Amazon Fire TV Recast review: A prime example of how over-the-air DVRs should work

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  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent
  • $179.99

Pros

  • Easy setup.
  • Plenty of DVR space.
  • It just works.

Cons

  • Only works with Fire TV products.

Using a streaming device, be it a Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast, provides easy access to Netflix or similar streaming services. You open the respective app, or give a voice command, and begin streaming within a few seconds.

But what happens when you want to watch live, local over-the-air (OTA) programming like the local news or the latest Law and Order? You have to switch inputs.

It's not like switching inputs is a ton of work, but it is an inconvenience. Not only does that mean keeping your TV remote around for changing OTA channels, but switching to your antenna input lacks any sort of programming guide, and, perhaps most importantly -- it lacks any DVR functionality.

That's where Amazon's Fire TV Recast comes in. Recast is a small black box with up to four tuners and spaces for up to 150 hours of recorded content that streams your local OTA programming directly to a Fire TV or mobile device.

Also: Amazon Fire TV Recast review: One of the best cord-cutter companions yet CNET

Meaning, instead of bouncing between inputs, you're able to watch the likes of NBC or CBS without leaving the Fire TV interface.

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I've been using a Recast for the past few weeks, and have to say: It's the best OTA DVR I've used. But there's a catch, because of course there is.

Design

Both models of the Fire TV Recast look the same, with internals being the main difference. The $230 model comes with a 500GB hard drive and two tuners, which make it possible to record two shows at the same time. The $280 model comes with a 1TB hard drive and four tuners, which allows for four shows to be recorded at the same time.

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Image: Amazon

On the back of the Recast are a TV antenna input, a USB port, Ethernet port, and the power connector. There's also a button that's used during setup, and as far as I can tell, that's it's sole purpose. The entire box is black, with a smooth top, where you'll find an Amazon logo.

Included in the box is a getting started guide, power adapter, and the Recast itself. However, you'll need more than that to get the Recast setup and going.

Setup

In order to use the Recast, you'll need an OTA antenna, a Fire TV product or Echo Show, and a Fire Tablet, Android device, or iOS device with the Fire TV app installed. Make sure you're signed into the app using the same Amazon account that you use with your Fire TV.

And therein lies the catch. The Recast does not currently work with any other streaming device. You can't use an Apple TV or Roku, for instance. For those who already use Fire TV as their primary streaming device, it's a non-issue. But for those who don't, it's potentially a non-starter for even considering the Recast.

Also: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K review: 4K HDR stick speaks Alexa, carries big streaming features CNET

Initial setup takes only a few minutes after deciding where you want to put it. The Recast doesn't need to be near a TV -- there isn't a direct connection between the box and your TV. Instead, you want to have it in a spot with strong Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection, keeping in mind that you'll need to have an antenna connected to Recast, ideally in a spot that has strong reception.

After plugging in the Recast, the app helps you connect it to your Wi-Fi or recognizes an Ethernet connection if you are using one.

Next, the Fire TV app walks you through the process, using your location and the range of your antenna (usually on the box if you are unsure) to determine the best side of your house to setup Recast. For me, the closest broadcast tower is to the north west of me, and that's exactly where I was instructed to install the antenna -- the northwest side of my home. Ideally, the antenna you install should be in a window for the best performance. Finally, the Recast scans for channels and after a few minutes gives you a list of all the OTA channels detected.

As for setup on a Fire TV device, there wasn't any on my end. I simply had to power on my Fire TV Edition TV and I immediately began to see local channels in the On Now section of the Fire TV interface.

When it was all said and done, it took around 10 minutes to unbox and set up the Fire TV Recast.

Performance

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

To view programming from the Recast, you can open the Guide or view the On Now section on the Fire TV's home screen.

The content shown on the On Now section is prioritized by the channels you've marked as a favorite. Tucked to the left side of the On Now section is a shortcut to the Fire TV's Guide, offering up to two weeks of future programming. The guide looks very much like a guide you'd see from Xfinity, with channels and time slots laid out in a grid.

As far as I can tell, there isn't a way to remove a channel from the guide. Recast identified over 25 local broadcast channels, but I only want access to five of them. It would be nice to remove the extra channels from the guide, instead of having to work around the omission by marking channels as a favorite.

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Essentially, the Recast is streaming the OTA programming across my home network to the Fire TV. The very first time I accessed each channel, there was a five to 10 second load time. Since then, there has been no buffering or loading when selecting a channel or quickly switching between channels.

In short, the experience of watching OTA channels via the Recast is identical in quality to directly plugging in an antenna to my TV. You turn to a channel, it begins playing, and you don't have to worry about anything else. 

I've used similar products in the past — AirTV and HDHomeRun — both of which suffered from frequent buffering and long load times.

A side effect of using Recast is that I was able to remove the antenna we had previously had connected to our TV, freeing up clutter on our TV stand. Additionally, we are now able to get local programming on a TV in our basement, where otherwise a TV antenna just wouldn't have reception. 

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Naturally, watching live TV is only one benefit of the Recast. The other, and likely biggest draw for consumers, is the DVR functionality.

Every time you begin watching a channel from the Recast, the DVR begins recording what you're watching. Miss a play in the football game? Rewind and watch it again. Phone ring during your favorite show? Press pause on the remote and continue after you're done.

The DVR has its own menu on the Fire TV interface, detailing shows you've recorded, as well as settings for future recordings. Creating a recording requires either telling Alexa to record a show (Alexa, record Meet The Press) or finding the show in the Guide and pressing the menu button on the remote followed by record. You'll be prompted if you want to record just one instance of the show or all new showings.

Also: This $29 accessory is a must-have if you own a Fire TV 

It's also possible to stream content from the Recast, live and recorded, using the Fire TV app on a mobile device.

Alexa can handle requests to pause a show, tune to a channel, or show the TV Guide, either through a connected Echo device or the Alexa Voice Remote. My kids especially enjoy telling Alexa to "tune to PBS" in the morning before heading off to school.

I do wish, however, I could tell Alexa to "turn on the football game." Over the past couple of weekends, I've tried multiple variations of that command "tune into the Chiefs game," for example, only to have a series of Fire TV apps returned as a search result.

Conclusion

Amazon's Fire TV Recast just works. It's a cliche catchphrase that's typically muttered about Apple products but is applicable here. It's easy to set up and it works seamlessly with Amazon products. But remaining dependent on Amazon products is something that not everyone is going to want to deal with, and that's understandable. 

Where To Buy

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Where To Buy

Amazon Fire TV Recast

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