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Review: Channel Master DVR+

Updated October 27, 2014 - clarified file transfer to PC

Anyone thinking of ditching an expensive cable, fiber, or satellite TV subscription and becoming a cordcutter faces a major hurdle: the lack of easy access to live television programming. If you are lucky enough to live in an area covered by the free-to-air transmissions of local broadcasters, then receiving at least some live programming is as easy as connecting a simple indoor antenna and performing a quick channel scan.

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Every HDTV sold today has a built-in digital television (DTV) tuner for receiving this free content, but these same TVs lack necessary and useful features like the ability to record a show for later viewing or “pause” live TV like a TiVo digital video recorder (DVR).


The selection of set top over-the-air (OTA) TV tuners that provide even the most basic of recording capabilities is limited at best, and very few of these products feature two or more tuners for the most critical DVR function: recording one channel while watching another live. The DVR+ from Channel Master elevates future expectations by delivering a multi-tuner OTA DVR in a svelt, easy to use package.

Cord Cutting Guide

Package and ports
Unboxing the DVR+ reveals a compact slab of dual-tuning goodness that measures approximately 10.5 inches (W) by 8 inches (D) by 0.5 inches (H). Audio/video connections on the rear of the unit include HDMI and an optical audio output. An Ethernet port provides a network connection, and dual USB ports are for connecting an optional wireless adapter and external storage. Channel Master offers the DVR+ with a remote control starting at $250, and a bundle package for $50 more adds a Wi-Fi adapter and 12 foot HDMI cable.

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Setup
Setting up the DVR+ is simple: connect an antenna and HDMI cable, scan for available channels, and enjoy! Video output supports HD resolutions up to 1080p at 60Hz. The most affordable DVR+ packages lack internal storage, and Channel Master now offers a DVR+ with 1TB of built-in storage. When adding your own USB-connected drive, the DVR+ requires at least 80GB of storage space and the media is formatted prior to use.

Optimizing antenna placement with the DVR+ was a bit convoluted as the signal strength meter is buried in the setup menus, and it only displays info for the currently selected station – checking the signal strength of another station required completely exiting the setup menu, changing channels, and then making the trip back into the depths of the menu system.

TV Picture Setup Guide

Remote goodness
The DVR+ remote is a thin baton-style stick that can be programmed for basic TV operation. Enlarged navigation controls, including the channel guide button, were an appreciated touch. The remote's aspect ratio control button enabled quick scaling of squarish standard definition channels into a wide screen HD format. Dedicated 10 second skip forwards and backwards buttons are sure to please DVR enthusiasts. A recent firmware update improved menu navigation performance, and interactions with the remote proved consistent and quick.

Fee-free channel guide
Accurate and updated channel guide data is critical for any DVR experience, and the DVR+ includes fee-free channel guide information provided by Rovi. The grid-style layout of the DVR+'s channel guide was nicely detailed on a 1080p screen and included station names, channel numbers, and colorful station logos when available.

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Remember that when comparing competing OTA DVR products to be sure to always factor in the cost of channel guide information: often billed as a monthly fee or lump sum for updates over the life of the product.

Usage
Scheduling a recording was as simple as selecting a program in the channel guide and choosing a record-once or record-all option. I would have also preferred an option to record only new episodes of a particular program, and this is something that could be added in a future update. Conflicts related to needing a tuner when both were in use were addressed with easy to follow pop-up messages. One benefit of using an external hard drive with the DVR+ was that recorded programs could be accessed from my Windows PC with an ext2 file system driver making it easy to copy the transport stream files for backup or other use.

Update: Channel Master has announced an update for the DVR+ that will add a much requested Series Record (records only new episodes) that will be available November 2014.

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Apps
When I previewed the DVR+ at CES, Channel Master promoted the unit's ability to run popular streaming apps. Vudu and Pandora are the only two apps currently available on the DVR+, and these apps are accessed as channels in the guide instead of a dedicated app menu. If comprehensive app support is must for your home theater needs, an Amazon Fire TV, Apple TVGoogle Chromecast, or Roku 3 will better provide that functionality.

Update: Channel Master announced the addition of YouTube streaming to the DVR+ with an update due November 2014.

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Bottom line
The DVR+ from Channel Master will please anyone looking for a hassle-free, subscription-free, dual-tuner DVR for managing and enjoying over-the-air television programming. Channel Master has a track record of being proactive in dealing with the minor issues DVR+ owners have encountered so far, and my own experience using it over the last few weeks is the best I've had with such a device. Compared to building and managing a PC-based OTA DVR, the Channel Master DVR+ is a cost-effective and well-crafted alternative for cordcutters.

Reader Comments (8)

What do you mean, recorded programs were easy to play back on a PC? My understanding is that the drive is Unix-formatted and the files are not at all easily transferred and viewed. Can you please explain your remark.

With an external drive, I connected it to a Windows 8 PC and was able to play the files with VLC and (I believe) Windows Media Player. I also recall playing the files on my Android phone (Apollo player). I'll retest with the latest firmware update to ensure nothing has changed.

I've since retested this and updated the article accordingly (see Usage)
--Robert

October 1, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertommy

I'm having an issue with my DVR + where after installing an upgrade, all my set up series stopped recording. When I click on the show in the guide, it says to "Update the name search". When I click on that, it starts recording it. So I then think I'm OK only to find out that the same show will not record the next time. I have to hit the Update button again. Before the system upgrade, everything worked fine. Has this happened to anyone else.

October 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJim L

How does this compare to the TiVo? I realize the TiVo has a monthly fee, which is why I am asking. I have a TiVo HD and am weighing an upgrade to a Romio or getting rid of the TiVo and it's fee in favor of a Channel Master or making an HTPC.
Any thoughts?

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBill Ciocco

Does anyone have an suggestion for an app or program to figure out which file is which on the DVR+ hard drive.

One drive has all the streams, named strm0001, strm0002, etc etc... The other drive has a file that looks like it has all the time, date, title, description, etc data, but not in an easy to access format...

Has anyone found a program or app or something that lets me figure out from the info file which stream file I want?

February 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterXenon

There is a thread on the AVS forum for the DVR+. A guy there created a program that deciphers the *.ts files and matches them to the proper name. Note you will need to run the aforementioned Ext2fsd program for Windows to see the drive.

Forum: http://www.avsforum.com/forum/42-hdtv-recorders/1481183-channel-master-dvr-owners-thread-254.html#post31810281

DVR+ Lister: https://www.hightail.com/download/UlRRY05zNDJtMEpFQmNUQw

March 13, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterchaz

Channel Master buyers beware!

Really IRRITATED after we spent $300+ for a supposed alternative to the cable companies. Channel Master is a great concept but only if you have 1-2 hours each day to troubleshoot the myriad of problems that will most assuredly arise. I’m done with this surplus, East German Army commo equipment. Only decision from this point is whether we sell it on E-bay to another sucker or simply take it to the rifle range and demo it.

1. Initial set-up requires a super-nerd & then it’s still a crap-shoot. Buddy of mine who works fullt-Tme in IT/AV spent 3-4 hours trying to set it up. One word of advice is that your Wi-Fi network CANNOT have any special characters in it; alphanumeric only. You’d think someone at Channel Master that had an IQ above room temp would notify users about this glaring security/set-up issue.
2. Basic antenna TV works about 50% of the time after install. Be prepared for almost hourly reboots.
3. Spent a lovely afternoon on the phone with arrogant and dismissive Channel Master tech support reps after Sling TV would quit about every minute. Rep ridiculed me for calling and asked “don’t you check our website for service updates? We’re working on it.”
4. Now that Sling TV works (some of the time) about 50% of the time, the internet channels have disappeared and Channel Master no longer recognizes our Wi-Fi.
5. When you turn on Channel Master you’ll get an empty blue screen about 75% of the time.

April 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMIKE

Is there better than Netflix? I am really confused. Or they are just the same? If you can give me any details about these apps, I would really love to hear them. Thank you!

July 26, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Wonderful Post.
Thanks.

May 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterYasar

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