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What is an OTA box and how does it improve free TV?

Cutting the cable and switching over the air (OTA) television can be difficult, especially if the DVR functionality of cable television has spoiled you. Fortunately, a simple OTA box can make your Free TV experience more cable-like.

An OTA box transforms free TV into a cable-like experience

All you need is an antenna to watch free over-the-air TV channels. You don't need an OTA box. However, an OTA box offers a number of features including the ability to record channels.

At its core, an OTA box is a DVR for wireless transmission TELEVISION. Even the simplest (or cheapest) OTA box can be programmed to automatically record your favorite shows, soccer games, and late night infomercials. You can always play these shows and skip commercials just like you would with a cable DVR.

But the best OTA boxes go beyond DVR functionality. They effectively turn the free TV experience into something similar to cable. Good OTA boxes add cable-like grid guides to free TV, offer multi-channel and programmable recording functions, enable live TV broadcasts to be interrupted and offer exclusive streaming functions that can keep up with any cable configuration.

CONNECTED:How to Get Free HD TV Channels (No Cable Fees)

Stream free TV to your phone or tablet

Do you ever sit around at work dreaming of a future where your phone can pick up over the air? Well, until broadcasters and phone manufacturers take ATSC 3.0 seriously, your daydream will never come true - unless you have an OTA box.

Premium OTA boxes, such as the TiVo Bolt OTA or the Tablo Dual Lite, you will find companion apps that you can download to your phone, tablet or computer. These apps let you stream live TV and recordings straight to your device even when you are away from home. You can also use these apps to remotely program your OTA's DVR function so you don't have to rush home to record a broadcast.

This streaming function can also provide an OTA to expand the functionality of the box for televisions and computers throughout the house. If a device can install your OTA's companion app, it can be used to watch OTA recordings and live TV. However, "dumb" TVs require a streaming stick (like a Roku) to download an OTA box's companion app.

Some OTA boxes can replace your Roku

There's a good chance your TV's HDMI ports are already being used by streaming sticks, game consoles, and Blu-ray players. Fortunately, premium OTA boxes have streaming service apps and can be used as an alternative to Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, Fire TV, or other streaming services.

For example, the TiVo Bolt OTA comes with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Plex, and more. And since the firmware is updated regularly, you don't have to worry about missing out on new services like Disney +. In addition, the TiVo Bolt OTA can stream in 4K quality, which makes it an ideal alternative to the expensive 4K streaming stick that is on your Amazon wish list.

You can integrate an OTA box into your smart home

Most streaming sticks are designed for smart home integration. Whether you're using a Fire TV Stick or a Chromecast, you can use your voice to search for new shows or pause the playback. Fortunately, some OTA boxes come with smart home features, which makes them a good streaming stick alternative for smart home geeks.

When you pair a product like the TiVo Bolt OTA using Amazon Fire TV Recast with your smart assistant, you can use voice commands to switch channels, find shows, skip commercials, or schedule recordings. You can also use voice commands to remotely control an OTA box, whether you are in the house or in a supermarket.

Which OTA box should you buy?

Before buying an expensive OTA box, make sure you have a digital antenna. Otherwise your OTA box will not work. You should also check what channels are available in your area. There is a chance that your favorite channels will only be broadcast via cable and not all OTA channels will be broadcast domestically. OTA boxes enhance the free TV experience, but that enhancement is useless if you can't find anything to watch.

There are a lot of OTA boxes on the market and they differ in quality and functionality. Some of them can dominate your entertainment hub and replace your streaming sticks, while others are basically a DVR for aerial television. And to be completely honest, some cheap OTA boxes don't even make proper DVRs.

So which OTA box should you buy? In the end, it just depends on your needs. Would you like to watch Netflix through an OTA box or just record some soccer games? Do you need intelligent assistant functions or do you like to use a remote control?

The TiVo Bolt OTA

If you're looking for a feature-rich 4K OTA box then you should consider the TiVo Bolt OTA. This product essentially turns your free TV experience into something similar (or better than) cable TV. The TiVo Bolt can record multiple shows at the same time, stream live TV and recordings to other devices, and act as a 4K replacement for your Roku or Chromecast. You can also remotely control the TiVo bolt via the TiVo app or an intelligent assistant such as Alexa or Google Assistant.

Of course, the TiVo stud has a couple of drawbacks - the price is a big one. The TiVo stud costs around $ 250 and won't work without a TiVo subscription that gets you $ 7 a month. But hey, it's way cheaper than cable TV and can replace the ineffective streaming sticks that clutter your TV's HDMI ports.

The Tablo Dual Lite

Like the TiVo Bolt OTA, the Tablo Dual Lite can replace your streaming sticks and enhance your free TV experience. It can record multiple shows at once, pause live TV shows, stream TV shows to other devices and has a handful of built-in streaming service apps.

With its features (and its $ 140 price point), the Tablo Dual Lite is a great OTA and an affordable alternative to the TiVo Bolt. However, the Tablo Dual Lite has a $ 6 monthly subscription fee, doesn't support 4K files, and can't be controlled with Alexa or Google Assistant.

The fire TV recast

Amazon makes a ton of products from the echo to the fire board. Oddly enough, the company also makes an OTA box called Fire TV Recast. This is not a standalone product and will not work without a Fire TV. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you have an Alexa smart home, Fire TV Recast might be the perfect OTA box for you.

As with other premium OTA boxes, Fire TV Recast can record multiple shows at once, stream video to phones and other devices, and pause live television. The main feature of the recast, however, is Alexa compatibility. With a recast, you can bring live and recorded TV shows to any Fire TV or Echo show in your home. This feature is expected to be easy to set up and can be controlled with voice commands.

At $ 190, the Recast is a product that works best in an established smart home. It won't work without a Fire TV device, and its main features are based on Alexa compatibility.