Here’s the hard truth for cord-cutters right now: The ideal over-the-air DVR doesn’t exist.

While some products are better than others, all of them—from Tablo to TiVo to HDHomeRun with Plex—have at least one critical weakness. If you want to record broadcast TV channels from an antenna, you must decide which of those weaknesses you’ll tolerate.

DVR buyers cheat sheet

Our quick-hit recommendations:

The good news is that the lowly antenna is experiencing a rebirth, and we’re likely to see even more over-the-air DVR products. But if you want to start recording broadcast channels now, here’s a rundown of where the current products stand.

The best OTA DVR for most cord-cutters

The Tablo Dual Lite DVR launched in late March, and it replaces the old two-tuner model as the best choice for most people. This whole-home solution streams recordings to nearly any connected device. Plug in an external hard drive and an antenna, connect the Tablo box to your network over Wi-Fi or ethernet, and you can stream live or recorded TV through the Tablo app on phones, tablets, computers, media streamers, and smart TVs. (While Tablo offers a pricier DVR with 64GB of built-in storage, the Lite version is cheaper even after you factor in an external 1- or 2TB hard drive, plus it has a faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi connection.)

Tablo is simple to set up, has broad device support, and offers common DVR functions such as live TV time-shifting and catching up with recordings in progress. In recent months, all Tablo models have also gained more recording options and reduced loading times for live TV. Best of all, you never need to switch inputs from the streaming box you’re already using. Those pluses help compensate for Tablo’s audio and video quality, which doesn’t compare to native broadcast quality, and its lack of ad-skipping features.

Runner-up

There’s a lot to like here, especially for cord-cutters who have made Fire TV devices their media streamers of choice, but there are also enough shortcomings to limit the Fire TV Recast  (which is available in both 75- and 150-hour SKUs) to our runner-up pick in this category.

The best OTA DVR for just one TV

We said that our previous pick in this category, the TiVo Roamio OTA, felt a bit like a relic of the cable TV era. TiVo has erased at least some of that criticism with its new TiVo Bolt OTA, which is built on much more modern hardware. But TiVo continues to ignore many of the best streaming TV services that appeal to cord cutters, and its best DVR still services just one TV unless you’re willing to invest in additional expensive hardware.

Best OTA DVR for power users

If setting up a DVR using Plex was more straightforward, it would be our no-reservations top pick. As it stands, installing a Plex-based DVR is a daunting process involving products from at least three other manufacturers (you’ll need a TV tuner; a TV antenna; and a set-top box, NAS box, or personal computer). That mix can lead to difficult-to-troubleshoot problems.

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