The Amazon Fire TV Recast is a wacky gadget. It’s not wacky in that it looks weird. (It’s just a simple black box.) It’s also not wacky because it does wacky stuff. (It’s a DVR for over-the-air TV.) The Recast is wacky because it does this one hyper-specific thing really well. I’m not sure why Amazon even wanted to make it, but serious cord cutters will be glad the company did.
I should emphasize how incredibly focused this thing is. No Netflix or Hulu. No cable. The Recast plugs directly into a TV antenna and can record broadcast TV. There’s a 500-gigabyte model ($230) that has two tuners and can record two programs at a time. There’s also a 1-terabyte model ($280) with four tuners that does four programs at once. For now, you cannot record cable TV content. But if you’re a serious cord cutter, why would you want to?
For someone who spends a lot of time with set-top boxes, the Recast sort of felt like a new toy that could do things my old toys can’t. Amazon sent me the larger 1TB model as well as an Amazon Basics antenna with 50 miles of range, and that meant that I could tune in to 36 channels from my Brooklyn apartment and record up to 150 hours of content through a simple interface on my Fire TV. (A Fire TV device or an Amazon Show is also required to use the Recast which is a little bit annoying, if you don’t already own one.) Once I set up the Recast, a new DVR tab popped up on the Fire TV home screen, and I was recording “The Price Is Right” in no time.
What immediately struck me was how dang easy it is to use the Recast. The intuitive live channel layout looks a lot like the regular Fire TV interface, so I could browse through the live programming in much the same way I’d hunt for a show on Prime Video. However, in addition to the option to watch the program, I could record it. Recorded shows appeared in a library that I could not only access on my TV but also through the Fire TV app on a phone or tablet. It’s kind of silly to be able to watch last night’s local news on the subway, but now I can.
The downsides to the Recast are both varied and convoluted, although I can’t say there’s an obvious dealbreaker. It’s ugly—an ominous black box about the size of two Mac Minis stacked on top of each other. Though it only needs to be plugged in to power and an antenna, so you can easily stash the Recast out of sight. Then, there’s the fact that you’ll need a Fire TV or an Amazon Show to use the DVR. Yet, at $40, a Fire TV Stick is hardly an expensive accessory, especially considering that all of the live TV you’ll be recording is free. The biggest downside, I guess, is the simple fact that you can only record over-the-air TV. That means your choice of DVR-able content is pretty limited.
I should also point out that the Recast isn’t the only device that can record over-the-air television. It might be the slickest one, though. Plex is a popular media server that you can hack to record live TV using a tuner made by HDHomeRun. This system is solid you get it set up with the tuner and an external hard drive, but the experience isn’t as simple as the Recast. The HDHomeRun tuner also offers its own DVR service, and a Premium TV feature that lets you record content from dozens more channels, but it costs $35 a month, which defies the free TV mission. TiVo, likewise, charges a big fee upfront for the box itself, and then there’s a monthly fee. After you buy the equipment, using the Recast to record content from your antenna is just easy and free, forever.
So perhaps the biggest question about the Recast is simply whether or not you want it. If you long, for instance, to watch The Late Show With Stephen Colbert but can never stay up late enough, this is the gadget for you. If you already pay for a service like YouTube TV but find yourself only watching live TV on the major networks, the Recast could save you $40 a month. If you already own a TiVO but are sick of paying the monthly service fee, this new Amazon DVR might be the ticket, and if the hassle of building your own DVR using a HDHomerun is just too great, then this is a dead simple alternative. But remember the limitations. The Recast cannot record cable TV or streaming content, so if you don’t like what your antenna picks up, you won’t have much use for a device that exclusively records that stuff.
The Recast isn’t for everybody, and it’s not pretending to be. It is, however, an appealing proposition for some people. If you love free TV, there’s perhaps no other easier way to stockpile dozens of hours of it for on-demand consumption. Yes, it will take some tinkering with an antenna and a Fire TV, but for around $200, the Recast could make your hyper specific cord cutting dream come true.
- It only records over-the-air content.
- You’ll need an Amazon FireTV device is needed to watch the content.
- It’s one of the simpler do-it-yourself DVR solutions available.