Component Reviews

Channel Master OTA HD-DVR+ Recorder
SRP: $250

The best current cut-the-cord option if you receive good OTA TV where you are.

Published on March 26, 2014

Channel Master OTA HD-DVR+ Recorder</br>SRP: $250

Channel Master OTA HD-DVR+ Recorder
SRP: $250

Specs:

Dimensions: 1.5” thick x 11” x 13.38”
TV antenna, HDMI & Ethernet ports on rear
Integrated Rovi electronic program guide for your local channels 
Offers Vudu movies plus Internet videos, more services to be added later
Two tuners
Easy recording of programs by name
Built-in two-hour of HD recording, 6 hrs. SD (16GB)
Add any USB external hard drive for more storage
Pause live TV up to 15 min.
IR input for optional IR extender
Supports Dolby Digital Plus surround on TV
Compatible with Slingbox 500
Low power consumption
Optional USB Wi-Fi dongle available ($40)
Optional omni indoor/outdoor antenna ($60) 

Are you tired of paying $1500 to $2000 a year for watching your supposedly-free TV? Do you receive a number of local HDTV channels successfully where you live? Then this $250 DVR (and no monthly subscription fee) is exactly what you want. HDTV is terrific, and if you are subscribing to cable or satellite, they are compressing down the hi-def signals hugely in order to cram more channels on the line, and with OTA (Over The Air, for those who haven’t been paying attention) HDTV you will see just how good HDTV resolution can be.

The previous model of Channel Master DVR was something of a disaster and there are reports that their tech support for it was nil. But on this one they really got it together and everything it offers makes sense and works well. I now have 37 different OTA channels here in Portland with perfect HDTV to select from, and even my fairly new Panasonic HDTV tuner didn’t pick up that many with the same Channel Master roof antenna. (I am within sight of all the TV transmitter towers in Portland.) There is plenty of OTA potential; let’s just hope the government doesn’t auction off all the TV spectrum (as they’ve started to do) to wireless providers, eliminating the whole concept of free OTA telecasting! The only two groups this wouldn’t work for are those who live in a hole or out in the sticks where there is no decent OTA TV, and sports nuts.

DVRplusRear
The first thing you’ll notice about the DVR+ is how thin it is. It can easily go under other components or even hidden away when you use the optional IR extender. The first thing to do is to hook up the HDMI cable from its rear to an input on your HDTV. Then plug in your TV antenna. Next plug in your Ethernet cable for the Internet videos and for easy updating of the firmware (mine needed to be updated even though they just shipped it to me). If you don’t have an Ethernet already hooked to your TV or disc player, an accessory USB Wi-Fi dongle is available. And if you don’t have an antenna aside from an old rabbit ears, there’s also a small Channel Master indoor/outdoor antenna, though nothing works as well as a rooftop model. They say the small antenna will work up to 35 miles from towards indoors and up to 50 miles when outdoors. Of course it also depends how high up you locate it. Unlike rabbit ears, this antenna is not supposed to be pointed, being omnidirectional (though I’m not sure I can believe that). There are lots of bigger roof antennas at Channel Master as well as other sites.

The right front of the DVD+ has an LED which is dimmed blue for Stand-by and bright blue for On.  (It would be better if they used two different colors.) When the unit is recording the LED goes red. You can watch one channel while it records and there seems to be conflicting advice online about whether you can record two programs at once or not, but I would never need to do that and haven’t tried it. Some have complained that the unit doesn’t store more recorded programs than 6 hours SD or 2 hours HD.  It’s easy to plug in an outboard USB hard drive, and it automatically switches to that. But frankly, I like the idea of only two hours recording – we no longer have a big shelf of videotapes which we then feel guilty about having recorded and never gotten around to viewing. (And they were mostly Betacams too!)  And the complications of burning a DVD-R or RW on the Samsung DVD recorder I used to have are all past me now.

There is a fast on-screen “Wizard” that takes care of all the initial settings, including scanning of the signals provided by your antenna. It did so much faster than my TiVo had done that. There are no Favorite Shows or Categories—just a straightforward program guide of all your channels for two weeks, which a most useful thing. Picture quality is excellent, being 1080p, and the Dolby Surround on those shows that have it sounds just as good as via my Panasonic HDTV directly.

You do lose some niceties which other more costly options provide: There is no feature to record only the new telecasts of series even if you have an external drive connected. It just records everything, including the repeats. It also cannot handle a series being telecast on more than one channel. The electronic program guide is nice, though not decorated with cute animations like TiVo and some others. It is only on the bottom half of the screen, so you go on viewing whatever channel it is on at the time. It is a pleasure to just click on a program name and not have to enter times and days, etc. They could have made deletion of a program after you have watched it easier. As it is you have to go into the DVR using the DVR button on the cute little remote, bring up the program, and go thru three steps to delete it from the internal drive. I understand for those living near the border of Canada and the U.S. the Rovi program guide doesn’t take care of both OTA sources, causing problems, but for the rest of us it works fine, and covers two weeks ahead, which many other gadgets don’t.

The handy remote has several most useful buttons, though now I have four remotes and it’s time to program that Harmony universal remote I also have and have never gotten around to. You can also program it to operate the basic controls of your HDTV. To move thru the program guide there are four buttons across the center of the remote like on many TV remotes. The green button is for Search, the red moves you back 2.5 hours, the yellow moves you back a day, and the purple moves you ahead a day. There are buttons to change the screen ratio, such as changing it to 4:3 for those channels which run the old TV shows stretched to 16:9, for viewing the main menu, for turning closed captions on or off, for seeing channel and program details, and for displaying all AV description channels. There are both normal fast forward and fast reverse buttons, but also Skip Back and Skip Forward buttons, which move you on the time line about 12 seconds one way or the other. I use both for commercials and don’t need Hopper. Now I may occasionally watch a few other channels besides PBS-TV.

I previously attempted to review the TiVo DVR (the most popular DVR in the U.S.) and had nothing but problems with it (plus the $15 a month subscription!). It seems to be oriented only to cable subscribers and not to OTA users. When hooking up my Channel Master rooftop antenna to the TiVo I got absolutely nothing, and they exchanged for a second one which was identical. Their tech staff is trained to tell callers there are two kinds of antennas: analog and digital, and if their unit doesn’t work right they must have an analog antenna and need to purchase a digital one. Garbage! All antennas are about the same. (I was concerned to see one of the DVR+ reviews online refer to a “digital” antenna.) The tech person even told me I needed a RF signal booster—even tho I’m within sight of the towers! He also told me my problem was having a combination UHF and VHF antenna. Nonsense! In some cities there are HD stations on both UHF and VHF, so you require such a combo antenna. Also, the feed to the HDTV on the TiVo is only 1080i and not 1080p, as is the DVR+. The unit is only available directly from  www.channelmaster.com, not from any dealers.

—John Sunier




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