Over-the-air DVR: An illustrated guide for cord-cutters

Although I’ve tried on many occasions to articulate the difference between TiVo, Tablo, HDHomeRun, and other over-the-air DVR solutions, one can only do so much with written descriptions.

Over-the-air DVR can quickly become complicated. If you want to record free broadcast channels from an antenna, you might need to string together separate tuner boxes, hard drives, antennas, and streaming players. While I’m a wordsmith at heart—a fact that should soon become apparent from my drawing skills—the concept is admittedly easier to explain with pictures.

So let’s do just that. Below is an illustrated guide to the best and most popular DVR options for cord-cutters, with some extra text descriptions where applicable.

TiVo

tivodrawing Jared Newman / IDG

TiVo DVRs such as the Edge and Bolt OTA are the easiest to understand: Just plug in an antenna, then connect them to your TV with an HDMI cable, just like you would with a cable box.

The problem with TiVo’s approach is twofold:

  • As a streaming device, TiVo only offers a small selection of apps, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. That means you’ll need a separate device (such as a Roku player or Amazon Fire TV Stick) for most other streaming sources, including Disney+, Tubi, Pluto TV, or Peacock. Also, you’ll be constantly switching back and forth between inputs.
  • Accessing your TiVo DVR on additional televisions requires a TiVo Mini extender connected to each TV. The current TiVo Mini Lux costs $200 per box and must be hard-wired to your Wi-Fi router unless you spend an extra $60 per extender on Wi-Fi adapters. This sort of investment is ill-advised given TiVo’s fading interest in DVR.

Illustrated below are some modern whole-home DVR options that solve both problems.

Tablo

tablodrawing Jared Newman / IDG

Here’s the simplest way to describe Nuvyyo’s Tablo DVRs: They’re whole-home DVRs that you access through your smart TV or streaming player. Instead of connecting directly to your TV, the Tablo streams video over Wi-Fi to the Tablo app, which you can download on a wide range of devices.

With this approach, there’s practically no limit on where you can access your DVR. And because the Tablo app is available on streaming players and smart TVs, you don’t need to switch inputs to use other streaming services, such as Netflix or Disney+.