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Tech review: DVR Plus brings over-the-air recording to cord cutters


Cutting the cord.

You may or may not know the term, but I'm willing to bet that most of you have considered it at least once.

Cutting the cord refers to getting rid of pay TV and just living with over-the-air broadcasts and streaming services like Netflix.

When your TV bill comes in and you see that $75-to-$200 (or more) monthly charge, it's easy to dream for a few minutes about not having to pay for TV.

Sure, you might be ready to dump your TV provider, but what about the rest of your family?

Any cord-cutting solution needs to have a high spousal-acceptance factor.

It's pretty easy to put up an antenna and get a nice picture for local channels, and a set-top box such as Apple TV, Roku or Amazon.com's new Fire TV can take care of your streaming needs.

But what about a DVR?

If you've paid for TV service, chances are you've used (and come to rely upon) a receiver with a built-in digital video recorder.

Dumping your cable or satellite company also means giving back the DVR.

Now how do you record your shows?

DVR solutions for over-the-air broadcasts have not been any good until very recently.

Channel Master, which makes TV antennas, has introduced the latest generation of its recorder, the DVR Plus, and it's really good.

It's also really small. The DVR Plus is half an inch tall — about the size of a small laptop — and it feels very solid.

The DVR Plus costs $250 at ChannelMaster.com. To use it, you'll need a TV with an HDMI input and over-the-air antenna.

I'd also recommend a broadband Internet connection to download guide data and stream some Internet content, but the Internet is not necessary to record over-the-air programs.

Connect the antenna to the DVR Plus, plug in the HDMI cable and turn on the power.

You'll be presented with a setup wizard to walk you through a few steps to scan for local channels and enter your ZIP code for the guide data.

After the scan is complete, you use the DVR Plus and its remote to watch TV. You can program the remote to control the power and volume of your TV.

The box includes an infrared extension cord so you can tuck the DVR Plus into your media cabinet and still control it.

You can connect the DVR Plus to your home network through an ethernet cable or an optional $40 USB Wi-Fi dongle.

You'd be wise to connect the DVR Plus to the Internet if you have it. Without the Internet, the guide data will be very basic. The Internet connection will also allow you to download software updates.

The DVR Plus ships with 16 gigabytes of onboard storage, which will record two hours of HD content.

You'll want to connect your own USB hard drive for added storage. A 1-terabyte drive will record up to 160 hours, but you can use any size hard drive, or even a flash drive.

The DVR Plus has dual tuners, so you can record two shows at once.

If you've ever used a DVR, the DVR Plus will be quite intuitive.

The guide button brings up a familiar onscreen programming grid that takes up the bottom half of your screen while still showing the current show.

Use the arrow buttons to move around in the guide to find your shows. You can also search for shows by name.

Press the record button to start or schedule a recording or a season pass.

Press the DVR button to display a list of your recorded shows for playback.

Because the hard drive is always recording, you'll be able to pause or rewind live shows as well as recordings.

Dolby Digital Plus surround sound is supported.

The DVR Plus, if it's connected to the Internet, can also stream video. Currently, Vudu is the only streaming service available. It's backed by Wal-Mart and provides movies and TV shows for sale or rent.

Channel Master says it's working on making other streaming services available. Those services are accessible in the channel guide starting at channel 200.

If I were Channel Master, I'd work hard to integrate Netflix into the DVR Plus.

The DVR Plus is a very slick solution. Cord cutters have needed a DVR that's easy to use and doesn't have a monthly fee. TiVo has a box (Roamio) that can record over-the-air shows, but the $15 monthly fee and yearlong contract commitment for the TiVo service are turnoffs for many cord cutters.

The DVR Plus has no ongoing cost after you buy it.

I was able to set up and use the DVR Plus without consulting the instructions at all. To me, that's a sign of a complete product.

It's not fancy. It just does its job very well.

CHANNEL MASTER DVR PLUS:
— Pros: Easy to setup and use. No ongoing costs.
— Cons: Must bring your own storage. Wi-Fi not included.
— Bottom Line: Every cord-cutter wants a recording solution. The DVR Plus is the best choice I've found.
— Price: $250
— On the Web: http://www.channelmaster.com
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ABOUT THE WRITER
Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at jrossman@dallasnews.com.
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