Simple TV DVR

I had hoped to post a follow-up to my initial review of the Simple DVR within a few weeks, but, frankly, after two weeks my enthusiasm for the device was on the wane.  This morning, I awoke to a Roku channel update, a device update, and, finally, support for multiple DVRs on the same account.  The Simple V1 is far from perfect, but, once again, I am wildly enthusiastic about this whole house DVR.  And once again, you can Woot! this DVR plus a lifetime subscription to their Premier service for less than $100.  I recommend you get three!

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 (I have four), 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 and Android apps for the Simple DVR.  I cannot speak for the iOS app, but the Android app is amazing.  I was able to side load it to a Fire HD and a Fire HDX and enjoy television on those tablets.

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 it tunes clear QAM, the cable companies are in the process of encrypting all channels.  Unless you have or plan to cut the cable, this is not the DVR for you.

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 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 ($100) for $485.  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 frustrating and almost counter intuitive.  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.  A lot of USB disks do not work with this DVR.    The documentation states that ‘virtually any’ USB disk will work, but that is not true.  Firmware only supports disks to 2t at this time.  Larger disks may format, but only to just over 2t.  Some disks will stop working after a couple days.  Attache these to a computer and they work fine.  Some disks won’t format at all.  Don’t count on the installation disk to let you know your disk is not compatible.  If the installation process detects an incompatible disk, it simply says there is no disk present.  Also, when you attach a compatible disk, it may not format unless you run the installation process from scratch.  Here is a list of disks I know to work with this DVR…

  • Iomega 1t (ldhd-up): formatted and performed perfectly. No issues to date.
  • Seagate 1t (9zc2ag-501): formatted and performed perfectly. No issues to date.
  • Western Digital 500g (WD5000H1U-00): formatted and performed perfectly. No issues to date.
  • Western Digital 2t (WDBFJK0020HBK-04): formatted and performed perfectly. No issues to date.

That 2t WD drive is routinely available at Staples for less than $100 and I recommend you go with that.  Mine has been working for more than a month and has recorded more than 200 programs.

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.
By Len Mullen

7 comments on “Simple TV DVR

  1. Is anyone having serious issues with this thing not “tuning” a channel for recording? I believe I have rock solid signals from my Ant and every TV in my house works fine, but the simpleTV is hit/miss. sometimes it records nothing, sometimes the whole “show”, sometimes just part of the show. VERY frustrating!!! Also noticed that playback works better from Roku and Chrome on Windows than from my iPad. But live TV is pretty bad on my Roku…not sure whats up, but would sure like any suggestions anyone has. I am kind of thinking that I am experiencing some SW maturity issues and hoping some updates come along and resolve these issues….I really hope its not the HW.

  2. There are a number of issues. First, the tuners are not the best. They are very good, but not as good as my tv (LG 60pn5000) or my dvrs (EchoStar DTVPal, Channel Master DVR+). Second, the channel guide service is not detecting subchannels of channels it is detecting. In my case, I get Fox but not Fox Movies! on the same channel. Third, when the DVR loses signal, it stops recording very quickly. I prefer this, but others complain.

    One good test is to plug the DVR in where you are getting really good signal on a TV. It’s possible you have a cable/loss problem.

    If you are messing with this OTA stuff, I highly recommend you pick up a HDHomeRun. I got a dual tuner HDHR-US from Newegg for $50. I get great data on signal strength, signal quality, and symbol quality. I can run their client on a laptop right next to the TV or antenna I’m working on.

    If you haven’t signed up for the Simple forums, I suggest you do as all the real experts post there.

    • Thanks, I will look into the HomeRunHD. I was kind of thinking it might be the Tuner. Might have to beef up my setup. I was really hoping it was just a firmware issue that would eventually get worked out as they mature it….. I will mess with the Antenna setup as well. right now I have a single antenna that is run through a amplifier and then to a channel master RF modulator/distribution box which also does some amplification. Signals all look great on any TV in the house but apparently just not good enough for the simpleTV tuner.

  3. Pingback: Simple TV for Dummies | The Beer's on COMCAST!

  4. FYI, I rearranged my distribution amps over the weekend so I could monitor he signal available to my V1 Simple DVRs. This meant powering down the DVRs. I powered up the disks before the DVRs. Still only two of the DVRs came up functional. Multiple reboots did not help, so I reset the DVRs via the web interface. Eventually, I was able to activate each of the DVRs. For each, it took a half dozen channel scans to find all of my channels. ALL of my channels — including two I have not seen for a month or more. In all cases, I did not lose any shows on any of the DVRs.

    The channels that I unexpectedly had trouble picking up were real channels 20 and 30. These channels are very strong on my HDHomeRun, so I was surprised they were not easily picked up by the Simple DVRs. This behavior was repeatable across all FOUR DVRs. Another channel I have trouble with is 31. This is interesting because the virtual number of this channel is 25 and the Simple DVR routinely maps real channel 25 in it’s place. Real 25 is virtual 24. The other channel I have had problems with is 27. In this case, I get the channel minus one sub channel which showed up this weekend. The sub channel (GetTV) is new and was probably not carried until recently.

    Bottom line, I have four DVRs with a full compliment of channels and no shows lost, but live in fear of a power outage.

    • Are you using an OTA antenna or cable/sat/other service? This give me hope that if I can get a solid signal from my antenna to the SimpleTV that it should work….



      • I have an antenna (five, actually). The DVRs are fed from a 91XG + Y5-7-13 joined with a CM7777 (powered amp) into an old Archer 15-1107 amplified 4x splitter. One of the four legs off this splitter feeds an Electroline EDA-2800 8-Port Cable TV HDTV Signal Booster/Amplifier. Four of the eight ports are Simple DVRs, a fifth is my HDHRUS, and the other two feed my kitchen and living room.

        The HDHRUS ($50 Newegg shows me signal strength, signal quality, and symbol quality coming out of the EDA-2800 which helps me adjust the 15-1107 (and point my antenna).

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