HANDS-ON REVIEW: Channel Master Stream+ OTA DVR

There are more options than ever for watching live TV. You can pay for a traditional cable or satellite subscription, you can use a live streaming service, or you can go antenna-only. No matter what you do, you have great options and you can almost name your price, depending on what you’re willing to give up.

One great option is an antenna DVR. With an antenna DVR you can record all of the top rated shows, pause live TV just as you always have, and enjoy all the benefits of 21st century living while paying next to nothing. Some antenna DVRs ask you to pay a monthly fee for guide data, others rely on the free data that’s available with over-the-air broadcasts, and some use a hybrid that lets the manufacturer charge you a one-time fee for enhanced guide information.

The problem with antenna DVRs, until recently, has been the lack of a “sweet spot.” Inexpensive tuners with low-end DVR features are great, but hard to use. High-value, easy-to-use systems often come with high price tags.

Channel Master’s new Stream + OTA DVR aims to deliver an easy-to-use antenna DVR with high value and a price you can live with.  Did they come through? Let’s take a look.

The hardware

The DVR itself is a little larger than an Echo Dot and follows the new trend of having stuff that’s small but interesting looking. While it’s not going to fit nicely in your 1990s style equipment rack, it is going to look great sitting next to your TV.

Little touches abound here like the Channel Master logo in black-on-black. Very classy.

For such a small device you get a lot of stuff on the back. The USB 3.0 port is used for a removable hard drive or flash drive. You’ll need that to enable DVR function. You get an optical port just in case you need it for a sound bar, plus wired networking. That’s a bit surprising but I’m glad to see it. And, of course, power, antenna in, and HDMI out.

The functions

As an OTA DVR, you’ll find that this is just top notch. Hook up any size hard drive or flash drive into it and you get full DVR functions. The interface is clean and easy to understand.

This is a very easy to understand guide that is as good or better than you find in a lot of traditional cable boxes. There’s barely anything to comment on here because it’s so easy to understand. You do get a separate in-guide entry for movies and TV shows through Google Play. More on that later.

With a USB drive attached you can very easily set up future programs to record. From what I can see, the recordings follow the series, not the time slot, so just like a cable or satellite DVR you’ll never miss a show. There are two tuners which may not be enough for really hardcore viewers but it will probably work for most folks.

You can pause and rewind live TV. This “progress bar” looks clean and is pretty consistent with what you’d expect from any DVR.

Unlike a lot of low-priced DVRs, you get a Bluetooth remote that has dedicated buttons that actually makes sense. There’s even a button for voice search.

Behind the screens: Android TV

The Stream+ is powered by Android TV, meaning it’s also a very capable 4K streaming box. You get virtually all the apps you’re accustomed to plus easy set up from your Android device or PC.  There are two noticeable apps missing — Netflix and Prime Video — but I’m told they are coming soon. In the meantime, you can cast using any Android device quite easily.

The setup process

Here’s a video of the setup process. The actual setup takes about 25 minutes, but this video hits the highlights.

Is this product worth it?

This is a good quality box that competes well against TiVo and Amazon. It’s fairly similar to the AirTV Player. Both use the same operating system but the guide and record implementations are different. Also, the AirTV is larger and has an external tuner. It’s up to you if the smaller form factor is worth it. The AirTV is focused on delivering not only live TV, but also Sling. You can use Sling with this device as well but the implementation is different.

As a simple antenna DVR with nothing more to buy, this is an excellent choice. It give you a great streaming experience and voice search, as well as really good antenna TV features. Shop for it now at Solid Signal.