Everybody likes to save money, which is why cutting the cord on cable TV is such a popular topic here at Tom's Guide — for staff members and readers alike. Last week, I wrote about discovering a new way to cut the cord (well, new to me, at least). After the article went up, I heard from a lot of readers who tipped me off to a different cord-cutting method that allows you to get over-the-air local channels and DVR functionality.
Many of them wrote to me about network TV tuners, particularly SiliconDust's HDHomeRun line along with Tablo products. I was unfamiliar with them, and maybe you are, too. Looking into them, I think it's an an even better cord-cutting method than an USB TV tuner. If you want to watch and record local channels like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, and watch on them multiple televisions and devices, then a network TV tuner may be the best solution for you.
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What is a network TV tuner?
HDTV network tuners have been around for years. They connect to an antenna (or cable line) via coaxial cable and to your router through an ethernet cable. The tuner takes the digital TV signals from the antenna, then distributes them over your home's network.
That means any device that uses your Wi-Fi network can access the channels. You can watch the feeds on multiple televisions, smartphones, tablets, and some gaming consoles and streaming devices. You can also hook it up to a personal media server like Plex.
The great thing about a network tuner is that you no longer have to figure out how to thread a coaxial cable from the antenna's location (which may be outside your house) to wherever your television is located. Oh, and that's television, singular, unless you use a coaxial splitter. Cable length absolutely affects the quality of TV signals. With a network tuner, you have more flexibility because you can place it closer to the antenna. Tablo's tuners have Wi-Fi built in, so you don't even need to hardwire it to your router.
When I wrote last week's cord-cutting article, I did it in response to a reader who specifically wanted a USB TV tuner for a MacBook. The options were more limited for Mac than for PC. Network TV tuners don't have that issue. HDHomeRun products are compatible with most major devices, including: Windows 10 PCs; Mac computers, laptops, iPhones and Apple TV; Android phones and tablets; Amazon Fire TV sticks and televisions; NVIDIA Shield; and Plex. Tablo works with this list and adds Roku and and Chromecast.
Sounds great, what's the downside?
For the flexibility and compatibility network TV tuners deliver, you're going to have to pay up. They're fairly expensive: both the HDHomeRun Flex Duo and Tablo Dual LITE are over $100. The four-tuner models are even pricier.
This is a one-time cost, but if you want a program guide and DVR functionality, you're going to have to pay up some more — and on a monthly or annual basis.
Both HDHomeRun and Tablo's devices are accompanied by an app. HDHomeRun's app is free and lets you watch live channels on multiple devices and view the EPG for the next 24 hours. However, if you want DVR service, you will pay a $35 annual subscription.
Similarly, you can use Tablo for free, but it's a lot easier it you get their TV guide service. It has a 30-day free trial, but after that it costs $5 per month, $50 per year or $180 for lifetime. They also offer a Premium Service subscription with advanced DVR features for $2 per month or $20 per year.
If you calculate the costs over a long period of time, a network TV tuner will save you a lot of money by letting you cut the cord on cable. You will have to accept a limited channel selection, since they only pick up over-the-air signals. Personally, I need some cable channels, which is why I decided to use Sling to get rid of cable. If you're fine with that, then this might be the answer to your cord-cutting dreams.
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