Looking for a DVR without subscription fees to reduce your monthly bill? Here is an overview of the best options available that will work with cable or an antenna. Cord-cutters have much better options, but there are some tricks to reduce or eliminate your cable DVR fees. All of the products mentioned here operate a little differently, some are aimed at watching on the couch while others enable you to stream live and recorded shows anywhere with an internet connection. See what works best for you.
OTA DVR without subscription fees
If you've cut the cord or are only interested in recording shows with an antenna (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, CW, etc), there are some great options for a DVR without subscription.
The Channel Master DVR+ is one of the best DVR without subscription fees that works with an antenna. It only connects to a TV through HDMI, requires a separate dongle for wifi, and the limited internal storage of the base model can be expanded with a USB hard drive. It starts at just $250 and there are also bundles available. Whole-home DVR functionality and streaming to mobile devices is enabled with the addition of a Slingbox ($150+).
TiVo also makes a great DVR without subscription fees that works with an antenna. At $400, it is a bit more than the Channel Master, but includes many more features. It has 4 tuners, internal storage, automatic channel skipping, unified search across TV and streaming apps such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and a mobile app for watching recordings. Whole-home functionality can be added with TiVo Mini boxes ($149 each). It may be the only device you need connected to your TV.
Tablo also makes an OTA DVR without subscription fees, but one that operates a bit differently. The Tablo TV sits on your home network and connects to a TV through a Roku, Apple TV, or Chromecast or to mobile devices or computers. The programming guide costs an extra $5 per month, but this is not required to use the device. The base model with two tuners and included wifi starts at $200, and requires a USB hard drive. Read the full FAQ here.
The Xbox One works as a minimal DVR without subscription fees. After connecting a TV tuner and antenna, live TV can be paused for up to 30 minutes. TV can also be watched in a separate window while playing a game. Full DVR functionality was rumored to be in the works, but Microsoft has confirmed it will not be coming.
Cable DVR without subscription fees
If you want more channels than an antenna provides, the options are a bit different. Cable companies typically charge a monthly rental fee. TiVo has some very nice DVRs available starting under $200, but require a $15 monthly fee or $550 lifetime service fee.
However, new TV streaming services are coming to market that include a DVR without subscription fees. YouTube TV ($35/month) and Hulu With Live TV ($40/month) both offer dozens of cable channels and a cloud DVR - no extra fees or hardware needed. YouTube's offering includes unlimited cloud DVR storage and access to commercial-free YouTube. Hulu includes access to the on-demand Hulu service and 50 hours of cloud DVR storage, with up to 200 hours available for an extra fee. These services could be very compelling if they carry the channels you require. However, most live streaming services have some channels blacked out in different cities and don't always include regional sports networks. So check out the free trials before cancelling your old cable package.
Wrap-up - the best DVR without subscription
The Channel Master DVR+ is a great barebones option for cord cutters, while TiVo makes a more fully-featured and higher-priced DVR for antennas. Some streaming services now include cloud DVR functionality, removing the need for a physical DVR and subscription fee. In the future perhaps all TV will be streamed over the internet with everything available on-demand from the cloud, making physical DVRs obsolete. Until then, happy DVR'ing.
Note: This post is updated as needed, most recently in May, 2017