One drawback to cord-cutting is that HD TV antennas lack a way to record programs, so you can’t, say, pause that football game mid-play to run downstairs to grab a beer. Amazon's Fire TV Recast is the latest product that seeks to solve this problem.
This device (starting at $229; $279 as reviewed) lets you record over-the-air broadcasts and play them back at your leisure. More than that, it integrates seamlessly with Amazon's Fire TV interface, making it a great choice for those who have ditched cable but want one of its biggest benefits.
How it works
The Recast is a fairly nondescript black box measuring 7.1 x 7.1 x 2.9 inches. On the back is a coaxial port for the antenna, Ethernet, USB 3.0 and power. The USB port can't be used for anything at the moment, but Amazon said that an update will allow users to add an external hard drive to increase the storage capacity.
The Recast receives TV signals from an HD antenna, and then sends them via Wi-Fi to a Fire TV device; inside the Recast is a hard drive, which can be used to save OTA recordings as well.
To use the Recast, you'll need a Fire TV stick or Amazon Echo Show, an HD antenna and the Fire TV app for your smartphone. After hooking up the Recast to your HD antenna, you connect to the Recast via Wi-Fi, then connect it to your home network.
Because the Recast streams video via Wi-Fi to your Fire TV stick, you can set up the Recast pretty much anywhere in your home. This is helpful because you'll want to place the antenna (to which the Recast is attached) where you get the best reception. In my house, this meant my finished attic, where the Recast was able to find 61 channels; this will vary based on your location and the antenna you have.
In all, setup took about 5 to 10 minutes. It can take a few minutes for the Recast to discover all the channels available in your area.
Once everything is up and running, the home screen of the Fire TV interface displays two new items: "DVR" appears along the top ribbon, while "On Now" listings appear further down. Each has a thumbnail image and a progress bar at the bottom, showing roughly how much time is left in the program.
If you select DVR, it will also show thumbnails of programs airing. Scroll down the page, and you can pull up a channel guide; I wish there were an easier way to get to it.
As you're watching a program, you can also pull up a ribbon of all the other programs currently showing. It's helpful for those who like to channel surf.
Pressing the hamburger menu lets you pull up the channel guide. I like that I could view the current program I was watching while also looking at the full menu guide.
As with other DVRs, you're given options to record both individual shows and series. You can also pause programs you're watching, and then fast-forward or rewind. Cleverly, the Recast gives you the option to automatically extend the recording times for sporting events.
This being an Amazon product, you can use Alexa to open the channel guide, schedule recordings and find programs by title, actor, genre and more. Doing so will display results not just from over-the-air programs, but from streaming services as well.
Fire TV app
In addition to viewing content on a Fire TV device, you can also stream content to your smartphone or tablet (iOS, Android, and Amazon) via the Fire TV app.
The home screen of the Fire TV app shows the programs airing; they're displayed as tiles, with program information below, and a progress bar shows how much time remains. Here, you also are given the option to record the show. I wish there were a traditional grid view, too.
Another tab displays your recorded programs, while a third icon turns your device into a remote control. Just about the only thing you can't do with the app is download saved programs to your mobile device.
Configurations: How much does the Fire TV Recast cost?
Amazon is selling two versions of the Recast: A model with two tuners and a 500GB hard drive (good for 75 hours of recordings) is $229, while a model with four tuners and a 1TB drive (good for 150 hours) is $279. Regardless of which model you choose, though, you can stream video to only two devices at the same time.
Amazon is also selling the 2-tuner Recast in a bundle with a Fire TV Stick 4K and an HD antenna for $249. That's a pretty good deal, considering the Fire TV stick on its own is $49, and a decent HD antenna will cost around $20.
The Recast is not the first device that lets you save OTA broadcasts. TiVo Bolt OTA, which has four tuners, can store up to 150 hours of programming on a 1TB drive, streams in 4K, and can stream video from such services as Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, YouTube and Plex.
BOLT OTA searches across popular apps, plus your recordings and live TV simultaneously.
However, in addition to purchasing the device itself ($249), you'll also have to cough up a subscription fee of $6.99/month, or $69.99/year.
Tablo's 4-tuner OTA DVR ($199) and 2-tuner Dual Lite ($140) don't require a subscription ($4.99/month, $49.99/year, or $149.99 for a lifetime membership), but without it, you can’t get a 14-day channel guide. You also need to provide your own hard drive to record programs. However, it works with a plethora of streaming devices, including Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, LG and Samsung smart TVs, Roku and Xbox One consoles.
The Recast is a great accessory for those who want to add DVR-like capabilities to their over-the-air broadcasts. While you're locked into using a Fire TV device, the two integrate seamlessly. Even better, it has a Sling-like ability to stream your local broadcasts to your smartphone, no matter where you are. Unless you're a heavy TV user, you can probably get away with the $229 model. But whatever option you choose, you'll like what you get.
Credit: Tom's Guide