The Amazon Fire TV Recast adds live broadcast television viewing and recording to your Fire TV or mobile device, without a subscription.
Broadcast television still exists, and you can still use it for free. If your TV has a tuner (indicated by that little screw-in connector on the back that says ANT), you can connect an antenna and watch all the local broadcast channels available in your area. That doesn't mean you'll have access to the modern features of watching live TV in the 21st century, though; you'll only be able to tune to one channel at a time, your channel guide might be limited, and you probably won't have any DVR. The Amazon Fire TV Recast fixes that by offering multiple tuners and dozens of hours of recording space for a single lump price and no subscription fee.
The Fire TV Recast works very well if you have a Fire TV Stick 4K, a Fire TV Cube, or a Fire TV Edition television to watch with, but it doesn't function as a media streamer on its own, and the broadcast TV it captures might be jarringly soft for 4K TV owners used to crisp internet streams.
It comes in two versions: a two-tuner model for $229.99 and a four-tuner model for $279.99. The two-tuner Recast has a 500GB hard drive that can record 75 hours of high-definition content, and the four-tuner Recast has a 1TB hard drive with a 150-hour capacity. Of course, if you primarily record SD channels, you'll have many more hours available. Amazon plans to enable external storage through the USB port in the back of the Recast, but that feature has not been enabled yet.
The Fire TV Recast is a 2.9-by-7.2-by-7.2-inch (HWD) black plastic box, clearly designed to be tucked far out of the way from your home theater setup and positioned near your router, or wherever you set up your antenna. The front panel has a series of perforations, presumably for venting, with a colored indicator LED hidden behind one of the holes on the lower right corner. The back panel holds an antenna connector, a pairing button, a USB port, an Ethernet port, and a plug for the included power adapter.
The box doesn't directly connect to your TV in any way. It's intended to be placed somewhere in your home where you can best set up an HD antenna. No antenna is included, so if you don't already have one you'll need to buy it separately. The flat, sheet-like antennas designed for digital OTA signals are readily available for around $20. If you can place the Fire TV Recast near your router, that's even better; it can connect to your network over dual-band Wi-Fi, but the Ethernet port enables a faster, more stable connection.
Since the Fire TV Recast has no user interface itself, you need to use a Fire TV media streamer, an Alexa smart display like the Echo Show or Echo Show 5, or a mobile device with the Fire TV app to control it. Since the Editors' Choice Fire TV Stick 4K is just $50 and one of our favorite media streamers, that isn't a big deal, but you should be aware of it before buying in. There is also no web portal, Windows app, or macOS app for using the Recast, so you can't watch from your computer.
You need to use a mobile device with the app to set up the Recast. The app previously only functioned as a remote for Fire TV devices, but the newest version adds support for the Recast and enables watching live TV and recordings on your mobile device.
Under the device list in the app, select Set Up a New Fire TV Recast to begin the process. The app will walk you through all the steps needed to plug the device in, properly place the antenna, and connect to the ad-hoc Wi-Fi network the Recast generates. When all of those steps are done, you simply enter your Wi-Fi network information (or use an Ethernet cable) and link the Recast to your Amazon account.
After all of that, the Fire TV Recast will scan the airwaves for any digital OTA signals. Channels with a strong-enough signal will appear on the Recast's list of channels you can tune to or record from. The Recast enables a free channel guide on linked Fire TV devices, the Echo Show, and the Fire TV app, letting you see what's currently on and what will be on over the next two weeks. No subscription, including Amazon Prime, is required to use the Recast's channel guide or DVR features.
Once the Fire TV Recast is set up, the interface of any connected Fire TV devices on the same network and Amazon account will update to display live and recorded TV. A new row called On Now will appear on the Fire TV home screen, showing what is currently on any channels the Fire TV Recast can get. Selecting any show on the list will tune to that channel and program, showing a live stream from one of the Recast's tuners.
A DVR tab will also be added to the Fire TV, between the Your Videos and Movies tabs. This will also hold the On Now row, with a My Recordings row below it displaying all shows and movies recorded on the Recast, and a DVR Manager row below that with different settings menus for the channel guide, scheduled recordings, and recording priority (if more recordings are scheduled than the number of tuners can handle).
If you have an Amazon Echo Show on the network, you can use it to watch live TV or recordings through the Recast. Saying, "Alexa, tune to ABC," will tune to the live feed of any ABC affiliate the Recast can pick up. You can also say, "Alexa, open the channel guide," to see the guide on the Echo Show, which you can then navigate with its touch screen as well as voice commands. Alexa-based voice commands also work with the Fire TV, either through the Alexa Voice Remote or (for the Fire TV Cube) hands-free.
A channel guide and list of recordings will also appear on the Fire TV mobile app when a Recast is connected to your home network and account. You can access recordings and live TV through the app away from your home network after the Recast has been set up (but Fire TV devices and the Echo Show must be on the same network to work with the Recast). The feed will be streamed from your home network over the internet to the app.
I tested the Fire TV Recast with a Fire TV Cube after connecting the device to a 5GHz test network using a Google Pixel 2. I set the Recast to record a variety of shows from broadcast channels in the New York City area, including Late Night With Seth Meyers on NBC, Cheddar on BizTV, Night Court on Laff TV, Star Trek: The Next Generation on Heroes & Icons, and Secrets of New York on WNYE-TV. The Recast recorded everything I scheduled.
The Fire TV Cube interface was quick and responsive when displaying the channel guide and recording lists, and was generally very fast to load both live and recorded TV. There were a few momentary pauses when switching between live TV and recordings, which seemed to be the result of a less-than-ideal Wi-Fi environment. The hiccups only affected switching between video streams, and once I settled on a channel or recording the video was smooth.
The Fire TV Recast seems to have an excellent channel scanner and signal quality measurement system, because every live show I tuned to and recording I accessed looked clear and free of the blocky digital artifacts that indicate a weak signal. From our test lab in lower Manhattan, that includes dozens of broadcast channels. Of course, this is a very strong location for broadcast television, and what channels will be available to you, and how strong their signals will be, depends on your location and antenna placement.
Both high-definition and standard-definition recordings appeared smooth, but not exactly sharp on a 4K TV. Star Trek: TNG and Night Court were recorded from SD channels, resulting in a very fuzzy, pillarboxed 4:3 picture. It isn't a fault of the Recast, but of the channels themselves and their limitations. HD shows, like Late Night With Seth Meyers and Secrets of New York, look notably more crisp, but aren't quite as sharp as if they were streamed over the internet or even watched through cable or satellite; HD broadcast channels top out at 720p or 1080i, again due to the limits of the airwaves and broadcast technology.
I also tested the Fire TV Recast by streaming some live TV and recordings to my phone, outside of the network. It consistently took several seconds to load recordings as the Recast sent the video out through our test network and then down to my phone over a separate Wi-Fi network or a 4G connection, but it was still fairly reliable. On the smaller screen of the Pixel 2, the resolution issues aren't nearly as apparent as they are on a big 4K TV.
The Fire TV Recast is a powerful OTA DVR that plays very well with Amazon devices. It doesn't require a subscription like TiVo does, and easily adds live and recorded TV to any Fire TV, Echo Show, or Fire TV app-equipped mobile device you own. Its tuners are reliable and its capacities are generous, with the option to expand with USB storage planned for the future. If you have enough local broadcast channels available in your area to satisfy your tastes, the Recast is an excellent cord-cutting tool.
The low resolution and limited programming of even HD broadcast TV is pretty stark when compared with the massive selection of 1080p and even 4K content available to stream over internet-based apps and services, though, and you will very likely notice the difference if you've already upgraded to a 4K TV. Still, if you have a Fire TV device or are open to getting one, the Recast is an easy way to add OTA recordings on top of any streaming services you plan to use.
Bottom Line: The Amazon Fire TV Recast adds live broadcast television viewing and recording to your Fire TV or mobile device, without a subscription.
Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert... See Full Bio
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