One day, your children will look at you with pity and awe as you reveal that DVRs didn't exist when you were a kid. Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) are a common fixture in most homes now, but they were only a gleam in TiVo's eye just ten years ago. Whether you have cable or satellite TV, a DVR will change the way we watch television.
How much storage you need is based on your viewing habits. For casual viewers, 40 to 80 gigabytes is plenty. Serious coach potatoes, however, should consider a DVR with 120 to 200 gigabytes of storage.
More built in tuners give you more flexibility. A DVR with two tuners can display one show while recording another, or it can record two different shows at the same time.
With a TV tuner card, your PC could double as a DVR. Microsoft Windows Media Edition supports a free programming guide and TV recorder.
Most cable or satellite providers offer DVRs for a monthly fee or free with some digital TV packages. These systems often have a limited feature set, however.
High Definition DVRs are available, but expect to pay as much as double to take advantage of the higher resolution.
DVRs use a hard drive to record TV shows. A 40 to 80 gigabyte hard drive is plenty for casual viewers. If you watch a lot of TV or plan on storing entire seasons, however, you'll need a DVR with 120 to 200 gigabytes of storage.
Many DVRs require a subscription to a programming service like TiVo. Some units, though, allow you to use free services like TV Guide On Screen.
HD DVRs let you store video at high resolutions; however, recording programming at these resolutions occupy much more hard drive space. For this reason, most HD DVRs come equipped with greater hard drive storage capacity than their standard definition counterparts.
Combing a DVD player and a hard disk, DVD recorders allow you to archive recorded video on more permanent DVDs.
Having more than one tuner in your DVR can lets you record more than one show at the same time. Multiple tuners can also be used to record and watch to different shows at once. Look for ATSC tuners, as older NTSC tuners will be phased out of service in 2009.
A DVR is essentially a stripped down computer and hard drive. The computer handles the interface and scheduling, and the hard drive stores the video. Envisioned as a replacement for VCRs, DVRs have added new features like time shifting, on demand instant replays and pausing live video.
Although stand-alone DVRs still exist, most are tied to subscription services like TiVo or satellite and cable providers. If you have such a subscription, you buy or rent the hardware and then pay a fee to access programming or scheduling information.
TiVo, creators of the original DVR, have perfected the link between their hardware and subscription service. TiVo DVRs are widely regarded as having the best user interface. The ability of the TiVo service to suggest shows to watch based on your viewing habits is particularly impressive.
The down side to TiVo ownership is the add-on cost. Once you've purchased the hardware, you must pay a monthly subscription fee of approximately $12.95. Also, many cable systems require the use of an additional piece of hardware called a CableCard that comes with a monthly fee of between $2 and $5. All these charges are in addition your regular cable bill. Still, if you want the ultimate in convenience and features, TiVo is the way to go.
Many cable subscribers opt for renting a DVR from their cable company. Most cable companies offer DVRs for a monthly fee ($5 to $20) or free with a digital tier service contract. Although cable supplied DVRs tend to be less feature rich than commercial models, they provide simple set up and access to premium cable content—a feature TiVo has trouble matching.
If you're a satellite TV customer, your provider may require you to use a company provided DVR if you wish to access HD content. Although TiVoƆs Series 2 DVR will work with standard definition channels, their HD models don't support HD satellite broadcasts.
Like cable companies, Dish Network and DirecTV provide HD DVRs either for rent, purchase or as part of a long-term service contract. Both companies have well regarded DVRs, but the Dish Network ViP722 has a particularly impressive feature set including the ability to deliver two different shows to different TVs in your house.
A number of manufacturers sell DVRs that are designed for security applications. These DVRs accept video input from 4 to 32 channels, recording images for later viewing. These units are perfect for small business and high-end consumer uses.