Cutting the cord doesn't have to mean cutting yourself off from broadcast TV. Depending on where you live, an HD antenna will let you pull in dozens of local channels over the air, including sports, news, big events like the Oscars, and a lot of the same network shows you'd find on, say, Hulu Plus.
Channel Master's DVR+ lets you record those shows, and unlike other DVRs such as the TiVo or the Tablo, it doesn't have a monthly fee for the channel guide. That makes it one of the cheapest ways around to record over-the-air TV — just don't expect a slick presentation or a lot of bells and whistles. Optional accessories can expand the box's capabilities significantly, but it's nice to not have to pay for features you don't need.
Setup: BYO hard drive, Internet optional
The super-slim DVR+ is easy to fit into your entertainment center, measuring 8 by 10 inches and just half-an-inch thick. It has 16GB of internal storage to get you started; to expand that, you'll want to plug in your own hard drive. I used a small, bus-powered 1TB Seagate USB 3.0 drive, which Channel Master estimates can record about 160 hours of HD programming.
Connections on the back include a coaxial port to attach an over-the-air TV antenna. HDMI connects the DVR+ to your computer (you need to supply your own HDMI cable), and there's an optical audio-out port in case you want to route the sound to your home theater system. The box itself is powered by an included AC adapter.
The DVR+ doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi. You can connect it to your network with an Ethernet cable, or attach Channel Master's own $40 USB Wi-Fi adapter to add your DVR+ to your Wi-Fi network — the box has two USB ports, so there's one for the adapter and one for your hard drive. But you don't actually need Internet at all.
The guide is a little better with an Internet connection — you'll get a full 14 days of programming info that way, as well as access to Vudu, which at press time is the only over-the-top service supported on the box. Vudu doesn't require a subscription; instead you rent or buy movies and TV shows à la carte and through Season Passes, like you would in Apple's iTunes Store. Without Internet, you still get some guide information, but it's whatever was provided by the networks, usually just a few days worth.
When first setting up the DVR+, you'll follow the easy onscreen prompts to scan for channels and add them to your guide. Even using an indoor tabletop antenna, I got a few dozen over-the-air broadcast channels. You can delete any unwanted channels later in Settings > Tuning > Channels. (I ditched a few that were in languages I don't speak, for example.)
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