The Best DVRs for Cable TV and OTA
You’re probably here because you want to be informed on the most recent TV tech, or maybe you’re looking for a DVR that doesn’t come with a TV service.
We found a few DVRs that could satisfy your DVR storage needs with smooth features that make it easy to access your recordings. Of course, there’s pricing and the fact that not every DVR is perfect, but we’ve focused on DVRs that are worth your time.
Let’s get into the details of our five favorite DVRs.
The best DVR for cable TV is the TiVo Bolt+
What we like about the TiVo Bolt+
The Bolt+ is a cable DVR and streaming device in one, and it’s no shock the original DVR champion reigns supreme.
This DVR lets you record up to 150 hours of TV shows and movies. That means you can record 30 episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, 10 episodes of Puppy Dog Pals, and about 60 movies.
And with 4K Ultra resolution, you can stream your Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, and YouTube. We know how you need your binge-watching Sundays.
A cool feature the TiVo Bolt has is SkipMode. Who doesn’t love skipping
commercials about cat litter or the next cool car that’s supposed to get you “the girl”?
Other DVRs may have fast-forwarding, but you end up missing the beginning of the scene, rewinding, then fast-forwarding … yeah, it gets tedious.
QuickMode is great because you can breeze through a show 30% faster with audio at regular pitch. If you spaced out during dialogue or a plot explanation, you can quickly back up and catch it without re-watching the whole thing at regular speed. Plus, no helium voices!
And lastly, the fluid interface uses OneSearch. So, if you want to watch Deadpool or Star Wars: Rogue One but aren’t sure which service it’s available from, you won’t have to jump between apps.
What we can’t like about TiVo Bolt+
There are extra fees for the DVR service. But you have the choice to pay monthly, yearly, or just one time.
This is kind of a bummer because the Fire TV Recast doesn’t make you pay an extra fee, but you do get twice the storage space with the TiVo Bolt+.
- Monthly payment: $7/mo.
- Annual payment: $70/yr.
- All-in: $250 (one-time payment)
Who should get the TiVo Bolt+?
The TiVo Bolt+ is for those who want a DVR with lots of storage space without paying for a cable bill.
If you don’t want to fuss with your equipment, and if you want something that works and will hold its value, this is definitely the way to go.
The best TV provider’s DVR is the DISH Hopper 3
The Hopper can record 125 hours of programming and record two shows at once, but the Hopper 3 boasts 500 hours of storage, records up to 16 streams, and can connect all of your TVs from the main unit. That’s the biggest storage space of any DVR on our list.
What we like about DISH Hopper 3
The Hopper can record 125 hours of HD programming and record two shows at once, but the Hopper 3 boasts 500 hours of HD storage or 2,000 SD hours, records up to 16 streams, and can connect all of your TVs from the main unit.
It’s a ridiculous amount perfect for binge-watching shows like Saturday Night Live, Big Beach Builds, and Ghost Hunters.
If you’re looking for Over-the-Air recording (free broadcast signals that can be picked up by antennas), you will need a separate USB antenna. But other than that, the Hopper 3 is good to go. It will even send signals to your Joey units (additional receivers), so the whole home is hooked up.
What really makes the Hopper jump(!) out is its special features: AutoHop, voice control, and remote finder. AutoHop skips commercials with a single button, no guesswork needed. The voice control remote means you don’t have to select and type individual letters into your search, while the remote finder is a lifesaver for anyone who has spent more time looking for the remote than watching their show.
The Hopper 3 is Bluetooth compatible with headphones and other devices, which is nice if you want to watch TV privately. That way, if others are asleep or studying, you can still catch up on your shows.
What we can’t like about DISH Hopper 3
It’s hard to say anything negative about the Hopper 3, since it has just about everything that we need from a DVR. Perhaps because it’s the current gold standard, we don’t have much to complain about—except that we wish it was absolutely free.
Who should get the DISH Hopper 3?
If you’re looking for a new DVR, the Hopper 3 can be a great option. If you have DISH, you might as well stick with the Hopper 3 instead of getting the TiVo Bolt+. While the extra storage space might sound nice, it’s not that practical to purchase a new DVR for that reason—just add an external hard drive if you need more.
The best DVR for Sports is the DIRECTV Genie
What we like about the DIRECTV Genie
Sports fans love DVRs. Who is always sitting on their couch the exact second of tip-off?
We like to pause the game to grab snacks or use the bathroom, but DVRs are also great when life interrupts your flow and you need to help someone in with the groceries or drop the kids off at practice.
If you’re coming home late from work or just want to avoid ads, you can start recording, give yourself 5–10 minutes of prep-time, hit play, and watch the game “live” with all the conveniences of playback control.
Most DVRs lets you set a DVR recording from your mobile app, and DIRECTV isn’t any different. With the DIRECTV Genie, you can also pause and rewind live HDTV for up to 90 minutes. So even if you forgot to set the recording before you went to work, you can still catch up. Instant replay goes six seconds back, so you don’t have to wait for the highlight reel, either. You’ve got a 30-second fast-forward button that cuts past ads, boring halftime shows, and scoreless runs.
You can record up to five programs at once with the Genie, so you can record an NBA game, MLB game, a movie, and two TV shows all at once.
What we can’t like about the DIRECTV Genie
The Genie doesn’t have as much storage as the Hopper 3, but it still beats out most other DVRs. More importantly, it’s enough for the vast majority of us.
Another minor complaint is the included remote control isn’t equipped for voice recognition. While you can use a device like your phone or tablet, we’d prefer the dedicated unit to have this feature. That way, we can use our spare device to look up other things, like player or game stats—or pizza delivery services near us.
Who should get the DIRECTV Genie?
Any of the DVRs on our list could work for sports, sure, but if you’re a football fan, DIRECTV is the only provider of NFL SUNDAY TICKET. On top of that, Genie gives you real-time scores of major games with the press of a single button. We recommend the Genie for a lot of uses, but it excels at sports.
The runner-up cable DVR is the Xfinity X1 Cloud DVR
What we like about the Xfinity X1
A few things we like about the X1: we can pull up NBA games easily, we can find more movies from actors we like, and we can stream from our favorite services.
With your voice remote, you can say commands like “Turn on NBA TV” and the X1 will grant you your wish. Plus, the X1 guide gives you player and team stats, so your sports experience is even more fluid.
To find more movies from Margot Robbie, just hover over a Margot Robbie movie in the guide, then click info. Here you’ll find Series and Movie Info to find more information about the actors. Then you can even set up recordings based on your favorite actors or directors!
You can stream from Peacock, Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, and YouTube, as well as enjoy music from Pandora, Amazon Music, and iHeartRadio.
But of course, the DVR is what we’re interested in. The X1 lets you record 60 HD or 300 SD hours. That’s not a lot compared to the Hopper 3 or Genie, but if you don’t want satellite TV, then Xfinity is the best cable TV option.
Xfinity’s X1 is actually a cloud DVR, which essentially means you can watch your recordings on any device. You and your family can also record six shows at once.
What we can’t like about the Xfinity X1 Cloud DVR
Unfortunately, Xfinity’s X1 DVR comes with lots of fees.
Your first TV box is $5 per month, the additional TV box for your son will be $10 per month, and you’ll likely want crisp HD channels ($10/month) and DVR storage ($15/month).
So, on top of your monthly Xfinity package bill, you could be looking at a $40 bill for the X1 experience.
Who should get the X1 Cloud DVR?
If you’re subscribed to Xfinity, we don’t see any major reason to switch to a different DVR.
If you’re not subscribed, then we must say Xfinity is our top cable TV option.
While more storage and special features would be nice, the X1’s ease of use and mobile abilities have been beneficial. However, if you’re not looking to sign up for internet too, we’d advise looking at another DVR because the functionality is severely reduced when you’re not connected to the internet.
If you want more details, check out our X1 DVR Review.
The best OTA DVR is the Fire TV Recast
What we like about the Fire TV Recast
With the Fire TV Recast, you can record up to two shows at once and store 75 hours of HD programming. That means you can record 20 episodes of Botched and about 25 MLB games.
Since this is an Alexa-enabled device, you can use your voice to get what you want on your TV. You can tell Alexa to play Good Morning America or to turn on NBC.
What can I watch over the air?
In our area, we found OTA networks like CW, PBS, PBS Kids, and then a handful of movie and shopping channels. A lot of people will find value in being able to tap into news networks and local sports. Couple that with the big four (NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX), and you’ll have a decent library of channels.
What we can’t like about the Fire TV Recast
If you’re looking to record movies to store in your DVR for months, 75 hours can fill up fast. You’ll also need a reliable internet connection, so make sure to check our list of fastest internet providers.
But other than that, we have no complaints. You can set up a recording from your Fire TV mobile app and your Fire TV Recast pairs with your other Fire TV or Echo Show devices for a connected home.
Who should get the Fire TV Recast?
What makes a good DVR?
Everyone wants decent storage space
Capacity is measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB)—and more is always better. 500 GB seems to be a good starting point for storage, but remember that the ratio of storage compared to recording hours isn’t the same across brands. If you run into storage issues, most DVRs have an eSATA port for an external hard drive.
Always go off of specified hours, even though those are only estimates by the company and will vary based on programming.
A DVR with convenient recording features makes life easier
Recording is pretty universal across DVRs: either choose a single episode or select an entire series to record. This means you won’t have to set up your DVR every single week to keep up with The Walking Dead or The Voice—just once.
Some DVRs even automatically record recommendations based on your viewing. The DISH Hopper 3 automatically records primetime television. While this may appear helpful, it may take up a good chunk of storage without you realizing it.
Some DVRs expand your storage with cloud storage or an external hard drive, so keep that in mind as well when making your decision.
The number of shows you can record at once matters with big families
Make sure the number of recordings and watching streams covers your needs because if you have five people in your house and only four streams, someone is going to have to compromise.
With the DISH Hopper 3, you can get up to 16 recordings going at once (which is ridiculous). When you use additional units like the Joey, Genie Mini, or TiVo Mini, you’re increasing the number of individual streams to TVs, but rarely (if ever) do these devices add storage.
We want to be able to pause, fast-forward, and skip
While pausing and rewinding are standard, fast-forwarding is a little less common because of licensing agreements. Companies make money from ad revenue, and advertisers pay only if they see results. Thus, TV service providers agree to disable certain content from fast-forwarding.
That being said, we absolutely love when fast-forwarding is available. Better yet, we love when we can skip immediately to the end of a commercial. TiVo has SkipMode and DISH has AutoHop, both of which automatically go to the end of a commercial and remove the guesswork on your end, preventing possible spoilers—or at least some frustration.
Recap: Which DVR is the best for you?
Some people might not want to fuss with a DVR, but they don’t know the power it holds. You can become the curator of a vast library of TV, control time with a remote (or even your voice), and instantly pull-up sport stats with a single button. Keep in mind, you can do all this on your couch. Future’s here, folks—it’s time to get a DVR.
- TiVo Bolt+: The Bolt+ gives you 150 hours of DVR storage, and if you plan on using this DVR for four years or more, we recommend paying the one-time DVR service payment of $250. You’ll be able to record for the rest of your life without worrying about monthly or yearly payments.
- DISH Hopper 3: If you want the most storage a DVR can give you, get the Hopper 3. It’s going to be hard to fill 500 hours of DVR storage, and it can also be a blessing in disguise because your family will never have to fight over who can record what.
- DIRECTV Genie: Perfect for sports fans because of DIRECTV’s NFL SUNDAY TICKET, the Genie comes in second for satellite TV. You can record all of your Dallas Cowboys games for the season and you’d still never fill the 200-hour DVR storage.
- Xfinity X1: The X1 has some pretty cool features, like finding movies with actors we like, but the X1 comes with lots of fees. Xfinity is the best cable TV provider, but you’ll just have to budget for the DVR service.
- Fire TV Recast: The Fire TV Recast is a one-time purchase, no need to pay a monthly or yearly payment for the DVR service like the TiVo Bolt+. But just remember, you’ll get half the storage space as the TiVo Bolt+ with 75 hours.
What is a Cloud DVR?
A Cloud DVR’s storage is based on a company’s server, but it is accessible by users just about everywhere. Think of it as “off-site” storage for your DVR, which means you can switch devices and keep your library.
Can I expand my storage with a hard drive?
Most DVRs can expand their storage. Make sure it has a SATA port if you’re planning on adding an external hard drive.
Any more questions about DVRs?
We’d like to know what you think or if there’s something you’d like covered, so let us know in the comments!
What is OTA TV programming?
OTA is short for Over the Air. In many locations, you can receive free (HD) programming—all you need is an antenna. It’s a great way to save money and still keep up on the big networks, as well as a few movie channels and family favorites like PBS.