November 19, 2018
Amost two years ago I "took the plunge" and joined the cord-cutting ranks with a Playstation Vue subscription. I have been happy overall with Vue, but the local channels have always been the question mark. The networks that are available do not work the same as the other Vue channels (for example, in my area ABC and NBC has content that is delayed by anywhere from a day to a week; it is impossible to predict what will be on when, and has been completely frustrating). I am a big Olympics fan, so this last winter when the 2018 games were on NBC, I invested in a cheapie TV tuner and recorder that accepted an external USB drive to serve as a DVR. I had a 10-year old drive, plugged it in, and it sort of worked some of the time. The interface was terrible, the video and audio would be a couple of seconds out of synch, and the recording would mysteriously just stop sometimes, but it was good enough to limp through enjoying two weeks of Olympics. So when I saw Amazon was finally releasing a solution for the local channels problem, I was thrilled and immediately pre-orded the 1TB model. I don't really need 4 tuners (which means the device can record 4 stations at the same time), but 150 hours of space is nice (and I have no doubt will fill up quickly). I have unboxed and setup the unit and been using it heavily for about a week.
- The unit is much smaller than expected; I had myself convinced it would be the size of a home theater receiver, but it is just 7" x 7" x 2" (just a little bit bigger than a Wii console, for example). Add the fact that the box can bet setup wirelessly anwhere in a house (recommended to be close to the antenna which should go on an upstairs wall or window), and you have a nice sleek setup. I set mine up in an upstairs bedroom and have the box hidden under a bed.
- Embraces the Amazon ecosystem; I have a Fire Box and Fire Sticks for the TVs in my house, and this unit "feeds" the signal to all of these. In addition, I have an iPhone 7, which can also be used to watch TV in the house OR remotely anywhere. So in other words, I can now watch live or recorded local TV on my phone (no more missed football games if they are only on local TV). AND best of all, Alexa / Echo really works well for setting up recordings (just simply hold down your Fire remote button to "talk" to Alexa, say "record Saturday Night Live", and next thing you know SNL shows up in my future recordings list!
- Setup is easy for anyone with just a little technical proficiency. Basically, first you download the app for your phone (search App Store for "Fire TV"), sign in, plug in an antenna to the box (I am using a cheapie one I found on Amazon that I have placed against a window), plug in the power to the box, follow the instructions on the app, and you are up and running. It does take about 10 minutes for the box to calibrate (find the channels, which mine found 22 local channels, with probably 5 that I actually care about being the major networks and PBS), and my Fire Box forced a strange update that claimed to take 2 minutes but locked up the box and remote for about 5 minutes. In summary, just download the app, follow the instructions, and be patient.
- There is a surprisingly good built in program guide (has pictures, thorough descriptions of TV programs, and seems to be very accurate).
- As you would expect, you can truly pause and rewind "live" TV while watching. Obviously you can't fast forward when watching truly "live" TV (I am still waiting on the Amazon Time Machine box).
- Closed Captions works well, even on recordings, and even on the phone app.
- Truly integrated with the Fire Stick (or Fire Box) experience. There is now a "DVR" menu option (at the top of the screen) that just magically showed up on my Fire Box, which is how you access the program guide and recorded programs. When I click on that, I can scroll through and see all of the channels, INCLUDING the ones on my Playstation Vue service. Amazon has truly merged the multiple sources into one convenient location (although one minor annoyance is seeing duplicate programs, one for local channels over the air, and the other for local channels through Vue).
- There truly are no ongoing fees or hidden costs, no subscriptions, and no BS (yippee!).
- UPDATE - I originally stated that a bunch of extra recordings show up for NON first-run episodes. I was corrected on this by others that you can specify to record only new episodes. BUT I have found that this is NOT true. YES you can put the "preference" to first-run, BUT the device still records everything with the title of the show. I now have 27 recordings of Modern Family chewing up my space on the DVR, with no way to ONLY record first run episodes. I am deducting a full star because of this.
- You still are subject to glitches that seem to happen over the airwaves. Every 10 minutes or so my signals seem to drop for maybe half a second and I will see blocks on the screen; this may be a function of signal strength, but regardless it is a hiccup I am not used to seeing frequently with my cable box (or Vue, or Prime Video streaming). Still, it is perfectly acceptable and goes with the territory of "over the air" broadcasts, but is more glitchy than a pure cable stream.
- Slow response time for rewinding and fast forwarding (much slower response time than even streaming Prime Video); honestly my cheapo setup using an ancient hard drive is much faster to pause, rewind, and fast forward. Again, this is something that can probably be improved with a software update.
- For the price, I would have expected a larger drive for the DVR (and suspect within a year Amazon will release a product with double the storage for less money). It wouldn't surprise me if there are some online hacks to come out soon that show how to swap out the drive with a 4TB or 8TB drive. There is a USB port on the device that is not used, and cannot be used for storage (haven't figured out what the port is for, except maybe enablement of future capabilities that would require a USB port).
- When using the app, you cannot schedule recordings or access the full program guide (so cannot see what comes on TV even later the same day); the app ONLY allows you to watch live TV or watch recorded shows.
- You cannot access the device using a web browser on a Mac or PC (I am used to being able to watch Prime Video and Playstation Vue using a web browser, but this feature is not supported for the Recast, at least not yet).
So my initial impression is that the box delivers as promised; although there isn't a true perfect comprehensive alternative to the cable companies, this is one big fat nail in the coffin and combined with other services provides that missing link of an easy-to-use and effective method of watching and recording local TV channels. If I run into issues or have further gripes, I will be sure to update the review. Thanks for reading and happy local TV watching!