Last summer, when the Supreme Court of the United States shut down industry darling Aereo, a lot changed in the online rebroadcast market. Before the decision, Aereo – the over the air (OTH) DVR that made free local channels available over the Internet – and its competitors operated in a legal grey zone. After the decision, it became unquestionably illegal to rebroadcast any television channel without compensating the original broadcasters. Red became the new grey and, suddenly, the age of skirting re transmission fees was over.
Aereo is no more, but that doesn’t mean OTH DVR is dead. While Aereo was able to charge its customers a nominal monthly fee of $8 to $12 because it held the necessary hardware (an antenna for each customer and the equivalent of a giant media streaming box) remotely, anyone can build their own Aereo-like operation at home if they invest in the right hardware. After that, streaming and recording local channels is totally free and, as long as you don’t make your operation commercial, totally legal.
So why would you want to do this? First, OTH DVR brings together media streaming apps and broadcast channels on one interface, so the viewer does not have to swap inputs or remote controls in order to switch between the two. Second, it makes channels available on computers, tablets, and smartphones. Third, it retransmits these channels to synched devices regardless of location, so viewers can watch local programming anywhere in the world there is Wi-Fi. While OTH DVR is still a novelty (thanks to SCOTUS), the benefits of a connected DVR over a traditional one are definitely tangible.
Here are four media streaming boxes that livestream and record local channels to smart TVs, computers, tablets, and smartphones for free. Note that you must connect a digital antenna to your box for it to work.
- Nuvyyo Tablo OTH DVR ($220 for the basic box + $150 for a lifetime membership + the cost of a hard drive): The Canadian-designed Nuvyyo Tablo has all the traditional DVR features – pause, rewind, fastforward, record – plus all the newest connected features – external storage, Wi-Fi transmission, unified search, and Roku, iOS, and Android compatibility. Its most basic model ($220) has two tuners, which means viewers can watch one program while they simultaneously record another. Its premium model ($300) has four. The Tablo app – both its interface and its remote control – works on major smart TV and smartphone operating systems and optimized for use on computers via Chrome. All in all, the Tablo is the closest thing to Aereo in price and ease of use.
- TiVo Roamio ($50 for the basic box + $15 per month): Despite its steep monthly fee and nauseatingly punny name, the TiVo Roamio series is one of the best in the business. I mean, it’s TiVo after all. Like the Nuvyyo Tablo, the Roamio combines the features of traditional DVR (streamlined by TiVo) with over the air features. Also, the boxes also have built in storage, so no external hard drive is necessary. The pricing is where Roamio flounders. While TiVo’s least expensive OTH DVR costs just $50, users must purchase TiVo Stream ($130) to stream on a smartphone. Higher end Roamio models ($200 to $600) do not require a TiVo Stream subscription and actually do have a lifetime subscription option ($500). Nevertheless, expect to pay significantly more in service fees.
- TV 2 OTH DVR ($200 for the box + $150 for a basic lifetime membership + the cost of a hard drive): The Simple.tv 2 has all the same basic features and compatibilities as the Tablo and the Roamio OTH DVRs. With two tuners, the Simple.TV has the same recording capacity as the basic Nuvyyo Tablo. Features like remote access and automatic series recording are reserved for Premier customers, who pay a higher service fee ($150 for the first year).
- Channel Master DVR+ ($250 for the basic box + the cost of a hard drive): The Channel Master is the bare bones of OTH DVR. Everything about this box is minimalist – from its sleek, Apple-esque design to its stripped interface. If you’re the type of person more concerned with the end than the means to it, the Channel Master is perfect for you. First, the device is commitment free: no service fees at all. Second, the Channel Master’s two designs – a 16GB model requiring an external hard drive and a 1TB model with a built in hard drive ($400) – are, excepting the hard drives, identical with a common, straightforward, no-nonsense set of features.