Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on November 25, 2018
(FYI, my review is for the 1TB model with 4 tuners. For some reason the Amazon Review system shows a verified purchase for the 500GB 2-tuner model but I have never purchased that model.)

I've been a cord-cutter for over a decade. I've gone from duct-taped manual setups requiring a full-blown HTPC to Windows Media Center + Xboxes to TiVo OTAs & TiVo Minis and everywhere in between. In my experience, there tend to be 3 tiers of systems:

Tier 1: You could confuse it with a traditional Cable set-top box. Hand 90% of people a remote & they'll figure it out within a minute. TiVo falls into this category.
Tier 2: The TV functionality is hidden behind an app. Give 90% of people a 5-minute training session & they can figure it out with another 5 minutes of effort. Most commercial options (Plex-based systems, Tablo, etc.) fall into this category.
Tier 3: Hacker Joe's custom setup that probably requires special knowledge of what application to run.

I started in Tier 3, have spent a lot of time in Tier 2 but now that I'm married, have children (which means babysitters and family visiting), it's important to me to have a Tier 1 whole-house DVR setup. That's why we've had TiVo for so long. However, our current TiVo setup (Roamio OTA + 3x Minis) has started to become increasingly buggy requiring almost daily power cycles of multiple units. So we've been looking to replace it, hence this Recast purchase. Our setup is the 1TB Recast with 2x Cubes, 3x 4k Sticks, and various Android devices.

I would say that the Recast and Fire TV clients firmly attempt to be Tier 1 devices. They are probably one of the worst Tier 1 options (not that there are many) that I have seen, in large part because the OTA functionality is mostly being included as an afterthought in the UX rather than as a main focus. Here are a couple examples of what I mean by this:

1. Where is the "Guide" button on the remote? Record? Info? Yep, these don't exist. I get that Amazon is trying to keep the remote minimal and universal, but a couple of these omissions are unforgivable. EVERY Tier 1 device should have a button that effectively means "Let's start watching live TV" and this is almost universally accomplished with a "Guide" button of some sort. Amazon really should release an updated remote specifically targeting Recast users to include
2. Only 2 clients can watch TV at a time? That's a joke! Or it should be. But nope, it's just a sad limitation for a multi-hundred-dollar device that's meant to serve TV to a whole home but can only serve TV to 2 screens at a time. This is actually pretty pathetic. Almost all competition can double this limit. The average TV user is not going to understand what's going on here - it needs to "just work". I mean, you can't host a Super Bowl party with Recast if you want to show the game in a few different rooms of your house. Bar TV? Kitchen TV? Forget it! (To be clear, this is actually a design decision that Amazon consciously made based on how they store and re-encode the video when distributing it to clients in conjunction with the hardware capabilities inside the device. They just made some poor decisions here, in my opinion.)
3. When I look at a scheduled recording, I have no clue what station it is scheduled for. Far too often, the channel numbers are hidden. This is especially a problem when your Recast sees two different stations for the same network. Let's say you get a really strong signal from one CBS affiliate and an okay signal from a second CBS affiliate. For the most part, the recordings only show that it's being recorded on "CBS" but I can't manage which of the two affiliates its being recorded on. There is the ability to hide & show different channels, but you have to set this up on every single client - these don't sync across multiple devices. When you have 5 TVs in the house and 7 Android phones/tablets potentially watching TV, that's an insane amount of micromanagement! Oh, but wait. This isn't even an option on Android, just Fire TV hardware products. So even if you do all of this micromanagement at all 5 TVs, well, you still have no clue if recordings use those non-hidden channels or not because it just shows "CBS". This is just terrible UI and system administration. This all needs to be centralized/sync'd, transparent to the user, and fully-supported in all clients.

There are some other problems with the Recast as well. Let's start out talking about the ability to watch DVR'd video anywhere. You can't. It effectively is 100% broke. I have gotten it to work a few times but never for more than about 1-2 minutes. And mostly it just doesn't even work for even 5 seconds, at any quality. If you want to buy this for this ability, don't. It's a 100% waste of your money unless/until they fix this. (My internet is 960mbps down & 45mbps up with a Ubiquiti infrastructure. My internet and infrastructure are very capable of supporting this and so much more.)

So it's a steaming pile of crap, right? Well, not really. There are some things that Amazon has done that works very well! Fire TV setup is actually quite easy (no insane remote codes to push in and try - it's fairly automated). Very few button presses are needed when setting up a TV series to record. The Fire TV UI does a somewhat decent job at making currently-aired shows easily discoverable to you, even better if on your "Favorite" stations (again, configured per client). Rewind/fast-forward options are mostly good given the limited buttons on the remote. And video quality is generally quite good (with some occasional hiccups that aren't really problematic, just sometimes some degraded quality for the first few seconds of playback).

CONCLUSION:

So the super critical things work (aside from streaming while remote). There's just so very much holding this product & platform back that it makes it hard to recommend at this time. Am I going to keep it? Honestly, I don't know. I'm 50/50 on whether to keep this versus sending it all back for a refund (even after Black Friday discounts) and struggling with my TiVo setup for a while longer until something else better comes around. The part of me that wants to keep going knows that this is a v1 product with mostly v1 firmware that will improve over time. That said, I really don't want half a thousand dollars of mine tied up in the hope that Amazon will actually fix these things. I have better uses for that much money, to be honest. So yeah, I just don't know. It's a solid 2.5/5 star product at this point. Could be 4.5+ with some changes but I don't even know how much of these changes are possible with this iteration of the hardware. I suspect the 2-simultaneous-client limitation is unlikely to be fixed in this hardware. And who knows if they'll ever release a better remote but I'm 99% certain they'll want me to pay them for it (i mean, look at the updated Alexa remotes they charged everybody for!). So yeah, this just isn't that good of a product. And I was really disappointed by that. So much potential though...
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