Digitally Recording Over-the-Air Content

Save shows even if you don't have cable/satellite boxes

TV Antennas against Blue Sky
Jim Wilson / Getty Images

What do you do if you've decided that you don't want to pay for television service and only want to receive local channels via an antenna? For many, especially those who want to "cut the cord" and stream content via Netflix or Hulu Plus, putting up an antenna is a way to get local programming and network prime-time shows for free. Just because you don't pay for a cable or satellite subscription doesn't mean that you have to forego the use of a DVR however. You have several options, any one of which will allow you to record HD programming from your local affiliates.


Many people don't realize that TiVo's Premiere line of DVRs works great with over-the-air (OTA) antennas! Both the TiVo Premiere and Premiere XL come with built-in ATSC tuners allowing you to connect a digital antenna and receive all of the local affiliates. Both of these devices have dual tuners so you can record two shows at once if you need to. The Premiere XL4 doesn't include an ATSC tuner however so being able to stake four tuners and grab all of the local networks at once isn't going to work. The company was able to get a waiver from the FCC to skip the inclusion of an OTA tuner.

You'll still need to pay for a TiVo subscription if you want to get guide data so you can't get OTA completely free but it's still much cheaper than paying for a full cable subscription.

Home Theater PC

Long before CableCARD was supported, Home Theater PC (HTPC) users were dropping NTSC and then ATSC tuner cards into PCs so they could use software such as Windows Media Center or SageTV to record OTA programming. This is still possible with both applications and many users still prefer this method of recording local channels even if they also have a CableCARD tuner.

If you're a Windows Media Center user you can install an ATSC OTA tuner alongside other types of tuners as Media Center allows four of each type of tuner. This would allow you to record up to four shows at once and with the ability to add hard drives as needed, you could have as much storage as you might need.

Channel Master TV

Released just several months ago, Channel Master TV is a dual-tuner OTA DVR. While the device is a little more expensive, you have the option of not paying for guide data. The device will use information embedded in the OTA signal to provide limited guide data that should allow you to record programming easily.

If you find that your local affiliates don't provide accurate information, however, the company give you the option of a yearly fee for more accurate and complete guide data. This data also allows you to schedule recordings 14 days out.

The Channel Master TV also provides various internet video options such as Vudu and several other online providers. Missing from the company's website, however, are the big players such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. Hopefully, these services could be added in the future.

Cut the Cord?

The fact is that you don't have to have a monthly cable or satellite subscription in order to enjoy your favorite shows when you want to. You'll, of course, have a higher upfront cost as no one is going to lease you a DVR device. However, these costs are overwhelmingly offset by the fact that you don't have a $75+ monthly cable or satellite bill.

No matter which method you choose, like people who do maintain cable and satellite subscriptions, you'll be able to enjoy your content on your schedule and not the broadcasters.