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I stopped paying for cable about 6 months back and I have to say that I’m really happy. I’ve always been one of those people who thought cable was absolutely necessary and always ponied up the $100 or so to have about 300 or so channels. However, over time I realized I only watch a few channels here and there and a lot of the stuff I was watching was via iTunes, Netflix, or Amazon Prime video anyway. Did I really need a cable connection for just CNN, ESPN and a few local channels?
Well, for some live TV events it’s great: Oscars, news, etc., etc. However, I could watch all of that anyway without my cable box! I never knew until I read an article somewhere that there is something called Over the Air (OTA) channels. These are all HD channels that are broadcast for free. This includes channels like ABS, CBS, NBC, Fox, and lots more. So I was really excited that I could watch just about everything I wanted anyway without the cable box.
The only issues I had were the program guide and the recording of shows! Now that the cable box was gone, I had no DVR and I had no program guide. The other issue with antennas is that not all areas get all local channels. Luckily, using an online DVR service solves all of these problems. Secondly, most of these services now include local channels in their packages, so you don’t have to worry about antennas and having a dedicated hardware DVR.
In this article, I’ll go through some of the big players in the online DVR space as well as mention a couple of companies that still sell good hardware DVRs. If you don’t have a great Internet connection, a physical box DVR that can be used offline at all times might be a better option.
TiVo has been around for a long time and were the first people to give us the DVR (at least a good one that worked well). What I like about TiVo’s lineup of devices is that they are geared towards those who have a cable subscription and those who want to use HD antennas.
The device above in the screenshot is the TiVo Roamio OTA 1TB DVR, which sells for $399. Now that may sound like a steep price, but you have to remember that there are no monthly service fees. Previously, they used to charge $15 a month for getting the channel lineup, etc., but now they have gotten rid of the fee.
It also acts kind of like the new Apple TV in that you can use it to search for movies and TV shows across your OTA channels and any video streaming service like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon, etc. The device will allow you to record up to 150 hours of HD content. It also has 4 tuners on the back, so you can record up to 4 programs at once. They also have a great mobile app that allows you to control the device and recordings from your phone or tablet. You can also watch your recordings on your mobile device.
I won’t talk about their cable box options as I’m assuming you don’t want cable if you are reading this post. Overall, TiVo is still a great option if you get clear HD local channels over-the-air. If not, check out the other services below.
Sling TV has also been around for a long time and they are the biggest live TV streaming service in the country. Sling is also supported on pretty much every streaming device out there, so you’ll have no issue watching your channels.
Currently, they have two packages: orange and blue. Orange is $20 a month and includes 30 channels, blue is $25 a month and includes 45 channels. What I like about Sling, though, is that they have a whole lot of other channels and extras that you can add for additional monthly fees. Some are $5 a month, some are more. Also, they have a slew of international channels that you can add too for extra.
Obviously, this can get quite expensive if you add a lot of stuff, but you get to pick and choose and can change your channel lineup whenever you like. Sling also has a simple to use Cloud DVR feature for recording shows and movies.
The only downside I have seen to Sling is that you need to make sure your area is in the list of markets where they stream local channels like NBC, etc. Unfortunately, not all markets can get all local channels. Check out this link to see what local channels Sling offers in your area.
Additionally, if you go with the orange service, you only get one stream. If you go with blue, you get 3 streams. If you get both orange and blue, you get 4 simultaneous streams.
The new player on the market is YouTube TV, which gives you 40+ channels for $35 a month. Google is king of the cloud and their big selling point is their awesome DVR service. They also include all the local channels (ABS, CBS, NBC, Fox) in the service, which is a great.
You’ll first need to check whether or not the service is available in your area. Just start signing up for a free trial and it’ll ask for your zip code or auto-determine your location. It’ll then tell you whether or not you can sign up.
Also, you can create up to six different accounts per household and everyone will have their personalized settings and separate DVR. There are no limits to how many programs you can record. Google will keep each recording for up to 9 months. You can only stream within the United States, though, currently.
You can have up to three simultaneous streams at once per membership. So, three out of the six accounts can stream at the same time. Lastly, YouTube Red is not included in the YouTube TV membership, but you can watch YouTube Red Originals. YouTube TV does also include on-demand programs, depending on the channel.
Next up is DirecTV Now, which ranges from $35 to $70 a month, is a bit more expensive, but gives you access to up to 120 channels. You also have access to 25,000+ on-demand titles.
The big downside with DirecTV Now is that it currently doesn’t have any DVR functionality, which is kind of a big deal! Apparently, this will be coming soon, but as of the writing of this post, there is no DVR.
The other downside is that you can only have 2 simultaneous streams per account. You can add HBO for $5 a month whereas it costs a whopping $15 a month on Sling. If you are an AT&T wireless customer and you have DirecTV at home, then you get free access to HBO anyway.
The big plus for DirecTVNow is that you are getting a lot more channels than the competition. Once they add DVR, it’ll be a close call between the different options.
Another option is PlayStation Vue, which is actually quite a good service. Vue tries to be a more all-encompassing service, kind of like DirecTV Now. The price starts at $40 a month for about 38 channels and goes all the way up to $75 a month with over 90 channels, the latter of which includes HBO and Showtime.
You get all the local channels, as long as they are available in your area. You can also watch all the local channels on your mobile device as long as you are within the city. They have a decent Cloud DVR feature and allow up to 5 simultaneous streams.
The service you end up going with will depend on what kind of TV you like to watch and what your needs are. If you need international channels, then Sling TV is the best option. If you mostly care about local channels, you can just get a Tivo and an HD antenna. If you have a lot of people who will be streaming at the same time, then PlayStation Vue or Sling with both color services is a good option. There are lots of options out there, so take your time when choosing.
The other great thing about pretty much all of these services is that you can cancel at any time. Also, most of them have free trials, so give them a shot for a week and see which one you like the best. Enjoy!