Watching television requires a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) to skip annoying commercials and view desired content on your own schedule. Recording free HD TV via antenna improved in 2014-2015 with the Channel Master CM7500 DVR (which replaced their buggy model CM7400):
- Channel Master DVR+ (Bundle CM7500BDL2): subscription-free digital video recorder with web features and channel guide (buy at Amazon.com to support Tom’s site)
- Simplify your life by watching local HD TV channels for FREE, received over-the-air from an antenna.
- Dropping monthly cable or satellite television DVR service fees will save you more than $50 per month. One-time purchase of a subscription-free CM7500 quickly pays for itself.
- Pause and record live TV and skip commercials on local digital and HD channels, sharp as a tack within cities.
- CM7500 now includes a free TV program Guide of up to 2 weeks downloaded daily from the internet, requiring a wired Ethernet connection (highly recommended).
- Alternatively, you can update the 2-week TV Guide using their CM USB wireless Internet adapter (which was not reliable in my house, despite CM Support tests not showing any problems in their lab) which comes bundled with CM7500BDL2.
- (The earlier model CM7400 required $48/year fee for the 2-week Guide or else a free Guide of just 1-3 days into the future.)
- Attach your own portable 2 TB hard drive with USB 3.0 (avoid USB version 2.0 which may cause noise or skips).
- Fall 2014 firmware fix for CM7500: lets “New Programs Only” record properly (without creating duplicate recordings of Repeat broadcasts of TV shows or series).
With the national transition from analog to digital television forcing our hand in 2012, we dropped our basic cable service and we switched to receivin HDTV the “old-fashioned way” − free over the air via antenna. (Comcast’s new 2012 signal encryption required fees of at least $50+ per month for recording anything using a DVR.)
Update in Fall 2015: Competitor CenturyLink introduced optical fiber to our neighborhood, and we switched back to paid subscription TV using their excellent PRISM service, plus internet and landline telephone, all bundled on the same high-speed optical fiber, much superior to copper cable. As of 2105-2016, we’re enjoying the extra channels and recording capabilities of PRISM for reasonable cost compared to Comcast’s 2014 cable service. (The only negative is that our landline phone no longer works if the power goes out, a rare occurrence.)
Update in 2019: We switched to DirecTV (owned by ATT), who made a better value offer for television service via satellite dish. From 2019-2021, we’ve been very happy with DirecTV service (experiencing fewer blackouts than with cable or fiber service, and superior menus). In 2021, we added HBO Max (which gives HBO channels on DirecTV and also streaming service on a PC, to see “Dune” and other high-quality films released by Warner Brothers).
By connecting to a good antenna (such as a roof-mounted RCA ANT751R Outdoor Antenna Optimized for Digital Reception as we did), the CM7500 DVR can capture locally-broadcast channels in stunning High Definition (HD), without the lossy compression used by cable or satellite TV providers. Our roof antenna works great in Seattle. Use any old TV antenna because HD uses similar broadcast frequencies. Installing in your attic is easiest, but outdoor antennas get better reception (and require proper grounding, which I installed myself after a day of labor).
You’ll need an internet connection plus a good router (such as our ASUS RT-N66U Dual-Band Wireless-N900 Gigabit Router) for secure whole-house internet broadcast or for splitting off multiple Ethernet outlets as I do − handy for on-demand movies and for automatic firmware upgrades of all your devices (Channel Master DVR, Blu-Ray player etc). The better routers have protruding broadcast antennas. For me, the CM7500 worked great using a wired Ethernet connection (strung by me over 50 feet under my house from the Router to the CM7500), but failed unreliably using the CM USB wireless Internet adapter.
Compared to the rival machine Simple.tv 2, the Channel Master DVR+ (CM7500) operates more conveniently and captures better quality at lower lifetime price. TiVo Roamio costs nearly twice as much.
Bonus for photographers
When you upgrade your home TV system, a large LCD LED digital television can now display photographs and videos very impressively via simple HDMI connection to a laptop computer:
- In 2012, we upgraded our living room with a 60-inch 1080P-resolution Samsung digital TV with LED Backlight technology, which displays photographs with excellent tonal impact. Impressive full-array backlight LED LCD television technology with local dimming has noticeably deeper blacks and greater dynamic range than edge-lit LED LCD and is worth the slightly thicker box. LED LCD televisions use half the power of bulky old CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) models.
- Glowing LED televisions show presentations even brighter and sharper than an expensive professional projector such as the Canon Realis SX60 SXGA (1400 x 1050 pixels) LCD Multimedia Projector (2500 ANSI Lumens, 10 lbs).
- Add a 6-channel/speaker surround sound system to complete your great home theater.
Buy gear at Amazon.com to support Tom’s site
Find your locally broadcast TV channels at Antennaweb.org
Check www.antennaweb.org to discover which channels your television tuner is likely to receive within your zip code area in the USA.
For example, with the RCA ANT751R Outdoor Antenna pointed at about 160 degrees from magnetic north, we strongly receive the following Seattle area channels from within zip code 98177:
- 4.1 = KOMO-DT, 720p resolution — ABC network
- 4.2 = KOMO-2
- 5.1 =KING-DT, 1080i resolution — NBC network
- 16.1 =KONG-DT, 480p resolution, sister station to KING-TV, with NBC and additional content.
- 7.1 =KIRO-DT, 1080i resolution — CBS network
- 9.1 =KCTS-DT, 720p resolution — PBS, public television
- 9.2 =VME, KCTS 9, public television
- 9.3 =Create, KCTS 9, public television
- 11.1 =KSTW-DT — CW network
- 13.1 =KCPQ-DT, 720p resolution — FOX network
- 22.1 =KZJO-DT/MNT — MyNetworkTV is a syndication programming service and is a sister company to Fox.
- plus more channels in digital Standard Definition (SDTV, 4:3 ratio, 480i, interlaced NTSC) and High Definition (HDTV, 1080i or 720p resolution).
Installation parts needed for RCA ANT751R Outdoor Antenna Optimized for Digital Reception
- Test the antenna in your attic: if reception works fine, then installation is easier than on the roof. You may need about 50 feet of coaxial cable to reach the TV.
- If mounting on the roof or outdoors:
- Buy enough #10 single-strand copper grounding wire (local hardware store or Home Depot), either bare or insulated, to extend in one unbroken length from the roof antenna, through the 75-ohm coaxial grounding block, to your house ground, in as direct a downward line as possible along the way.
- grounding wire stand-offs from Radio Shack, to hold wire out from house.
- 75-ohm coaxial cable grounding block from Radio Shack.
Legality of home recording for personal use
In the seminal case of Sony v. Universal City Studios (1984), the US Supreme Court held that when consumers record television programming available to them at a given time for personal viewing at a later time (“time-shifting”), they are engaged in a “fair use” of copyrighted material and do not violate the Copyright Act. The fair use applies to personal (non-group), non-commercial viewing.
What are the definitions for HDTV, SDTV, 1080p, 1080i, 720p, and 480p video signals?
- Most HD cable and satellite TV systems provide you with 1080i resolution.
- Some cable and broadcast systems also provide 480p: enhanced-definition or extended-definition television (EDTV, 480p, roughly 852 × 480 pixels). EDTV could potentially be as sharp as a DVD movie at 480p except data will have been lost if the source video was from interlaced 480i, such as from SDTV.
- Over-the-air High Definition Television (HDTV) digital broadcasts have a resolution of 1080i or 720p, which are virtually indistinguishable.
- Expect 1080i (where i means interlaced video signal) television to look identically as sharp as 720p (where p means progressive video signal).
- Factors of perception make interlaced vertical resolution only 50 to 70% of progressive resolution.
- Standard Definition Television (SDTV) is only 480i (about 654×480 pixels, except interlacing almost halves its vertical resolution for moving pictures).
- Blu-Ray Disc movie resolution can be 720p (1280×720 pixels) or 1080p (1920×1080 pixels).
- The older DVD movie format is limited to 480p (720×480 pixels, Digital Video Disc).
- 1080p (with progressive video signal)
- 1080p is not broadcast by any over-the-air channels in the US (as of 2012 and several years to come). If you have a 1080p TV, the commercially broadcast HD signals (currently 1080i or 720p) are converted to 1080p for display.
- 1080p (progressive) is definitely sharper than 1080i (interlaced), but your eyes must be close enough to the screen to tell the difference.
- When viewing a 60-inch TV, you would need to sit closer than about 8 feet to fully appreciate the sharper picture of 1080p compared to 1080i or 720p.
- When viewing a 50-inch TV, you would need to sit closer than about 6.5 feet to fully appreciate the sharper picture of 1080p compared to 1080i or 720p.
- See how sharp 1080p is by looking closely at a 1080p digital camera movie on a 1080p HDTV or 1050-pixel-high computer screen (or sharper).
- Some pay-per-view (PPV) movies now come in 1080p.
Compare prices of basic cable TV to DVR services via satellite and cable
- In our case, as LIMITED BASIC cable subscribers ($15 per month as of October 2012), our old dying VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) wouldn’t be able to handle the digital signals coming in 2013.
- As you might expect, the Standard Definition version of cable signals (SDTV, 4:3 ratio, 480i, interlaced NTSC) looks very fuzzy on our sharp new 60 inch Samsung 1080P digital HDTV with LED Backlight technology. COMCAST/XFINITY wanted $2.70 per month extra to get High Definition (HD TV, most likely 1080i resolution) versions of local channels on top of LIMITED BASIC $15 per month.
- In Seattle (and other major cities), receive at least 5 local High Definition channels FREE over the air via cheap antenna. Any good shows on channels not received can usually be viewed a year later, free on DVD from the Seattle Public Library.
- From COMCAST/XFINITY, the minimum DVR option added $16.99/month on top of a $67.49/month STARTER package for a total of $84.48/month, which is a big jump over LIMITED BASIC.
- The Channel Master CM7500 or CM7400 HDTV DVR can record from a TV antenna but not from XFINITY/COMCAST’s cable boxes required after January 2013 (at least in Seattle).
- Unfortunately, most cable or satellite TV companies scramble channels or use SDV (Switched Digital Video) devices which require a proprietary DVR with a subscription of more than $50 per month. This includes TiVo (which in effect requires a compatible cable TV subscription).
- In October 2012, I tested our LIMITED BASIC cable television service (through XFINITY/COMCAST in Seattle/King County): the Channel Master CM7400 DVR could record just unscrambled Clear QAM channels directly from the cable, but could not record from the new digital box required by XFINITY/COMCAST all-digital conversion slated for January 2013.
- Because we get both internet and television service via the same coaxial cable with COMCAST/XFINITY, dropping LIMITED BASIC television actually did not save any money, due to the lost discount (around $15 per month) of “bundling” internet plus TV. So if you don’t want a DVR, then you might has well keep LIMITED BASIC or EXTENDED BASIC cable TV.
- If you want a DVR, satellite companies such as Dish TV and DIRECTV can cost less than cable but still charge at least $50 per month (after the first 6 months).
- Eliminating your monthly cable or satellite television bill can save more than $50 to $85 per month. That’s over $600 to $1020 per year savings.
- The above facts led us to buy the subscription-free Channel Master DVR recording from an RCA ANT751R Outdoor Antenna. Compared to subscription TV, the new equipment pay for itself in less than a year then starts saving you significant money.
Problems and workarounds for earlier model Channel Master CM7400 1080p HDTV DVR
If you have the earlier version Channel Master CM7400 DVR (Digital Video Recorder), you should upgrade to the next version: Channel Master DVR+ / Bundle CM7500BDL2. By upgrading, you won’t have to deal with the following problems and workarounds:
The Channel Master CM7400 1080p HDTV DVR (2012-2013, no longer sold as of 2014) automatically reads the free over-the-air program GUIDE (schedule) provided for 1-3 days into the future by each station. Once you PROGRAM A SERIES** on a given channel, all future episodes of that TV series automatically record in whatever time slot they appear, searched and recognized literally by name. Alternatively, pressing MENU then the OPTIONS button lets you set up Manual Recording by fixed time slot (like on an old VCR, independent of program name). The optional Premium Guide ($4 per month paid to Channel Master) provides a program GUIDE to identify shows by name two weeks into the future.
** A freezing or “PROGRAM A SERIES” problem (bug) occurs in latest Channel Master software version 1.0.97 and earlier:
- Randomly about every 1-3 weeks, our Channel Master CM7400 freezes operation (often with frozen clock time displayed), requiring a hard Restart/Reset. Other users on Amazon.com have reported this problem where the device hangs. You can Restart/Reset by holding down the power button for 5 seconds until it starts flashing (automatically rebooting) (or by unplugging/re-plugging the power cord). Restart/Reset won’t affect already-recorded programs or future programmed SERIES. (Avoid SETTINGS > “Reset to Factory Defaults,” which erases all recorded programs and series.)
- To work around the problems:
- It may help to #1) subscribe to Premium Guide service and Reset to Factory Defaults or #2) only use Manual Recording (instead of “PROGRAM A SERIES”).
- But a few weeks after Technical Support gave us the useful Premium Guide service as a workaround (#1), the CM7400 forgot all of our programmed future shows until restored by rebooting. We lost 3 days of shows that failed to record. The CM7400 is apparently unreliable once every 1-3 weeks and requires checking every day to see if it requires rebooting in order to record anything in the future with “PROGRAM A SERIES…”
- Final workaround, #3: Put the CM7400 on an electrical timer to automatically power OFF then ON to reboot once per day at 3:00pm (or 5:00am, or when no show is likely to be recorded). This solution leaves it ON all day (except for a timed half hour OFF), requiring more power and wear-and-tear than Standby Mode. This automated reboot fixes the “PROGRAM A SERIES” bug (confirmed after 6 months of testing through June 2013). Although this serious bug casts doubt on Channel Master quality, the dearth of subscription-free DVR companies leaves us with few alternatives. The electrical timer has fixed the problem except for once when the DVR crashed a few hours after the 3:00pm reset, thus failing to record any programmed shows until the next reset.
- It may help to #1) subscribe to Premium Guide service and Reset to Factory Defaults or #2) only use Manual Recording (instead of “PROGRAM A SERIES”).
Because the Channel Master CM7400 DVR creates a lot of heat (even in Standby/Off mode), keep it in an open (not closed) location near your TV. (Fixed in 2014 model CM7500 which runs cooler and more reliably.) After 7 months of use, we enjoy its superior features compared to our old VCR. To avoid various already-solved problems, be sure to immediately download the latest software/firmware during initial Setup, easily via your home router, and save frustration by attaching an electrical timer to CM7400 (workaround #3).