The mere existence of Amazon’s Fire TV Recast is a testament to how popular cord-cutting has become.
Over-the-air DVR was once the domain of geeks whose living rooms ran on Windows Media Center. But as more people have dropped cable TV, we’ve seen more user-friendly approaches from the likes of TiVo, Tablo, Plex, Channels, and AirTV. Those options presumably helped inspire the Fire TV Recast, a $230 box that records free broadcast TV channels from an antenna and streams the video to Amazon’s popular Fire TV devices.
The Fire TV Recast is the most mainstream attempt yet at over-the-air DVR, and it shows in Amazon’s simple and polished software. The Recast is also cheaper than most other options due to its lack of subscription fees. Still, Amazon’s DVR has several major limitations—most notably the need for a Fire TV device to watch on televisions—that will make it a non-starter for many cord-cutters. One thing hasn’t changed over the years: The perfect cord-cutting DVR still eludes us.
Unlike a traditional DVR, such as TiVo, the Recast does not plug directly into your television. Instead, you can place it anywhere in the house, and it’ll stream broadcast channels to your Fire TV, Fire tablets, iOS devices, and Android mobile devices over Wi-Fi. (The Recast also has an ethernet port for a wired connection to the router, but you’ll need to supply your own cable.) It’s compatible with any antenna through its coaxial input.
Amazon clearly gave some thought to the potential hassles of a networked DVR. Rather than making users connect an external hard drive, Amazon included a 500GB drive in the $230 dual-tuner model, which is good for 75 hours of HD video. There’s also a 1TB model—that’s enough storage to record 150 hours of HD video—with four tuners for $280. While the Recast does have a USB port that will eventually support external storage, it’s not necessary to record plenty of shows.
The Fire TV mobile app also does a good job with the setup process, offering plenty of guidance on where to place your antenna before connecting the Recast to Wi-Fi and scanning for channels. It even suggests a side of the house for installation, using your location and antenna range to figure out which direction is exposed to the most broadcast towers.
You don’t even need to install any additional apps once the Recast is set up. Any Fire TV devices on the same network will discover the DVR automatically and add a new “DVR” section to the top menu bar. You’ll use the same Fire TV app for mobile streaming that you used for the installation.
All about that interface
The Fire TV Recast’s biggest drawback is that you need a Fire TV device to watch on televisions. Recast is incompatible with non-Amazon media-streaming devices such as Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, game consoles, and most smart TVs. You can mirror an Android phone’s screen to Chromecast, or an iOS device’s screen to Apple TV via AirPlay, but the screen must stay focused on the Fire TV app the entire time. This is not a great workaround.
If you’re all in on Fire TV, on the other hand, the Recast’s integration turns out to be its greatest strength. Instead of jumping into a separate app, you can access live channels, recordings, DVR settings, and a grid-based channel guide straight from the Fire TV’s DVR menu.
Amazon also weaves over-the-air programming into other parts of the Fire TV interface. The “Recents” row on the home screen includes your most recently watched channel, for instance, while the “On Now” row lists all channels. You can even use the Fire TV’s search function to find over-the-air programming by name, actor, director, or genre. Amazon’s grid guide also supports streaming sources such as certain Amazon Channels add-ons (including HBO and Showtime), Pluto TV, and PlayStation Vue. If more sources like Philo and Sling TV were to support that guide, it could become a powerful way to get all your live TV in one place..
The Fire TV Recast also works with Alexa voice commands, so you can use the Fire TV voice remote or an Amazon Echo speaker to launch live channels, play your recordings, open the channel guide, delete recordings, and check on storage space. If you have an Amazon Echo Show smart display, you can play over-the-air programming on that device as well.
Amazon hasn’t ruled out supporting other streaming devices in the future. (The company merely says it won’t comment on future plans.) But even if the Fire TV Recast does eventually work with devices like Roku and Apple TV, the experience will always be better on Fire TV thanks to its home-screen integration and voice controls.