the home network.

Simple.TV back

Simple.TV has a free guide service that provides the basic functionality of manual recordings and pausing live TV. The Premiere service costs $60 per year, and it unlocks the ability to set automatic series recordings. Streaming DVR contents through the internet also requires the Premiere subscription. Otherwise device streaming is limited to the DVR’s network. Premiere subscription is only available annually with no monthly or lifetime subscription options.

Channel Master DVR+

Channel Master DVR+ comes off as the most austere of the group. It fills a market niche as a simplified DVR that’s very easy to use and doesn’t require any subscription fees. It also has a few unique features to boot.

The Channel Master DVR+ is available in two versions, both of which have a dual-tuner built in. The less-expensive options costs $199 and has no onboard storage (save a meager 16GB to support live pause and rewind, and 2 hours of HD recording), while the other costs $299 and includes 1TB.

Channel Master DVR+

The guide service is free, which is very appealing. As long as the device is connected to the internet, it will download 14 days of advance channel guide info. The company behind the DVR+ also claims it will download 2 days of channel guide info without an internet connection, but we aren’t quite sure how it manages that trick.

The box includes built-in apps for using Vudu, YouTube, Pandora, and their own Channel Master TV service, which gathers about 30 internet-only broadcast channels into a single app. It is the only DVR reviewed here to have support for the new Sling streaming service built in to the device, which gives access to 30 of the most popular cable channels. Notably absent though are apps for the three most popular streaming services; Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.

The physical box is remarkably sleek, and measures a mere 1.5 inches thick. The only outputs are an HDMI port and an optical audio jack. The back panel has an Ethernet jack as it doesn’t support Wi-Fi, although a USB Wi-Fi dongle is available for an extra $39. There is also a jack for an IR receiver extender, which is a $15 accessory. There’s no app, and no way to watch shows remotely.


The cord-cutter’s DVR is a niche product, but there are subtle and major differences in the offerings. For those who have just cut the cord and want the easiest and most feature-rich replacement for the cable box, go with TiVo, provided the cost isn’t prohibitive.

If you have already invested in a few streaming devices or who want multi-room access without having to re-wire the house, or if you’re turned off by TiVo’s higher price tag, then the Tablo or Simple.TV DVRs deserve a close look. We think the Tablo system is the more polished and reliable of the two, plus we like the flexibility that comes with the four-tuner Tablo DVR.

Finally, the Channel Master DVR+ is for you if you just want a straightforward and uncomplicated setup, or if you’ve turned to Sling in cord cutting.






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