03 May 2014

Unbundle Yourself: Part 3 - a PVR for Antenna Users... Under $50!

By Ed

One of the big selling features of modern cable and satellite packages seems to be the Personal Video Recorder (PVR).  Simpler to use than a VCR, will remember the shows you like and grab them every week, and while you watch live TV it allows you to pause to get a drink or answer the door or whatever.

I wasn't super-pumped about any of those features, until a spent a few Sundays at a friend's house watching NFL on his PVR. He'd start recording the 1pm Kickoff game, but we wouldn't start watching it till 2-ish. You can get really spoiled watching a football game where every commercial break can suddenly fly by at fast forward and then -bang- you're back watching the game again.

Robin and I have also found that many of the shows we like to watch happen right around kid-bedtime. A PVR would be handy for that too. In other words, I'd started to see the value. Now, to find a PVR system that works with an Antenna...

I have now been looking for decent OTA Personal Video Recorder options for a while. I had pretty well given up - not because they don't exist, but because they are too costly. Save and Replay has a high-end unit that they rave about. It costs nearly $300 and if you check around, Amazon reviewers have been less than kind in their praise. I quit looking... and then of course, I found one.

While looking for a Tuner box for a hand-me-down LCD flatscreen we put in our guestroom, I came across the HW-150PVR. It was a good price - not the cheapest tuner box I had ever seen, but not the most expensive. It had many inputs and outputs, which I love. And it had a USB port, which I read could be used for playing media files. Bonus.

TVO tuned via the HW-150 PVR - crystal clear via the component connection (it also has HDMI, AV and Coax)

I also noticed that it listed PVR as a function. I figured it was a typo or some form of model number error. More reading ensued. It does, indeed, work as a PVR.
But how well does it work? I took a gamble and ordered one. For $50, I figured even if the PVR was junk, I would at least have a tuner/media player for our guestroom TV.

  • The PVR really does work! I tried a 16GB USB jump drive, used the built-in channel guide and set it to record the Daily Show. The next morning, I watched the Daily Show. 
Left image is the PVR menu showing a preview of the recorded show. Right side is the program - look carefully in the top and you can see a 2X Fast Forward to demo that the program is actually being played from PVR.

  • The $50 price tag is crazy-cheap. You can pay $50 for a TV tuner alone, another $50 for a media player and $300 for a PVR. This does all of those things in one pretty compact little box.
  • Lots of inputs, outputs and pass-throughs. Most people like simple, and this can be as simple as hooking up a DVD player. But I also like versatility. This could connect to your TV, allow you to PVR one channel while you watch another on the pass-through. It also has audio-out options for sound systems and soundbars. It is Logitech Harmony remote compatible too for those of you into Universal Remotes.
  • The Electronic Program Guide (EPG) shows a day in advance for PVR-ing. My Sony and Samsung TVs only ever display an hour or two.

CityTV's evening schedule via the HW-150 PVR's EPG

  • Using the PVR function, you can pause and time-shift live TV. Fast Forwarding commercials rules and I am eager to try this out.

  • The user interface isn't great. The overall structure takes a little getting used to and I have had it freeze a couple times (usually while doing something demanding like using the EPG to channel surf for programs to record). Switching off and on always fixed any issues.
  • The PVR function works best with a portable hard drive. If you use a USB thumb drive, be sure to format it in the machine to FAT32. I've read reviews complaining about USB drives not working at all, but as long as I changed the format from NTFS to FAT32, it was all OK. The portable Hard Drive I tested worked regardless of format. If that all read as gibberish, this may not be a user friendly PVR for you
  • The PVR eats up memory - about 1GB for every 10 minutes of HD recording. My 16 GB jump drive would only be good for about 2 hours. There isn't a way to change the recording quality either, so if you get one of these baby's with PVRing in mind, get a big portable hard drive as well.
  • It requires a little tech skill to learn. This is probably true of any PVR system, and honestly, I found programing with this thing easier than using a VCR to record programs in the 90's, so it isn't that bad.
  • Brand Rep? "MediaSonic" and "Homeworx" are not household names. I have owned this unit exactly 1 month, so I can't tell how durable/reliable it is in the long term. They do have very active Customer Service forums on their website and release firmware updates as required, so that seems like a good sign. They should maybe toss in a couple AAA batteries for the remote in the future.

So my final thoughts? Worth it 100% as a fill-in TV tuner for my guest room. I can PVR occasional shows as needed and experiment to see if it merits buying another unit for use in our main media room. Were I to do that, I would add a larger, dedicated hard drive to record to and be all set. I leave it to you if you want to roll the $50 dice like I did.

Do you PVR? Is it worth the extra fee for you?


  1. This sounds cool for a non-cable/satellite subscriber like me. Rather than an antenna and OTA signals, I get the local broadcast stations (CBS, NBC, etc.) via my apartment complex's cable provider. Do you think this would work with that setup?

    1. I think the answer is no - I had a look at the manual and website and it only ever says "digital" or "ATSC" signal. I'm pretty sure that most cable companies use analog, NTSC signal for the basic service. I couldn't find a 100% certain answer though, sorry.
      I'll keep looking and repost if I do find a definitive answer. Thanks for the question.


We love hearing from you! If you have a moment, leaving a comment would make our day.