Amazon Fire TV Recast review: One of the best cord-cutter companions yet

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The Good The Amazon Fire TV Recast antenna DVR doesn't charge any monthly fees. Its sophisticated program guide fits live TV channels seamlessly into the Fire TV interface. Setup is easy and out of home streaming to your phone works well. Picture quality was perfectly good and performance was more reliable than streaming live TV services. You don't need a Prime membership to use it, though that helps.

The Bad It's more expensive initially than many antenna TV options. You need a Fire TV device attached to your TV, and can only watch on two devices at once. Alexa search isn't as dependable as manually using the channel guide, and the required Fire TV menu system pushes you toward Amazon content.

The Bottom Line The Amazon Fire TV Recast DVR makes it easier than ever to watch free live and recorded over-the-air TV without monthly fees.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Ecosystem 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Value 7

If you're an experienced cable TV cord-cutter you might be familiar with names like Tablo, SiliconDust and Channel Master. They all make DVRs that record the free, over-the air (OTA) TV you can get in most areas of the country by putting up an antenna. Outside the world of cutting-edge cord cutting, however, they're hardly household names.

You know what is a household name? Amazon. The massive retailer's first streaming DVR, the Fire TV Recast ($230 at Amazon), gives the niche (but growing) OTA TV audience a great, new option, and could help propel cord cutting even further into the mainstream.

The Recast isn't cheap at $230 to start, but Amazon's advantage is that you don't need to pay anything to get guide data -- unlike Tablo and DVR stalwart TiVo, for example. Sure, Amazon wants you to spend money on its digital content and Prime membership, but as long as you have a basic (free) Amazon account, a home network with broadband Internet connection, an antenna and a Fire TV Stick (starting at $35), you don't need to pay anything beyond the starting price to use Recast. That's a refreshing change in a world increasingly geared toward milking you of another few bucks every month.

The Recast stands above most of the other options at the price. The Channel Master DVR+ is discontinued and its Stream+ replacement still needs work, the TiVo Bolt OTA is finnicky and costs $500 all in -- and neither work with more than one TV simultaneously. The cheaper AirTV comes closest to competing with the Recast, but it doesn't include an integrated DVR (it's DIY USB hard drive). And of course live TV streaming services like YouTube TV, DirecTV Now and the rest have their advantages, but start at $35 per month if you want local channels.

If you want an enjoyable, versatile TV-viewing experience on your TVs at home and mobile devices, but don't want to pay every month for the privilege, the Amazon Fire TV Recast is currently the cord-cutting product I'd recommend.

What's in the box?


Connect a $10 indoor antenna to the Recast and you're ready to go

Sarah Tew/CNET

Did you know that the modern "black box" flight data recorder used on passenger jets isn't black -- or a box? Instead it's shaped like a piston, and it's orange. However, if I were to imagine what it should look like, it would resemble the Amazon Fire TV Recast. This thing is black, it is a box, and it's a recorder.

This Recast is designed to live out of sight somewhere near the OTA antenna it's attached to, so the design doesn't matter as much. It's so indistinct that I only realized I'd placed it upside down when writing this very paragraph -- the top is black plastic with "Amazon" on it, while the bottom is a grippy rubber. If dimensions are important for whatever reason, it's 7.1-inches square by 2.9-inches high -- or the same size as a Mac Mini. There is one operation LED on the front that glows red when it's recording, white when the device is on, or blue if there's a connectivity problem.


Coax, ethernet and USB on the back

Ry Crist/CNET

Most people will connect to the Recast via Wi-Fi, as the best TV reception in your house probably isn't anywhere near your router. For others, there is an Ethernet port on the back. Also on the rear is a USB port, but it can't be used for expanded storage yet (though the functionality is coming); however it can be used to power a tuner amplifier. You'll also find the coaxial antenna connector on the rear. Simply connect an external antenna (see our favourite HD TV antenna here) and fire up the Fire TV app.

Unfortunately, the Recast's contributions to Fire TV's menu aren't front and center. The "Live TV" tile will appear in your Recent bar at the top -- with a helpful Time Elapsed icon to show you how far the last-tuned channel is through its current program -- but most of the menu real estate is devoted to app icons and Amazon's streaming shows. You'll have to scroll five rungs down the menu ladder to find more live TV options, while the tiny "DVR" menu item in the main top menu serves as the primary gateway to the Recast's full functions.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Fire TV Recast is available in two main versions -- two tuners with 500GB ($230) or four tuners with 1TB ($280) -- but the company also bundles the 500GB version with a $50 Fire TV Stick 4K and an indoor HDTV antenna for $250. While you can use the Recast with just a tablet or a phone, it's really designed to be used alongside a Fire TV. They're cheap -- you already spent $200 on this, just get one. It's worth noting that you can only watch live TV or recordings on two different devices at once.

The Fire TV mobile app offers your content front and center with "On Now" appearing as the first page. Recordings are next followed by the Remote for controlling your Fire Stick. Users may find they use the app more than the remote, especially if they're watching remotely.

Ready, aim, Fire TV

I've been testing DVRs for many years, and the Recast doesn't behave like a first-gen product. It feels pretty fully formed right out of the gate, and it integrates seamlessly into the Fire Stick's interface.