Amazon's inexpensive Fire TV sticks and streamers are already favorites of cable TV cord-cutters, but the company's latest Fire TV box demands more of an investment, starting at $230. What it delivers afterward, however, is totally free.
The Amazon Fire TV Recast is an antenna DVR, designed to hook up to an over-the-air TV antenna and pull in your local, free TV broadcasts. In most areas that includes live local news, sports like NFL football and network shows from ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS, among others. (Note: CBS is the parent company of CNET.)
Unlike a traditional DVR, like TiVo or the one you get from your cable or satellite company, it doesn't output those TV broadcasts and recordings directly to just a single TV.
Instead, it streams them to other devices, including:
That means you can watch those antenna shows, live or recorded, pretty much anywhere -- on a TV connected to a Fire TV device or on a phone or tablet running the free Fire TV app. Amazon says you'll need at least one Fire TV device to watch on a television. Streaming works either inside the home, on your home network, or outside the home, anywhere there's an Internet connection (Wi-Fi, cellular or whatever). You can stream to two devices simultaneously.
The Recast doesn't look like much, but that's fine because you can stash it out of sight. It doesn't need to be seen or accessed to work. That's another advantage over a traditional antenna connection: You're not bound to the TV, so you can set it up in an attic or elsewhere that the reception is better without having to run long antenna wires. The Fire TV app has a feature to help place your antenna for the best reception.
The box connects to your home network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and Amazon says it "delivers the most reliable video streams over Wi-Fi of any over-the-air DVR."
You use the app to stream live or recorded shows and to schedule recordings. Control happens via the app, either on Fire TV or on your phone or tablet, and there's a channel guide included.
This being a Fire TV device, control can also happen with Alexa. Link it with a Dot or other Echo device and you can say stuff like, "Alexa, open channel guide" or, "Alexa, record The Good Place" into thin air. You can also issue voice commands using a Fire TV remote or Echo Show.
The fact that antenna broadcasts are free and generally high-quality makes them popular among cord-cutters. Of course, live TV services like DirecTV Now, Fubo TV, Hulu, PlayStation Vue and YouTube TV offer local channels via streaming too, but they're definitely not free, and don't offer local channels everywhere (and none of them have PBS).
The Recast isn't the first networked antenna DVR either. The AirTV is a $120 version made by a subsidiary of satellite broadcaster Dish Network, which also owns the Sling TV service. It's cheaper, but doesn't include a hard drive. Other competitors with network capabilities include Plex's DVR (in combination with an antenna tuner), Tablo (which requires a monthly fee for many features, including out-of-home streaming) and HDHomeRun. Meanwhile, TiVo and the Channel Master DVR+ and Stream+ are OTA DVRs for single TVs.
The Amazon Fire TV Recast comes in two sizes. The base version has two tuners so it can record two different channels at once, while the larger version has four tuners for up to four simultaneous recordings.
It ships Nov. 14, with preorders starting now. Look for a CNET review soon.
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