For a really cheap DVR, there's HomeWorX

If you’re looking for a really, really inexpensive DVR, and you don’t have a Windows 7 PC laying around, you could get a HomeWorX converter box/DVR. In fact, if your viewing life revolves around an old analog NTSC TV set, the HomeWorX might be a good fit. (Although it won’t explain how you’ve been watching TV for the last couple of years.) Otherwise, you could do a lot better. Let me explain.

I stumbled on the HomeWorX when somebody online had it on sale for an even cheaper price than its usual sub-$50. Hey, it says it includes a “PVR”, which got me wondering right there. Over a decade ago, TiVo asserted that “PVR”, or personal video recorder, was one of its trademarks; since then most companies talk about DVRs or digital video recorders. So I bought one of these to review it, because someone has to review the (taking a breath) “Mediasonic HW-150PVR HomeWorx ATSC Digital TV Converter Box with Media Player and Recording PVR Function/HDMI Out.”

As its official title says, this beastie’s main job is to be a digital converter box, allowing you to watch today’s ATSC signals on your old analog TV. It includes a DVR, which works as Samuel Johnson once put it, “like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” Like most over-the-air DVRs I’ve discussed in previous posts, the HomeWorX requires an external USB hard drive to record anything. Unlike most other DVRs, the HomeWorX never uses the internet; it pulls its program titles and descriptions directly from the broadcasters’ digital feeds. This is great because it means that there are never any subscription fees, but it’s bad because it puts the viewer at the mercy of the quality and length of each broadcaster’s over-the-air information.

I’m a little ashamed to pick on the manual. I’m grateful to have any paper manual these days, but the HomeWorX’s defaults to the old developer-centric method of just detailing what each menu option does rather than explaining answers to what will be frequent “How do I?” questions. As is often the case, those multilingual-English option descriptions don’t help much. One begins: “PVR: Depends on user’s choose, there are some functions like remove/edit/delete and so on.” Take me through some common tasks, please.

I found two more flaws that knock it out of contention for me. First, after brilliantly grabbing show titles from the airwaves and showing them to the user to assist in scheduling recordings, the HomeWorX discards that information when it makes that recording. When the user digs into the menus to find that file, the file name is “(Station name) (date / time)” instead of “(Show name) (date / time)”. For example, three movies recorded the same day on the local This affiliate would be distinguishable only by the time of day they were recorded even though the receiver knew their titles.

The second flaw is easier to explain: The HomeWorX digital tuner just wasn’t as sensitive as most. I know that OTA reception varies over time, but using the same input antenna, my Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-955Q USB TV Tuner handled my weak channels much better, and any of my digital TVs easily outperformed the HomeWorX. So I’ve boxed it up and put it on the shelf.

To sum it up, if you’ve got an old portable analog TV, the HomeWorX will put something on its screen again with a pokey little DVR bonus. But if you’re getting ready to cut the cord, you’ll want a better OTA DVR.