Roku and Amazon have different ideas about over-the-air DVR

Antennas are making a big comeback as more people cut cable TV, but that doesn’t mean over-the-air DVR is going mainstream along with them.

Last week, I interviewed executives from both Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV group ahead of some hardware news they announced this week. (The short version: Roku and Amazon are both releasing soundbars later this year with their respective streaming software inside, plus Amazon has new smart TVs and a revamped Fire TV Cube on the way.) Out of my own curiosity, I also asked them how their respective companies feel about over-the-air DVR.

Amazon released the Fire TV Recast DVR last November, but it’s frequently gone on sale since then and hasn’t received any major updates aside from external USB drive support. Roku, meanwhile, provides a TV guide for antenna users on its smart TVs, and it allows for basic pause and rewind functions if you plug in a USB flash drive, but it hasn’t extended those features to its streaming players or provided a full DVR.

All of which makes me suspect that over-the-air DVR will remain a niche product, best handled by smaller companies such as TiVo, Nuvyyo (which makes the Tablo DVR), and Plex. While Amazon might still try to build on its work with the Fire TV Recast, it doesn’t sound like Roku will try to take over-the-air integration much further.

Amazon: Leaving the DVR door open

Unlike a traditional DVR, the Fire TV Recast can sit anywhere in the house and does not plug directly into a television. Instead, if pulls in channels from an antenna and streams them to Fire TV devices around the house. Although the Recast performs well and has no subscription fees, my gut feeling is that it’s not meeting the company’s expectations. Since launching last fall, it has frequently gone on sale, including a $100 discount on both the dual- and quad-tuner models, around Amazon Prime Day.

Sandeep Gupta, Amazon’s vice president of product development for Fire TV, didn’t quite say the Recast is a failure for Amazon, but he acknowledged that it has “challenges,” including the price point and the fact that people are generally watching more TV through streaming services.

“I think what we’re trying to figure out with Recast is, how do we make it more accessible, create more learning around it, and broaden the audience,” Gupta said. “It’s a great product, and the people that use it love it. But I think our goal is to learn from what we’ve done and continue to figure out how to expand the audience for that type of product.”

recasthome2 Jared Newman / IDG

Channels from Amazon’s Fire TV Recast integrate with the home screen on Fire TV devices.

It’s hard to say what that could mean, but I wonder if Amazon is interested in finding other sources of video to record beyond just over-the-air streams. We’ve already seen some attempts at this from other DVR services (most notably Channels DVR, which now records TV Everywhere streams from cable channels), and judging by the feedback I get from readers, there’s a lot of interest in a DVR that works with streaming sources. The big challenge would be getting content providers to support such a thing.