Channels DVR Server review - How I cut the cord

Everyone has different needs and my want was for a decent replacement for DirectTV and their DVR service and appliance. My wife and I are avid content viewers. She and my daughter wanted to be able to watch and record local Network content (ABC, FOX, etc), as well as get some of their special channels (Animal Planet, Hallmark, Nat Geo).

I wanted ease of use and very high definition video and sound. I decided to pay up front and build the best home system I could since I would be saving thousands a year by getting rid of DirectTV. All Hardware is 4K capable including HDMI cables so I wanted APPs to match the HW.

For local OTA channels, I have a quality roof antenna and HDHOMERUN Dual and Quad tuners giving us 6 turners connected to our home Network.

Our home Network is solid with decent speed. My DVR Hardware and Streaming device is an Android base, Nvidia Shield Pro. The device has two USB-C ports for fast data transfer and I have two 2-Terabyte Solid State drives connected for DVR storage.

The Nvidia Shield came with PLEX DVR so I began our cord cutting experience with PLEX as our DVR service. After one year I grew to hate PLEX. It never came close to the DirectTV DVR service. They have no direct customer service (everything is forum base) and you see many issues and complaints with no comments from PLEX. I am not a Network Engineer but have basic knowledge. It seemed PLEX was made for, and required very high technical skills but even when it worked it wasn’t reliable. PLEX would release an update and the App would again stop working.

I begin researching DVR Servers again, both HW and App based solutions. All solutions had draw backs. Most HW solutions didn’t meet my video/audio requirements and still required a costly subscription service.

I had been using the Channels App to view OTA content for the past year. The guide was basic and occasionally would only show a few hours forward but it worked and was free.

Now to the Channels DVR Server review. I have been using the App and DVR Service for over two months now and once I was past the installation process, it has been flawless. Please understand that I say flawless as compared to the DirectTV DVR service and coming from a year of misery with PLEX.

I have both HDHOMERUN tuners and Philo (Live streaming Service provider similar to Hulu but ~ $15 a month cheaper) connected to Channels DVR Server. I am using Philo’s TV Everywhere capabilities to have most of the Philo’s channels added to the Channels DVR guide.
This allows me to see all my OTA channels and almost all live TV channels from Philo on my CHANNELS DVR guide, which allows me to watch and RECORD channels like Discovery, Science, AMC, Animal Planet, National Geographic and many more.

Channels DVR Server, with the HDHOMERUN tuners and using TV Everywhere using Philo has really duplicated my DirectTV experience.

I was paying ~$130/month for DirectTV (~$1500/year).

Channels DVR Server yearly subscription- $80. Philo monthly subscription- $20 ($240/year). I do have Amazon Prime but I pay for this for free and quick shipping but we stream a lot. This cost ~120/year but I don’t include this in my cord cutting cost as I’ve paid for it for years before leaving DirectTV. I also have access to Netflix through my daughter’s account, so my total annual cost to leave DirectTV is $320 ($440 if you include my Prime cost). It will take me another few months to recover the Hardware cost, as I replace our TV, (65” top of the line 4K) A/V Receiver (4K), two HDHOMERUN tuners, 2x - SSD. Nvidia Shield Pro and all cables.

Last note, PLEX tried to provide services way beyond content viewing and DVR services which is why I believe the App was so complex and unreliable. Channels DVR Server, although may never replace a top of the line TIVO box plus subscription service, or DirectTV or Comcast DVR Service and appliances, it it so very close for significantly less cost. I couldn’t be happier and hope they do not go down the same road as PLEX trying build a platform that provides more than content viewing and recording. It’s other capabilities like commercial skip are all add-on pluses.

I read another reviewer complaint about the Commercial Skip button not spelling out the entire words. This type of issue IMO, are nits. I love this App and Service.

3 Likes

I too love Channels, and through no fault of theirs, the TV Everywhere capability is such a letdown, due to only 2 channel stereo and 1080 (at best). Makes a sweet setup like that way less valuable/useful since the AV receiver or TV won't ever really get to stretch its legs - so to speak!

Actually, now that I think about it, why bother with 4K at all? None of the sources above support it.

HDHomeRun Prime, with HD HomeRun Connect 4K will get you 5.1 and 4k (broadcast if available), that setup is as close to perfection as currently possible, Now if only they'd let customers tweak the UI color scheme.

Your point about $$$ saved for great service is a good one. Nice write-up. Thanks for sharing.

CHANNELS DVR guide, which allows me to watch and RECORD channels like Discovery, Science, AMC, Animal Planet, National Geographic and many more

Philo doesn't have Nat Geo.

Hi Richard,

Yes you are correct. Nat Geo is not on Philo. Philo is more for my wife and daughter as their content covers some of my wife and daughter favorite channels that they loved from DirectTV.

I forgot that I also got a free year subscription to Disney plus when I upgraded our TV. That eventually cost me an additional $80/yr subscription fee that I forgot to add in my previous write up. Turns out Disney plus has National Geographic (another of my wife’s favorite and as the saying goes “happy wife, happy husband”.

Anyway, sorry for the Nat Geo mistake on my previous write up. Disney plus doesn’t support TV Everwhere, unless you have a cable or DirectTV subscription, so Nat Geo can’t be pulled into the guide for Channels DVR Server.

Trakz,

Software (APPs or Networking standards) have the same issues as HW. The weakest link determines the highest quality. In hardware, you can have the highest quality components but if one HDMI cable is not 4K capable, you won’t get 4K, even if the content playing was recorded in 4K. 4K content is limited but more is coming. The Weakest link concept is always problematic. First the content has to be recorded in 4K, then the content provider (ABC, FOX, Philo, DirectTV, cable provider, Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc.) needs to stream or broadcast in 4K.

The better OTA channels (FOX, NBC etc.) currently only broadcast in 1080i. DirectTV and cable providers try to save bandwidth so their content from these same broadcasters is “clipped” 1080i. Philo streams 720 in stereo only so the limitations of the TV Everywhere standard is something my wife and daughter are already okay with. Technology enhancements are coming. Standards and content will be improved, making 4K more mainstream.

I believe broadcasters will begin rolling out ultra high quality OTA broadcast in the coming year. Luckily for us with current HDHOMERUN tuners, they are required to continue broadcasting using current 1080i standard for 5 more years on a sub channel so our current tuners will be good for a while.

Once you cut the cord, you realize the cost of DirectTV or Cable came with the expertise of their engineers and User Interface developers. You turned on your TV and it just worked. Now someone else has to provide that expertise and as I’ve learned, even with the internet, becoming knowledgeable enough to setup and maintain this world of networking content was a struggle until I found Channels DVR Server. I’ve finally got to a point where I can turn on my devices and they just work.

I think you buried the lede here. Component tech specs are redundant since none of the sources you mention support 4k.

Building the TV watching environment should probably focus on the weakest link? Certainly, by the time 4k is widely available, there will be newer, fancier, more capable hardware on the market. ATSC 3.0 with Internet integration is the next frontier, and nobody has scratched the surface of those capabilities just yet.

I'm not sure I agree here. The original TiVo's supported DirecTV, and it wasn't until CableCard became somewhat widely available that they switched to supporting that decoding platform. I've never used DirecTV or Cable UI implementations. It's always been something I've sought to avoid. I would think many others are also ardent avoiders of the awful consumer engineering and UI choices of the media providers.

Welcome to the dark side :slight_smile: