While you can get away with plugging your HDTV Antenna straight into your TV, a separate tuner opens up so many more possibilities. A tuner adds some upfront cost, but also a huge benefit for cord cutters.
Your TV (most likely) has a tuner built-in, but having an external tuner means you can split the signal from the antenna into a number of different channels. Different models of external tuners have different numbers of individual internal tuners and this indicates the number of concurrent streams it can handle.
For example, if you have a four tuner model, you can watch four different channels on four different screens—or watch three different channels on three different screens while using the fourth tuner to record another program. Or, perhaps more practical to most people, you can watch one channel while other people in your household watch different channels (or you record those channels for later viewing).
Tuners will connect to your home network with Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and the manufacturer of the tuner will offer an application to watch the live stream on most platforms. Some tuners have hard drives built-in to record shows, or you can record straight onto your Plex server.
HDHomeRun Connect Quatro ($150)
This unit features four tuners inside, just as the “quatro” name implies. It features one coaxial jack to connect to your antenna and an Ethernet jack to connect to your home network. I’ve personally used this tuner to record and stream live TV with Plex, and it set up in an instant. If you don’t have a Plex subscription, HDHomeRun has a live TV app for every platform imaginable, as well as a website. If you want to use their software as a DVR, however, be forewarned that there is a $35 a year subscription cost that includes both their multi-platform software as well as a TV-guide type system—a Plex Pass will run you $40 a year or $120 for a lifetime subscription and many people prefer their live TV interface and recording system.
The Connect Quatro is currently bundled with a 30-mile OTA antenna, but it’ll work with any antenna. Set up is a breeze: connect the coaxial cable from the antenna, connect it to your network, plug it into power, and let it scan your channels. That’s it!
Amazon Fire TV Recast ($230-$280)
If you’re all in on Amazon’s ecosystem (or Echosystem, if you will), the Fire TV Recast will be a natural fit in your home. The Fire TV Recast comes with either two tuners and a 500GB hard drive (good for 75 hours of recording), or four tuners and a 1TB hard drive (good for 150 hours). There’s a $50 difference between the two, which isn’t trivial, but it’s also not an exorbitant amount if you want to give yourself some spare capacity.
RELATED: Should You Buy the Fire TV Recast?
The real magic comes when you use the Fire TV Recast with other Amazon products. You can stream your live TV feed to any tablet or phone with the Fire TV app, any physical Fire TV, or an Echo Show. You can use Alexa to search for show, open the channel guide, and schedule your recordings. Not sure if an Amazon-only external tuner is for you? We dig a little deeper into the ins and outs of the product here.
Tablo 4-Tuner Digital Video Recorder ($195)
Tablo’s products are great if you want to record straight to your own hard drive without using Plex. This unit has four tuners inside, and includes two USB-A 2.0 ports to hook up to an external hard drive. There’s also an Ethernet port to stream to all your devices, as well as Wi-Fi if you can’t run Ethernet to where your antenna is.
You’ll be able to save your recordings to your external hard drives, then watch them back from the Tablo app available on most platforms. Tablo also lets you automatically skip commercials while playing back a recording, so you don’t have to mess with trying to scrub around on your own.
Hauppage WintTV-DualHD USB TV Tuner ($70)
If you’re doing all of your live TV recording and streaming through your Plex server or another dedicated computer, you don’t need to worry about getting a tuner with network functionality. This model from Hauppage plugs into a spare USB port on your computer, and has two tuners inside so you can watch two programs, record two, or watch one while you record another.
The tuner is a bit bulky compared to other USB accessories, so when I had a similar model, I paired the tuner with one of these USB extension cables. The tuner still worked perfectly, and I didn’t have to worry about my other USB ports being blocked.
Hauppage WinTV-quadHD PCI Express TV Tuner Card ($100)
This product moves your tuner hardware for an external dongle to an internal PC component, so long as you have a spare PCI Express (PCIe) port on your computer’s motherboard. This also has four tuners inside, letting you watch or record two more shows than the USB model. The tuner gets all the power it needs from the PCIe slot, so you don’t need to worry about plugging it into your computer’s power supply.
The tuner works perfectly with Plex, but driver installation is a bit fussy and you’ll need to manually install the drivers after downloading them from Hauppage’s site.
None of these tuners are inexpensive, but the money you’ll save each month on your cable bill will quickly pay for the cost of the hardware. Just pair it with a quality antenna, and enjoy your shows!