Cord-cutters of the world have plenty of sharp weapons at their disposal–Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, etc.–but there’s one piece of the puzzle that’s missing: How to record the deliciously free TV that’s delivered live over the airwaves? What, like you’re supposed to sit there and watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in real-time? With commercials?
A few companies have tried their hand at antenna-friendly DVRs. But these big, clunky boxes have been underwhelming at best, with single tuners, anemic or non-existent program guides, and zero internet connectivity.
So when you look at Channel Master’s DVR+, at least on paper, you can’t help but feel excited. This waffle-thin unassuming black box offers dual over-the-air tuners, virtually unlimited storage, a gorgeous channel guide, and freedom from the kind of monthly fees that make a TiVo so hard to swallow.
But, man, does Channel Master hit your wallet hard up front. The DVR+ runs $250, a price that doesn’t include Wi-Fi. There’s an Ethernet port, but a Wi-Fi dongle will cost you another $40.
It gets worse. The unit comes with just 16GB of onboard storage, enough to record a paltry two hours of Downton Abbey. You can easily expand that storage by plugging in your own USB hard drive, but this BYOD requirement adds still more expense. Even if you pay just $60 for a 1TB drive, you’re now looking at a total of around $350.
To put that in some perspective, you could subscribe to Aereo Premium (an Internet-based DVR service for your local channels) for two full years and still have money left over for a Roku box. As far as cord-cutting values go, the DVR+ ranks pretty low.
Thankfully, if you take cost out of the equation, the DVR+ is a solid product. Setup takes mere minutes, though don’t bother if you’re rocking an older TV: The unit requires an HDMI connection, and Channel Master doesn’t supply a cable. On the plus side, setup and operation don’t actually require Internet connectivity, so the lack of Wi-Fi feels slightly less ridiculous.
The transparent program guide, with data that piggybacks on OTA signals, looks as clean and attractive as any I’ve used, overlaying on the bottom half of the screen while leaving the top clear so you can keep watching whatever you’re watching.
However, a few functions feel a bit clunky to the seasoned DVR user. When you use the guide to hop channels, for example, the DVR+ doesn’t immediately take you to the channel you selected. Instead, it pops up a menu asking if you want to switch to that program. So it actually takes two presses to change channels, not just one.
Also, as you browse the guide, you don’t get any information about individual shows. Even if you select a show, there’s no episode number or description, merely a recording menu. To get the deets, you need to highlight the show and then press the Info button.
As a player, the DVR+ works well. I found recording quality on par with my cable-company DVR, and I appreciated the remote’s instant-rewind and quick-skip buttons, which take you back or forward 9 and 11 seconds, respectively. There’s no TiVo-like ba-doop-ba-doop sound effect, but the skips happen instantly, as they should.
The DVR+ also instantly recognized (and reformatted, with my permission) the 512GB Toshiba portable hard drive I plugged in, though nowhere in the settings or DVR menu could I find my available recording time. But if the included 16GB is good for two hours, half a terabyte should be good for, well, you can do the math.
If you were hoping the DVR+ could also take the place of your Roku box, hope again. Though Channel Master promises support for more streaming services down the road, for now, your only option is Vudu — assuming, of course, you connect an Ethernet cable or splurge for the Wi-Fi dongle.
For anyone who lives outside the reach of cable or wants freedom from cable’s pricey contractual vise, the DVR+ allows for easy and effective OTA recording. Just be prepared for a steep outlay.