Recording television is something we’ve gotten used to, first with VHS, and then with DVRs. Being able to record our favorite TV shows and movies have allowed us freedom from the strict routine of programmed television. No longer are we required to be home and free on a certain day of each week, at a specific time.
But what if you want to record television but don’t have a DVR? Maybe your DVR broke, or maybe you gave it up when you decided to become a cord cutter and ditch expensive cable television. Whatever the reason, it’s still possible to save your favorite shows for later viewing.
You may think recording without a DVR is impossible, or at least difficult, but it doesn’t have to be.
Here’s how you can record television without a DVR.
What Is a DVR?
A DVR is a digital video recorder. It’s a device that records video. Usually, that video gets stored locally on a hard drive.
If you’re a cord-cutter you’re probably familiar with DVRs. Your cable company probably offered one as a package deal.
Even if you’re not a current or former cable subscriber, you may have heard of popular DVRs such as the Dish Hopper, or the Amazon Fire TV Recast. If you’re old enough, you may even remember TiVo, which debuted in 1999 and become one of the first DVRs.
While some features may vary from one device to the next, they all have a similar job: recording video for later viewing.
Can You Record Without a DVR?
You absolutely can record TV without a DVR. There are a few different ways of doing that. We’ll look at that in a moment, examining it from both the hardware and software sides, as well as provide some recommendations for what you will need to get started.
First, let’s get to the why, as in, “Why even record without a DVR?”
Why Record Without a DVR?
For many people, DVRs are a convenience. They can record dozens or hundreds of hours of content for later viewing.
It’s true that DVRs can be convenient for recording. However, no solution is perfect, and that includes DVRs. Despite their convenience, they have their drawbacks.
Some DVRs only work with one provider. If you switch cable providers, your old DVR is useless. You likely can’t transfer your old DVR to your new provider.
In addition, DVR fees are usually included in your monthly cable bill. Basically you “rent” the device and pay a little each month, on top of your regular subscription price and any other fees.
For example, take Xfinity. They charge a DVR fee of $10 per month. That’s just for the DVR and doesn’t include the price of a set-top box (or a second one if you want television in multiple rooms in your house) and the price of your channel package.
Not every cable package will have all of the channels you want either, so you may have to pay extra for add-on channels. Plus, if you get a DVR from your cable provider, you will get locked into a contract, often for a year or two.
So while DVRs may be convenient, they’re not for everyone. You may want to record television without one.
If you’re price conscious or don’t see the value in paying for channels or equipment you won’t use, recording without a DVR is the right solution. Or maybe you want to record some live television and combine it with a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu.
Either way recording without a DVR is something to consider.
Record From Your Smart TV to a USB Device
Some TVs allow for recording directly to a USB-connected device. This could be something as simple as USB sticks.
Check your TV’s manual to determine if it has PVR, or personal video recorder, software built into it. If so, adding a USB device and using the PVR software will allow you to record to a USB drive.
For a couple of examples, let’s look at two of the bigger manufacturers in the TV space, LG and Samsung. LG smart TVs have this recording option. So do Samsung smart TVs.
Each manufacturer calls it something slightly different. LG calls their recording function “Time Machine.” Newer models may call it “Time Machine II.” Either way, the functions are similar.
Samsung calls their built-in PVR “Timeshift” or “Extended PVR”.
Either way, the function is essentially the same. You press a button on your remote and can record a program or schedule a recording for later.
If you haven’t upgraded to a new television in a while and are looking to skip the DVR, this may be the easiest option for you. You can purchase a new smart TV and use it for recording.
PVR boxes have been superseded by DVRs, but functionally they are largely the same. PVRs generally are used for longer-term storage, while DVRs often only store recordings for a set amount of time.
A PVR box records programs to an internal hard drive, just like a DVR. Depending on the manufacturer, some may be able to record to a DVD. Others allow for an external device to be connected, which means you can expand your storage.
One PVR box available is the Hauppauge 1512 HD-PVR 2. There’s no internal storage on the device, but you can connect it to a PC for storage.
The Hauppauge 1512 HD-PVR 2 also comes bundled with some software. The first is the Hauppauge Capture software. This allows for recording video, basic editing, uploading to YouTube, and adding a logo to videos.
The second piece of software is WinTV v10. WinTV allows for live TV playback and recording.
If you’re looking for a cheaper, no-frills option, ViewTV’s AT-263 is an inexpensive solution. There’s no internal storage, but that’s easily solved by plugging in a USB drive.
Another option for recording from a TV is a DVD recorder. Most DVD recorders can transfer footage from a VHS to a DVD. However, some can record from TV if you have a tuner.
Most manufacturers are no longer making DVD recorders for the U.S. market. You may have to find one used and hope it works. Alternately, you could pick up one of the few ones that are still being made new, such as the Toshiba DR430 DVD recorder.
Check to make sure your DVD recorder has a tuner built-in. Not all do, so you may have to purchase a tuner in addition to your recorder.
The downside of DVD recorders is that they record to DVD only, and not to a hard drive. That means you will have to buy discs to record to. It also means swapping out discs frequently.
If you plan on doing a lot of recording, this isn’t your best option. However, since many DVD recorders were designed to transfer footage from VHS tapes to DVDs, you can use yours for multiple purposes.
If you have old VHS tapes lying around or want to transfer home movies to a newer format, a DVD recorder is worth looking into.
Tablets seem like an unlikely source for recording television since many of them lack an input source. However, it’s possible with the right hardware and software to stream and record live channels on your tablet.
Hauppauge’s Cordcutter device does exactly what you would expect from the name; it allows for streaming live television to up to two devices at once.
Pair the device with the free Hauppauge myTV app (a free download for Android and iOS devices) to watch and pause your live television. By plugging a USB thumb drive into the Cordcutter, you can enable recordings.
You could also pair your tablet with a streaming TV and cloud DVR app like Stremium (formerly Fitzy). The app is a free download from the Amazon store.
You can choose to watch a few dozen free live channels in the app or pay $55 a month for Stremium plus. There’s also a free trial.
So far that’s nothing too different from traditional live streaming channels. However, for only $5 a month, you can add on 25 hours of cloud storage. That may not be as much as you would get from a traditional DVR device, but it’s an affordable solution if you don’t mind the storage limitations.
Kodi and Android Boxes
Kodi TV is a free open-source home theatre software. In a previous article, we talked about Kodi TV addons and how to enable them.
If you follow that advice and set everything up correctly, you can use PVRs like the HDHomeRun DVR add-on to turn your Kodi-powered device into a makeshift DVR.
If you don’t currently have a Kodi-ready device, check out our guide to the best Android boxes for Kodi. There you can compare different Android boxes and find the right one for your needs.
By installing Kodi on an Android device and using a PVR plugin, you’re able to create your DVR box.
Tablo makes over the air (OTA) devices for cord-cutters. Tablo devices help you watch, stream, and record over the air channels. They are DVR devices but without the expensive cable package and storage.
Tablo devices are broken down into a few different categories. Their tv connected devices are for those that watch primarily on one screen. These devices come with a remote and more closely resemble a traditional DVR.
Their network-connected devices allow you to stream your over-the-air channels to any devices in the house via WiFi or Ethernet. The Tablo Dual Lite OTA DVR offers up to 2 live stream TV channels at once.The Tablo Quad offers up to four live channels at once. It also offers an automatic commercial skip option, but this requires a subscription of $2 a month or $20 a year. However, there is a 30-day free trial.
The Dual and Quad offer 128 GB and 1 TB of storage, but the “lite” versions of the Dual and Quad, as well as the Dual and Quad HDMI models have no onboard storage.
However, all versions support an additional 8 TB of external storage. It can be confusing which model offers storage and which doesn’t, so refer to the Tablo article on storage for a full breakdown.
Turn Your PC Into a DVR
It may sound strange, but it is possible to turn your PC into a DVR. A DVR is essentially a way of interfacing with a TV signal and recording that signal on a storage device. You can make a computer do the same thing.
This is a more technical and pricier option than others on this list. However, if you’re tech-savvy or aren’t afraid to learn, making your PC into a DVR offers you a great deal of flexibility (and potentially a lot of storage).
For one, you can easily expand and upgrade your storage on your computer. It’s also easy to manage and move files, which is something that other methods may not offer.
It’s also a great way of repurposing an older PC you may have lying around the house. If you’re not using it for anything else, why not convert it to a homemade DVR?
There are a few pieces of hardware you will need to make this happen. Since this is a bit more complicated than other methods, let’s break it down into the different parts you will need.
First and foremost you will need a computer. Your computer doesn’t have to be extremely powerful, but it should be up to date. Make sure your OS, or operating system, is up to date.
The most important aspect of choosing a computer is storage space. The higher quality of the recording, the more space will be required.
A one-hour video can be anywhere from 700 MB to 2 or even 3 GB. The file size will vary depending on the quality.
A larger hard drive will allow you to record more high-definition videos. It will also allow you to keep your recordings for a longer amount of time. Otherwise, you will have to manually manage your recordings, choosing which ones to keep and which ones to delete once your hard drive begins filling up.
You can either opt for a higher capacity internal hard drive or choose an external one to add more storage space.
Either one you will likely need a hard drive that has terabytes, not gigabytes, of storage. One example is the Western Digital My Book, which ranges in size from 8 to 18 TB, and starts at $129. This external drive is large, but can easily be hidden under a desk or behind a computer for a more discrete-looking space.
If you desire something sleeker and more modern than a traditional desktop PC, check out all-in-one computers. As the name implies, all-in-one computers house everything in one unit, meaning the monitor and desktop tower have been combined into one unit.
If space is an issue, or you want a cleaner look for your space, an all-in-one computer is a good solution.
TV Tuner Capture Card
You know how televisions used to have antennas that would capture the signal and display it on your television? That’s basically what a TV tuner capture card does, except for your PC. The TV Tuner capture card is what will convert antenna signals into a viewable on-screen program.
Most are internal, or PCI-express capture cards. These cards are installed directly on your computer’s motherboard.
There are a lot of tv tuner capture cards available. Prices will vary depending on what you want.
An affordable option is the Hauppauge WinTV-quad HD tuner card. It has four tuners, allowing you to record up to four shows at once. It’s reasonably priced at just over $100.
Another option is the TBS6704 ATSC/Clear QAM Quad Tuner PCIe Card. It’s more expensive than the Hauppauge WinTV-quad HD, but it supports Linux.Before you buy your tuner, check what channels are available in your area. Our TV station locator guide tells you how to do that. It’s a free, easy way to see what’s available in your region.
For capturing the signal you will need some kind of software. Your capture card may already have some software included. If not, you will need to find some third-party software.
You have a few different options available for screen capturing software. Let’s look at one of the more affordable screen readers, Wondershare UniConverter.
Wondershare makes a variety of different PC utilities. Their UniConverter software is an affordable solution for both MAC and PCs and is easily available on Amazon.
UniConverter allows for full-screen recording at 1:1 quality, meaning there is no quality loss when recording. It also has a few other handy features like video compression and conversion.
This is a great feature if you want smaller file sizes. You can compress a video to a smaller size if you want to save space on storage or transfer it to a mobile device with limited storage space. A high-definition video can be converted to a lower resolution like 1080p or 720p.
Here’s a brief overview of how recording with UniConverter works. First, buy and download Wondershare UniConverter. Then launch the Screen Recorder function, found on the left menu.
From there, select the Screen Recorder button that appears on the center of the screen and set your capture area from the recording window. This will tell the software what part of the screen to capture. You can either set it to fullscreen to capture the entire picture or select custom and input your dimensions.
Next, select your sound output option. This can be found under the system audio option.
Now set your video options (frame rate, quality, format) by clicking the settings option (the gear icon below the capture area drop-down option). Now you’re ready to hit the red Record button to begin recording your screen.
There are a few other options you can play around with, like the annotation and video editing tools, but that’s the gist of it.
If you’re using a different screen recorder, odds are the setup is similar. Buy and download the software, launch it, adjust your settings, and begin recording.
So What’s the Best Way of Recording Television Without a DVR?
As you can see, there are a few different ways of recording television without a DVR. What’s the best method? That’s going to depend on what you prefer.
Take into consideration your budget. Think about how much television you will want to record, and how you will manage files. Also, think about ease of use and who will be using the technology.
The best DVR-free option for recording television will be whatever method works best for your household’s specific needs.
Check Out Antenna Junkies for More Cord-Cutting Advice
Be sure to check out other articles on Antenna Junkies for more cord-cutting information. We have articles on how to watch live television on your computer, which can help you find television to record.
If you still haven’t decided to cut the cord and change your relationship with cable, we can help. It’s an easy decision to make. Our guide will give you a look at what cord-cutting is like in 2022. We’ve made it easy to make the decision.