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Cable cutters rejoice: Channel Master's Web-connected DVR records free TV

Consumer Reports News: September 14, 2011 03:23 PM

Tired of paying a cable or satellite TV bill plus an extra fee to record the shows you're getting? Channel Master apparently hopes so, because in early November, the company will offer a DVR that can record over-the-air (OTA) TV signals—including high-def—and has no recurring monthly service fees, with the added ability to get streaming TV shows and movies from Vudu. Somewhat surprising, given its widespread availability on other devices, Netflix isn't currently supported.

Channel Master already offers a DVR that can record OTA signals, letting you pause, rewind, and record TV shows. But the new receiver, simply called Channel Master TV, takes a leap into the modern age with built-in wireless Internet connectivity and the ability to access online content, including the Vudu streaming service. Best of all, once you buy the receiver, which costs $399, there are no recurring fees (as there are with TiVo, which offers similar capability) for either the free OTA TV shows or the DVR service and its program guide. You will have to pay for whatever premium content is available, such as movie rentals or downloads from Vudu, which is now owned by Walmart.

To use Channel Master TV, you'll need an antenna capable of pulling in the OTA signals and a broadband connection for using the Internet feature. The number of channels you'll get depends on your proximity to broadcast towers and your antenna, but you can a good idea of what to expect—and the type of antenna you'll need—by visiting AntennaWeb.org.

The Channel Master TV receiver has a 320GB hard drive for storing programs, enough to hold about 35 hours of HD programs or 150 hours of standard-def fare. The receiver has two digital ATSC tuners, so you can record two shows simultaneously or watch one channel while another is recording. The included electronic program guide lets you schedule recordings and perform searches for shows you want to record.

The receiver also has built-in Wi-Fi for accessing online content. In addition to the integrated Vudu app, it will support several social-media and photo-sharing websites including Picasa and Flickr, and it can access other Web-based content, such as AC360, Mike & Mike, MTV news, Associated Press, and more, the company says. The DVR can also be used to manage other types of personal media,: photos, videos, music, and so on. We expect to see more content announcements as the product gets closer to launch.

If you've been looking for ways to save on cable or satellite TV bills, let us know if you think the new Channel Master TV will fill the bill. And if you decide to get one when they become available in November, let us know how well it works.

James K. Willcox


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