Best OTA DVRs: A Cord Cutter’s Guide

The number of DVRs on the market is bewildering, but choosing one doesn’t have to be.

Tired of missing your favorite shows thanks to a busy schedule? Are there too many good programs on at once? Wish you could rewatch the previous season before getting started on the newest one?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’re probably on the prowl for a new Digital Video Recorder (DVR). This guide is here to help you choose the best DVR for all your entertainment needs.

Before you delve further, though, here are a few features that every DVR should have:

  • Plenty of storage
  • Ability to record many shows at once
  • Intuitive interface and playback
  • Connection to all of your TVs
  • Support for multiple devices/on-the-go viewing
  • Affordability

With all of this in mind, here’s a rundown of the best DVRs available.

#1 TiVo Bolt+

The top spot goes to the DVR market’s original power player — TiVo. They’ve had a lot of time to perfect their devices and delivery, and let’s just say they’ve made excellent use of that time.


The TiVo Bolt+ functions as a cable DVR system as well as a streaming device. That means that aside from recording video, it allows you to install apps for streaming services like HBO, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. It’s a great system if you subscribe to any of these services on top of your cable subscription.

With a colossal three terabytes of storage, you won’t run out of storage space any time soon. Furthermore, TiVo’s Bolt+ gives you six tuners. That means you can record up to six shows at once! It’s a helpful feature for catching all of that primetime programming, or for families who have different tastes.

Hate having to fast-forward through commercials? The Bolt+ solves this problem with SkipMode, which lets you completely skip commercials on 20 different major channels. There’s no need to fast-forward or rewind — it jumps past the annoying bits so that you can enjoy your favorite shows without interruption.

Its other unique feature, QuickMode, is one that you probably never thought you needed. It’s like fast-forwarding, but better — it plays back video three times faster but keeps the audio pitch normal. That way, you can catch up or jump ahead without turning the characters into chipmunks.


While the TiVo Bolt+ is the top DVR choice, it still has its flaws. For one, it doesn’t record the free programming you might get from a digital antenna.

Since the Bolt+ is a standalone device not offered by any TV service provider, you’ll end up having to pay extra each month. At $15 per month, it can be a big expense when you factor in what you’re already paying each month for programming.

Target Audience

If you’re adamant about saving tons of HD programming and tempted by its extra features, then the Bolt+ will be worth the price. If you’re really willing to commit, you can subscribe for a year for $150. However, if you’re certain that the Bolt+ is right for you, then you can pay $550 for a lifetime subscription.

#2 DISH Hopper 3

Next up is DISH’s Hopper 3 DVR. As the newest iteration of DISH’s Hopper, the Hopper 3 is a serious upgrade from previous versions.


By default, the Hopper 3 has two terabytes of storage — more than enough for most viewers. It comes with six tuners, but you have the option to upgrade to a mind-boggling sixteen. One Hopper 3 will work with up to seven TVs, so your whole house will be covered.

If that’s not enough to convince you, there’s more. The Hopper 3’s AutoHop function, much like the Bolt+’s SkipMode, jumps past commercials and lets you enjoy shows without interruption. It works with just a simple press of a button on your remote.

You can even use Bluetooth headphones with the Hopper 3. It’s perfect for watching TV without disturbing a sleeping partner, child, or roommate.


Overall, the Hopper 3 is an excellent DVR. Its only drawback is that it isn’t free! Plus, you can’t use it if you’re not a DISH customer.

Target Audience

DISH customers who already have the Hopper 3 don’t need to shop around for other devices — this one is amazing! And if you’re looking for a better DVR and don’t mind switching services, the Hopper 3 is almost good enough to justify making the change to DISH.

#3 DIRECTV Genie

Sports fans, this one is for you.

DIRECTV’s service caters to lovers of all sports, especially NFL. If you’re a DIRECTV subscriber, the Genie DVR is a handy device for making sure that you never miss a game.


Have you ever realized too late that you forgot to set your DVR to record? DIRECTV’s Genie DVR allows you to begin recording remotely through its mobile app. Even better, its live rewind feature allows you to go back up to 90 minutes and begin recording. Together, these are indispensable features for the forgetful.

Combined with NFL SUNDAY TICKET, you can have the Genie record entire seasons of your team’s games. And if you’re truly serious about sports, you can even watch two games simultaneously on a split screen.


The Genie has some great features, but it lacks storage space. Nevertheless, if you’re mostly saving sports games, it should have more than enough space for you.

Target Audience

Other DVRs will obviously be able to record and save sports. However, if sports matter to you more than other forms of entertainment, then you can’t go wrong with DIRECTV and their Genie DVR. Together, they’re a big reason many sports fans choose DIRECTV over the competition.

#4 XFINITY X1 Cloud

XFINITY’s DVR system works a bit differently than the others on this list, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, the X1 Cloud is unique enough that you might actually prefer it. So what makes the X1 Cloud so special?


The X1 Cloud from XFINITY allows you to view tons of shows on demand. It has a rotating library of shows, sports, and movies. Fortunately, this library changes regularly and manages to avoid feeling stale.

Its most unique feature is its cloud storage ability. By keeping your recordings on an external server, the X1 makes it possible to watch on-the-go on multiple devices. Even better, you can switch from watching on one device to another without skipping a beat. If you want to use local storage, however, you can connect a SATA drive to your X1.

The XFINITY X1 Cloud isn’t the only DVR system that lets you use voice commands. However, its included function works very well. It makes it much quicker and easier to find exactly the show you want to watch, especially since typing on a remote can be an exercise in patience.


The X1 Cloud can be unreliable in terms of playback quality. You might run into pixelated video and lag, which are guaranteed to spoil your viewing experience.

Compared to other options, the X1’s storage space is disappointing. While 60 hours of storage is certainly a lot, it pales in comparison to the other DVRs on this list. However, this is slightly made up for by the X1 Cloud’s on-demand options.

Target Audience

Since Comcast’s service is available in almost all of the 50 states, there’s a good chance that you’re an XFINITY subscriber. Since the X1 Cloud is their default DVR, you don’t really need to switch to something more powerful. If your Internet connection is good, then the X1 will probably suit most of your entertainment needs.

#5 Tablo 2

Not everyone can afford an expensive cable or satellite package. When you add a DVR system, the price can go even higher. What can you do if budget is your main concern? And what if you only get your TV channels for free from a digital antenna?

The Tablo 2 is an affordable DVR unit that still delivers a surprisingly good user experience for its price.


At about $220, the Tablo 2 is much less expensive than other DVR systems on this list. It’s great for people who get OTA programming from a digital antenna. Since OTA programming is free, a flat $220 fee gives you a lifetime of service for a very affordable price.

The Tablo 2 lets you watch shows on up to six devices. Furthermore, it has two tuners, so you can record two shows simultaneously. It’s a very generous offer — higher-end DVRs can charge extra for additional tuners. Even better, the Tablo 2 lets you skip commercials and record shows remotely. It has a lot to offer for a low price.


The Tablo 2 has no interface at all. If you want a visual guide that shows what’s on, you’ll have to pay extra. It only costs $5 per month or $50 per year. You can also pay $150 up front for lifetime access. It’s not a bad deal, but it does drastically increase the price of an otherwise cheap unit.

The Tablo 2 also doesn’t have built-in storage. You’ll need a USB storage device like a thumb drive or an external hard drive in order to record any shows.

Target Audience

If you don’t have and don’t want cable or satellite, then the Tablo 2 is the DVR for you. It’s easy to use, affordable and will work well with the TV equipment that you already have.

What Should Every DVR Have?

Storage and Recording

Since a DVR’s main purpose is to save shows and movies for later, you’ll want your DVR to have plenty of storage space. Most DVRs start with around 500 GB (gigabytes) of storage. If for some reason that isn’t enough for you, it’s possible to connect an external hard drive to certain DVR models.

Most DVRs have the ability to record individual episodes as well as whole series. Better yet, there’s no need to manually record a show you want to save. In some cases, your DVR might even automate the process — the Hopper 3, for example, records primetime shows automatically. Pickier viewers may not like this, however, and it does eat up precious storage space.

Not all DVRs allow the same number of simultaneous recordings. Just keep in mind that more recordings don’t mean that you’ll get more storage. It only means that you can record more shows at once.

While every DVR gives you the ability to pause and rewind your videos, only a few of them allow you to fast-forward. If annoying ads are the bane of your existence, TiVo and DISH will make your life easier with their commercial-cutting features.

Multi-TV Support

Very few people have only one TV in their home — if you have several TVs, you’ll probably want DVR service for all of them. Unfortunately, few DVRs work for multiple TVs at once. In most cases, you’ll need to buy extra units or other add-ons.

The Hopper 3 is the king of multi-TV support — for large households, this is probably the best DVR you can get. Compare it to TiVo or DISH — both companies require you to buy extra receivers, which can get costly if you have a lot of TVs.

On-the-Go Access

These days, fewer and fewer people are watching TV on their TVs. DVR services that can stream to your phone, tablet, or computer are becoming more common — and for a good reason. Who wouldn’t want to watch TV wherever they go?

With a service like XFINITY, you can watch on-demand content wherever you have an Internet connection. A good DVR service can make for a seamless viewing experience that follows your schedule — not the other way around.

Affordable Price

If you’re planning to get a DVR system, you have to decide if you’d rather buy or rent your unit. Buying one can be more expensive, but it’s a good option if you expect to have it for at least three years. Renting, on the other hand, will ensure that you always have the latest and greatest technology available.

Your decision might come down to your TV subscription. If you’re not planning to stay with one provider for a long time, then you should definitely buy your own DVR. Most DVRs cost around $15 per month, which means that you’ll spend around $360 in two years or $540 in three years. Therefore, if you get a DVR for less than that, you’ll save some money in the long run.

The Verdict

It may seem like DVRs are more trouble than they’re worth, especially when you compare them to the simplicity of the VCR. But don’t ignore the benefits — a good DVR puts you in charge of your own TV experience. With a reliable DVR system, you can watch and record whatever you want with the push of a button. What’s not to like about that?

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