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The Best DVR Without Subscription Fees: Record OTA Channels for Free

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Being able to record shows, movies and sports to watch later is incredibly convenient. It allows you to still watch things that you normally wouldn’t be home for – not to mention the satisfaction of skipping through commercials! To do this you’ll need a DVR device – and unfortunately, many DVRs come with monthly subscription fees. Fortunately, there are a few that don’t have this fee – keep reading to find the best DVR without subscription fees.

We’ve already covered the best OTA DVRs for cord-cutters in a separate article. However, most of those devices come with a monthly fee, which is usually $5 to $15 per month depending on the provider. This article will focus on DVRs with no monthly fees at all.

The Best DVR Without Subscription Fees: Amazon Fire TV Recast

The Amazon Fire TV Recast is our pick for the best DVR with no monthly fees. This device is designed specifically for cord-cutters, and it works by connecting to an external HD antenna, as well as an external streaming device.

  • Record live TV from over-the-air channels
  • Watch recordings right next to services like Netflix and Hulu (on one interface)
  • Pay no monthly subscription fees
  • Store up to 150 hours of recordings
  • Record up to 4 shows at once
  • Even watch on-the-go with a compatible mobile device
  • Connects to the internet to watch recordings on all your devices

Do note that this device requires the use of an Amazon Fire streaming device or Echo Show. Fortunately, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick and similar devices are quite affordable and very convenient for cord-cutters.

So, to fully utilize this device, you will need three things: the Amazon Fire TV Recast DVR device, a good antenna, and an Amazon Fire TV device. Once you have these things, you’ll be able to record live TV from OTA channels (such as NBC, CBS, FOX, etc.), and watch the recordings right on your Amazon Fire interface. You can also use this device to stream Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc.

The Recast comes with built-in storage, with options of 75 hours or 150 hours. There are also 2-tuner and 4-tuner options, allowing you to record 2 channels or 4 channels at once, respectively.

Do keep in mind that this device can only record from over-the-air channels picked up via an antenna. You won’t be able to hook this up to a cable box and record cable shows, unfortunately. But for cord-cutters who don’t have cable anyway, this is by far the best DVR without subscription fees.

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Runner-up: Tablo Lite

The Tablo Lite is another good option for cord-cutters looking for a subscription-free DVR. Like the Amazon Fire Recast, the Tablo Lite connects to an HD antenna to watch and record live TV from over-the-air networks. Unlike the Recast, the Tablo Lite has no internal storage, so it requires the use of an external hard drive or USB stick. You can use almost any storage source that connects via USB, but just keep this in mind as it is required.

  • Watch and record live TV from NBC, FOX, CBS and more
  • Pay no monthly subscription fee
  • Connect external storage device to store recordings
  • Record up to 4 shows at once
  • Connects to the internet to stream recordings on all your devices
  • Offers an automatic commercial skipping feature

There are two versions of this product: A 2-tuner DVR with USB storage options, and a 4-tuner version with SATA-drive compatible storage. The 4-tuner version lets you record up to 4 shows at once, and also allows you to install a SATA hard drive directly into the device.

Both versions of the Tablo Lite have some advanced features, like the ability to schedule recordings and automatic commercial skipping, which is a very useful feature indeed.

Keep in mind that Tablo does have a subscription service, but it is optional for this device. While most Tablo devices do require a monthly subscription, the Tablo Lite does not.

Features to Look For

When you’re looking for the best DVR with no monthly fee, there are a number of things to consider. We’ve already shown you our recommended products, but if you’re shopping on your own, here are some features to consider:

Storage – Does the device have internal storage or does it require an external hard drive? Does it store files in the cloud, and if so, does this have a cost associated with it?

WiFi vs HDMI – Does the DVR stream recordings to your device over your WiFi connection, or through a direct connection via an HDMI cord? Both are viable options, although many people prefer the WiFi route as it lets you watch on all your favorite devices.

Streaming Apps – Several DVRs also function as streaming devices, meaning they have built-in apps like Netflix, Hulu, etc. This is a great option if you’re looking for an all-in-one option, but it won’t be strictly necessary if you already have a streaming player.

Multiple Shows – Can the device record more than one show/channel at once? To check this, look for the number of tuners that are included. A 2-tuner DVR can record 2 shows at the same time.

Recording Features – What type of features does the device offer in terms of recording? Can you schedule recordings in advance? Will it be able to record one show while you watch another? Can you set it to record only new episodes of your favorite show? Check the device’s features for details.

TV Guide – Some DVRs offer a grid-style TV guide that will show upcoming programming information. This is a useful feature, but not strictly necessary. Also, keep in mind that some DVR companies charge extra for this service.

If you keep these features and specs in mind, you’ll be able to find the best DVR without subscription fees for your individual situation.

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Can You Record Cable TV Channels with a DVR (without a Subscription)?

One thing you might have noticed from our recommended products is this: both DVRs are only for over-the-air channels, and are not compatible with cable TV channels. What gives?

Unfortunately, if you want to record content from cable TV channels, you will need a DVR with a subscription fee. There is not a single cable-channel compatible DVR on the market that does not have a monthly subscription cost (in addition to the cost of cable, of course).

The DVRs listed above can only record things that are captured via a digital antenna. This will include over-the-air channels like NBC, FOX, CBS, ABC, PBS, and a few others. But it will not include cable channels like Comedy Central, TBS, FOX News, CNN, AMC, etc. To record these channels, you’ll need a DVR that’s compatible with cable channels.

Now, keep in mind that most cable providers offer DVR services themselves, and sometimes they are bundled for free with your cable package. If you’re already paying for cable, make sure you check to see if you have DVR services enabled (you may need to buy or rent a DVR box from your provider).

The other option for this situation is to purchase a DVR online that can record these channels. A great option is the Tivo Bolt, which requires a $15/month subscription.

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Frank Moraes
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