Cutting the cable can be done, but one of the toughest challenges is replacing live TV programs, like sports and local news. We've long been advocates of over-the-air (OTA) HDTV to fill the gap, but there aren't many OTA DVRs and the existing models have significant drawbacks, including the Channel Master CM-7000PAL we reviewed earlier this year.
Channel Master has announced a new over-the-air DVR this morning, the Channel Master TV, combining TV recording functionality with the ability to stream Vudu. Unlike TiVo, the Channel Master TV does not require a monthly subscription, instead relying on free electronic program guide information already contained in over-the-air TV signals. The Channel Master TV also looks to sport a redesigned user interface, a much-needed upgrade over the rough-looking interface of the CM-7000PAL.
The Channel Master TV has a built-in 320GB hard drive, capable of recording 35 hours of HD content. There are also two USB ports (one on the front, one on the back) and Channel Master says you'll be able to play digital media files off them, although there's no file format information yet. The three antennas on the back of the player are for the Channel Master TV's built-in Wi-Fi connection, so you won't need an Ethernet connection in your living room to stream Vudu.
As much as we like seeing expanded over-the-air recording options, the Channel Master TV has a lot working against it. We're shocked that the Channel Master TV doesn't included Netflix support, considering it's available on nearly ever home theater product these days. And while Vudu is excellent for streaming movies, we've found the competing Amazon Instant service to be even better for cord-cutters, with its extensive selection of TV content.
Channel Master also didn't mention any improvements to our biggest criticism of the CM-7000PAL, which is that it works more like a VCR than a modern DVR. Most DVRs offer name-based recordings, so you can tell the machine to record all the new episodes of "30 Rock," and the DVR will adjust its recording schedule accordingly. With the CM-7000PAL, all you can tell it is to record every Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC. It won't skip repeats, automatically extend for hour-long special episodes, or adjust if the show changes its time slot.
The $400 price is also likely to be a sticking point, especially budget-minded buyers looking to reduce their costs by cutting their cable subscription. It lacks the monthly fee of a TiVo, but it's still a large upfront cost and it will take a while before the cable bill savings will pay for the box.
Even with those drawbacks, the Channel Master TV looks to be a significant upgrade over the Channel Master CM-7000PAL, which has found a sizable niche even with its limitations. We're looking forward to getting our hands on a review sample to see how it holds up as an everyday DVR.