How do I record TV shows?
May 20, 2014 10:09 AM   Subscribe

I have a TV hooked up to an antenna. I get all the network broadcast channels in HD. Sometimes, I would like to record some shows/sports that I'm not around to watch live. In way olden times I would buy a VCR, hook it up to my TV, set the timer, and everything would be hunky dory. But DVRs have me befuddled. Do you have a recommendation for a DVR without a subscription (what exactly are you subscribing to) that can work with an antenna?

I searched Amazon for DVRs, but I got confused. Do Tivos require a subscription? There don't seem to be a lot of other brands, and most seem to expect a cable box. A lot of things seem geared towards surveillance or streaming the video over the internet; I just want to watch the shows later on my TV.

I've also seen DVD recorders for sale, but that just seems kind of antiquated. However, is this the way to go for a low fuss system to record?
posted by bluefly to Technology (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Are you willing to use a computer?
You could get a device like a TV card or an HDHomeRun and run some software (like mythtv) on your computer to work as a self-made DVR.

It takes a little bit of setup but it's not that hard.
posted by jozxyqk at 10:19 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Assuming you already have a connection from your computer to your TV, you can try something like this USB stick tuner that allows you to record HDTV on your computer. No subscriptions needed.
posted by Frank Grimes at 10:19 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't want to involve my computer. I just have a lowly laptop, and it won't always be at home when I want to record stuff.
posted by bluefly at 10:22 AM on May 20, 2014

TiVo does require a subscription fee (looks like it's $15/month for new users). We have one that we got for exactly this when we cut the cable cord. It works well, and in addition to the DVR capabilities, you can use it for streaming HuluPlus and Netflix. (Unfortunately won't stream Amazon Prime, but you can download Amazon purchases.)
posted by pitrified at 10:31 AM on May 20, 2014

The DVR "subscription" is for the program listings.
posted by phliar at 10:32 AM on May 20, 2014

Yes, TiVo requires a US$15/mo. subscription. It might still be worth considering, since it seems to be much simpler to set up and use than the other options I've seen.

Personally, I record digital broadcast TV by connecting my antenna to an HDHomeRun DUAL, which is connected through my home network to a small Linux computer that lives under my TV and runs MythTV, a free, open-source DVR program. MythTV is very flexible and once it's running it's very nice and easy to use, but getting it installed and configured is frankly a major pain. I also pay $25/year to Schedules Direct for better-quality schedule listings than the ones that the networks send over the air.

If you want something with potentially less fuss, I'd buy a Windows Media Center PC with either a built-in TV tuner or an HDHomeRun.

There are also standalone DVRs that are cheaper and possibly easier to set up since they have everything in one box. The ones I've seen have mediocre reviews when it comes to features and ease of use, but if your needs are simple then this might be the best bet.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:33 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use Tivo. It is a subscription, approximately $12-$15 a month plus you buy the machine. It sounds like you would only need their lower end box. What you are paying for with the subscription is that they keep the TV schedule for your area up-to-date so all you have to do is enter a show name and it will tell you times/episodes you can record. It automatically updates if there is a change (i.e. if they move a program from Monday to Friday or whatever) You can also choose a "Season Pass" to record a whole series and choose just new episodes or every episode. I am very happy with Tivo--but I record a lot of TV.

But really for what you want to do, the DVD recorder might make sense, you'll just have to keep track of show times, etc. yourself.
posted by agatha_magatha at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2014

Oh, forgot to say that to keep everything up-to-date, you'll need to have the Tivo box connected to a wireless network or you'll have to connect it to a phone line.
posted by agatha_magatha at 10:35 AM on May 20, 2014

The only current model of TiVo that supports the recording of over-the-air HD channels with a separate external digital antenna is their cheapest model, the Roamio (not the Roamio Plus or Roamio Pro). The TiVo Roamio costs $700 without a monthly fee, or $200 with $15 month monthly fee. In theory the TiVo "subscription" is for TV guide data and software upgrades, but in reality it is more like the "subsidy" model of cell phones, i.e. a way to make the expensive hardware available at a more palatable upfront cost.
posted by RichardP at 10:36 AM on May 20, 2014

It looks like the combination DVR / DVD recorder boxes from Magnavox have better reviews than the briteView DVR that I linked to above. There are several different Magnavox models out there, with different amounts of storage.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:40 AM on May 20, 2014

You want to search for PVR (personal video recorder) instead of DVR. This one is reasonably priced and reasonably well-reviewed (you do need to supply a USB drive for storage). I'm not 100% sure what your setup is of course, and whether this will work with it.
posted by O9scar at 10:52 AM on May 20, 2014

I get that you don't want to include your computer in this setup, but involving a computer may still be the simplest, cheapest route. Check out this demo of an HTPC with PVR through MythTV.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:54 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

For devices that are independent from your computer, you can buy a generic PVR that acts like a VCR, with scheduling by time and channel. These are usually an off-brand product, and the user interface will require some practice and dedication to schedule recordings.

We have an antenna and the TiVo Roamio. We bought a lifetime subscription and (with our existing subscriber $100 discount) I think the all-in price was about $550. The Roamio can record up to four over-the-air shows at once, all in HD. It holds 75 hours of stuff.

The "subscription" part for the TiVo is daily listings and scheduling for the unit. So you can just say "record all new episodes of Parks and Recreation" and it will find them, even if NBC messes around with the scheduling dates/times. You can also say "record all episodes of 'NFL Football' that also have 'Rams' in the description," or "record all appearances of [Your Favorite Band Here] across all shows" (so that if they are on Jimmys Fallon or Kimmel or Letterman or the Today show or whatever it will record it for you automatically), or "record every day of Jeopardy! but keep only three of them at a time." It is dead simple and with all of the scheduling instability these days it's awfully nice to set it and forget it.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:59 AM on May 20, 2014

posted by Gungho at 11:00 AM on May 20, 2014

The Channel Master DVR+ doesn't require a subscription, is nice-looking, and has decent Amazon reviews. It does need an external USB HD to record shows on, though.
posted by zsazsa at 11:43 AM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use a SimpleTV that I bought through Woot!. You need to supply an external hard drive - and you need a Roku if you want to watch on your TV (instead of on your computer). But it works reasonably well and works for my simple OTA PVR needs.
posted by nightwood at 12:38 PM on May 20, 2014

Haven't used one, but SimpleTV is probably what you're looking for.

I have and use Windows Media Center, but it's fussy because it's a computer.
posted by cnc at 2:18 PM on May 20, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, O9scar, for the term "PVR." That did bring up a lot more choices including the SimpleTV. I do have a Roku box, but the reviews for the SimpleTV make it sound like it can be a headache to set up. Those other pvr tuner/recorders, look pretty neat, though.
posted by bluefly at 5:25 PM on May 20, 2014

bluefly: "but the reviews for the SimpleTV make it sound like it can be a headache to set up"

It can be simple, but can easily go awry. But tweeting them got me a resolution within a day and once it was set up, i've had no problems.
posted by nightwood at 7:25 PM on May 21, 2014

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