While DirecTV has recently launched their TiVo STB, not everyone has a cable or satellite provider. Many people simply use an antenna to receive over-the-air (OTA) programming from local affiliates. Whether it's because you're a cord cutter or you don't live in a location where cable is available, you still have options when it comes to DVRs. You can always go the HTPC route and use an ATSC tuner to receive OTA digital signals. Many people I know who live far outside of cable's reach use dual or even multiple dual ATSC tuners to ensure they can watch their local affiliates in high-definition.
If you don't feel that an HTPC is right for you or you don't feel like putting the work into building one, you do have another DVR option with OTA signals. Many TiVo devices contain ATSC tuners which will allow you to watch and record your local OTA affiliates just as cable subscribers do. Let's walk through some of the features you'll get when using a TiVo for OTA TV watching. (Note: The TiVo Premiere Elite device does not have an ATSC tuner and therefore cannot be used to receive or record OTA signals. You'll need to have a TiVo Premiere or older device in order to view these channels.)
Getting TiVo to work with with OTA signals isn't difficult. If you have a Premiere or HD TiVo, you're all set. The device is compatible with digital transmissions and no additional equipment is necessary. If you have an older Series 2 TiVo, a digital converter is needed in order to convert the digital signals to analog signals that the Series 2 can use. No matter which TiVo you have however, the device can walk you through all of the necessary steps to get things working for you. As well, TiVo provides support pages related to each device that can answer any questions you may run into during setup.
While you don't gain any special features by using TiVo with OTA signals, a big trend at the current time is cord cutting. This is the act of cable or satellite customers deciding that they don't want to pay for 100s of channels and instead getting their TV from streaming sources such as network websites, Netflix, Hulu or other sources. While most people can get a majority of their content in this manner, streaming services tend to only keep a limited number of episodes of a show and new content has a limited streaming window. What happens if you're several weeks behind and the network removes the streaming option?
That's where having a DVR is helpful. Being able to record network programming for when you wish to view it is still an option to have, even with all of the streaming services available today. As with cable, TiVo allows you to watch and record up to two channels at once so that you can keep your favorite network programming for as long as you like. (Or as long as you have enough hard drive space to store it.)
Using TiVo with OTA signals means that you get the best of both as long as you have a broadband connection. You can watch and record your local affiliates (TiVo states that 88% of the most recorded shows are available over-the-air) but with a TiVo Premiere device, you can also stream from several providers including Netflix, Amazon VoD and Hulu Plus. All this without paying a cable bill. (Except of course for you broadband connection.)
Given the features that TiVo lets you access using only a broadband connection and over-the-air local channels, it's a shame the company didn't include ATSC tuner in their latest device. The 2TBs of storage and four tuners would have been great for providing Dish Network Hopper-like functionality and recording all four broadcast networks' primetime schedules at the same time.
That said, if you're looking to cut down your cable or satellite bill and still want a DVR for those local networks, you really can't beat TiVo. There aren't any other viable options on the market for OTA DVRs at this time unless you want to go the HTPC or DVD Recorder route.