It’s no secret that I am a fan of the Simple TV DVR. I own five of the single tuner STV-1000s — which I will hereafter refer to as STV1s. Three of these are collecting shows to attached 2t disks for playback via Plex and my Simple DVR Roku app. One is ‘on loan’ to an out-of-market friend. I’m hoping to use the last one to swap antennas with someone in the UK.
I also have a two tuner model. This is the model with the ventilated top. While it is officially called the STV2-2ATSC, I am going to refer to it as the STV2. Throughout this review, I will refer to the STV-1000 as an STV1. I deliberately used my STV1 review as the basis for this review. I wanted to make it very easy for a reader to decide between the two models since the STV1 is still available and there are very good reasons why the STV1 could be a better choice for you.
The Simple.TV DVR is a whole house Tuner/DVR for broadcast television. According to the manufacturer, “Simple.TV is the first personal DVR that streams live and recorded TV to your favorite devices, wherever you are. Get all your broadcast TV favorites on your iPad, PC, Mac or Roku box.” It plugs in to your antenna, ethernet, and usb drive, but not your television. To watch the Simple DVR on your television, you need a Roku. Up to five devices can access live or recorded programming concurrently, but there is only one tuner, so all people watching live programming must watch the same channel.
What Does This Do? In the most common configuration, you attach the DVR to your antenna and LAN and use a Roku to access the DVR from your television. You can use the tuner to watch live television from your antenna or play files already stored on the DVR. You can pause, rewind, or fast forward the programming, delete files from the DVR, and schedule recordings (one episode or all episodes) with the Roku. If you have more than one DVR, you can switch from one DVR to another.
Remote access is excellent. Image quality and buffer management are good enough to enjoy live and recorded programming via public wireless networks. My mother can use my antenna to watch broadcast television via a Roku at her home which has poor reception. There are iOS, Android/Kindle Fire, Windows 8, and Plex apps for the Simple DVR. I cannot speak for the iOS app, but the Android app is amazing. The Plex app only supports playback (no live tv or file management), but you can use it to watch your recordings on many devices including the Amazon Fire TV.
What Doesn’t This Do? With the current software, you cannot watch the video as you rewind and fast forward and there is no slow motion or frame by frame review. You cannot do time based recordings (record channel 38 from 3pm to 8pm weeknights). I’d really like to see a ‘Play All’ and/or Play List option for recordings and it would be great if the Premier software managed all DVRs as one — choosing the next available tuner, showing all programs in a single browse window, etc. Finally, and this is a big deal for me, it doesn’t work at all when you have no internet connection. It will record scheduled shows, but you cannot watch live tv or your recordings.
This is NOT for cable TV. While the STV1 officially supports Clear QAM, the STV2 does not.
A Poor Man’s TiVo This isn’t a TiVo. The TiVo provides more sophisticated search capability, a better rewind/fast forward experience, plus internet apps. A lot of people are going to be very happy to buy a TiVo Premier, pay for the lifetime service, and watch television. A two tuner Premier with 75 hours of storage with a lifetime service contract will set you back $550. If you want to share the two tuners with another room, you can buy a Tivo Mini ($250 with lifetime) and if you want to watch your Tivo away from home, you can add a Tivo Stream for $130. So, living room, bedroom, remote use, with 75 hours of storage for $930.
Alternatively, one could purchase a pair of Simple DVRs ($185), a pair of usb disks ($200), and two Roku 1’s ($80) for $465. This would give you two tuners, 800 hours of storage, remote access, plus thousands of streaming media channels for 1/2 the cost of a basic TiVo installation.
For the $930 you did not spend on a TiVo, you could purchase four Simple DVRs, four Rokus, a Channel Master DVR+ for the living room, and two years subscription to Netflix.
Support I have been very disappointed with Simple support. The documentation is sparse, the support site is inaccurate, and email support is sporadic. Worse, they don’t seem to know any more about the product than I do. The best help has come from the user community. I hope this changes. It’s easy to see how nontechnical users could become frustrated.
Installation The setup process is very straightforward. You have to use specific browsers to configure the device. I have used Chrome and Firefox. Internet Explorer does not work. It seems that security software can interfere with the process as well. Security settings and ad-blockers can cause problems with the discovery and configuration process.
- Plug DVR into your network, a usb disk, and your antenna
- Open your browser to http://simple.tv, sign into your account (or create an account)
- Activate your lifetime subscription
- Click Activate Your DVR
- Select the DVR to register
- Prepare your disk
- Scan for channels
Using the Simple DVR The Simple DVR has apps for iOS devices, Android devices, Rokus, Windows phone, Windows 8, the Kindle Fire, and Plex. The Plex channel supports playback only, but the others offer full control of your DVRs. You can also watch and control the DVRs from a Windows PC running Chrome or Firefox.
Downloading Recordings The STV2 allows you to download recordings as MP4 files. The recordings do not look as good as the files look played directly from the DVR. The STV1 does not officially support downloads.
Clever users have crafted a couple download tools that work with both DVRs…
You Will Love the Simple DVR If…
- Your home is situated such that television signals come from multiple directions. Instead of using a rotor or combiner, you can install one or more DVRs for each market and access the antennas via a Roku.
- Your home is not pre-wired with coax. Run coax from the antenna to your router and install the Simple DVR(s) next to the router.
- You have to have a television where no one thought to install coax. A Roku brings live tv to your remote television.
- You want to watch tv by the pool or on the deck. Simple can stream to a laptop, a tablet, or a wireless Roku by the pool.
- Your remote vacation home does not have television but does have internet access.
- You travel a lot and hate infomercials.
- All your favorite shows air when you are at work.
- You want to share antennas with a friend in a different market
You May Not Love the Simple DVR If…
- You have poor broadcast reception
- You need visual cues when fast forwarding or rewinding a program
- You have a poor network in your home
I love the Simple DVRs. After two months with the dual tuner Simple DVR, I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.
STV2 vs STV1
Generally, the STV2 is a better device than the STV1. It has a faster processor, two tuners, and more features. The firmware supports bigger disks, recognizes more disks, does a better job scanning for channels. It also changes channels faster when you are watching live television.
The STV2 runs hotter. So hot, in fact. that the it has a fan that can be heard in a quiet room during normal operation. Of course, there is no reason for the Simple DVR to be in a room where the sound of the fan would be an issue.
I have concerns about two tuners writing to one disk at the same time. Seems to me that is a recipe for fragmentation and all the performance issues that come with it. I harvest programs for my on-demand library using STV1s.
More STVs means support more antennas. I have two markets plus a station that is just in the wrong direction. I can point an antenna at these stations and watch them with my Roku. I can leave my market altogether by swapping one of my STVs for one one in another market. I would like to swap STVs with someone in Canada, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, or Britain.
For the STV1, I have had the best results using Western Digital powered usb disks no bigger than two terabytes.
Everyone should get a single tuner Simple DVR with lifetime premier subscription. This combo is still ten bucks less than the subscription alone. If you plan to watch live television using the Simple DVR, get a dual tuner DVR. If you want to harvest broadcasts for on-demand viewing, get more single tuner DVRs. If you want to share your antenna with others, get more single tuner DVRs with additional lifetime subscriptions.