February 21, 2018

Cord Cutting - Mediasonic HOMEWORX : Is A Good Basic $30 OTA DVR

Just after Christmas I bought a Mediasonic Homeworx HW220STB*  DVR.   Right now they sell for $29.99 at Amazon.   My verdict on the device is that its a good value and works well.     However the interface is fairly simple and a bit clumsy.

I've found that we watch less and less cable television while our cable TV bill goes up and up.    The value we get out of paying for cable TV has dwindled.   At the same time the different choices and ways to watch TV has increased.     I've been testing out OTT (over the top) streaming TV services.   However most of the OTT options have limited broadcast network channels.   For example, Sling TV is pretty good but they only have ABC, NBC and Fox in select markets and where I live I can only get them on demand.   Of course you can watch the broadcast networks via an antennae but I've come dependent on a DVR.    Hence the personal desire for a OTA DVR.

So how well does the Mediasonic Homeworx HW220STB  work?     The main points good and not so good :

- Works well
- Cheap
- Did I mention its cheap?
- Also functions as a karaoke box.  (programming not provided)

- Only watch or records one channel at a time
- Very limited program guide based on info within the broadcast feeds.
- Requires USB media bought seperately
- Clumsy, crude interface and remote control
- Needs reliable TV signal to be effective as a DVR

If you want a well working OTA DVR for cheap then this is a good device and I'd recommend it.    The very reasonable $30 price tag makes this thing a great value.    However I would point out the limitations.     

The box records fine and I've had no problems other than signal issues (see point on that below).    Reception is good and it tunes networks as well as my TV does with the same antenna.    
The interface is functional enough but its not fancy looking and reminds me of something from 20 years ago.    Some of the controls on the remote and the functions are't intuitive.     It will take a bit of getting used to and I still find myself searching on the remote for the right button sometimes.
The program guide only gives you maybe 24 hours of information and its totally dependent on what the broadcast network imbeds in their signal.    If you want to set a few recordings days in advance before you go on vacation you'll have to look up the air times somewhere else and set them manually.   
The box comes with no storage and you need to provide a USB drive to store your shows on.   I used a USB hard drive that I had handy and it works fine.     The maker recommends using a HDD with it but it does support USB flash.   Users report mixed results with USB flash so you might want to make sure you've got a better speed device if you try USB flash.    And lastly a big point: 

You need a good and consistent TV signal

I figured out after buying the DVR that a poor or unreliable TV signal makes an OTA DVR  worthless.    Well not exactly worthless but not really good enough.     As much as people praise cord cutting and the great channel selections now available OTA I don't recall anyone pointing out that TV reception can be unreliable.    Some of us will remember having to get up in the middle of a TV show to adjust the TV antennae.     Well that hasn't changed in the 21st century with HD TV.    TV signals are still variable and you can still get random interference that causes your signal quality to fluctuate.    This isn't so much of an issue if you're watching a show live.   It may be an inconvenience to have to adjust your antenna a little but its just that - a bit of an inconvenience.    However if you're recording a show via DVR and your signal goes bad you're not there to adjust the antenna and the DVR records a pile of digital garbage instead.  If your TV signal is prone to random fluctuations then it could make recording programs with a DVR a pretty frustrating and unreliable experience.      To be clear this has nothing to do with the DVR box itself of course.   It can only record the signal it gets. 

While I recommend this box and do think its a great value the last point really hobbles its usefulness for me.  I don't know about you but I really don't want to sit down hit 'play' to watch a recording, get 10 minutes into it and then get hit with 50 minutes of a screen full of recorded digital garbage because the TV signal went wonkey two nights ago in the middle of the show while it was being recorded.

Update - May 7, 2018 : 
After writing this I figured out my antenna problem and my reception is now very dependable.   I've been using the Mediasonic box a little bit over the past few months and it has been ~90-99% reliable.   I have had it mess up my programming schedule a few times and it failed to record a show because of it.   The box does also occasionally lock up and crash but it is easily fixed with a power cycle.   I've successfully recorded dozens of hours of TV with it and it works great but its not 100% dependable.

* yes thats a commission link, if you like my articles and decide to buy one of these please follow my link.   The commission isn't impacting the nature of my review at all. 

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