Which DVR Should I Get?

Category: Television

So you want to record movies and your favorite shows from your fancy HD television? Most people think of TiVo first, but you've got options when it comes to selecting a DVR service. Here's the scoop...

DVR Options

The time has come to take over your television. You want a DVR like your friends, but you're not sure how to go about it. Should you get a TiVo, a store-bought DVR, or the DVR service offered by your cable, satellite or FIOS tv provider? Read on for the pros and cons of each..

TiVo has been around for a few years now. Not only can you program, record and play back your favorite shows, you can skip the commercials. TiVoing is so precise you can pause live or recorded shows, rewind and fast forward in 3 different speeds, jump around the program and lots of other options. The TiVo player comes in different models at prices starting at $149.00. The downside is that you have to pay a monthly service fee after purchase. This runs anywhere from $12.95 for month to month service up to $399.95 for a lifetime. However, a free "TiVo Basic" service is available on some DVRs made by Toshiba and Pioneer.

Tivo or DVR?

Don't want to pay a monthly fee? A standalone DVR might work for you. Pioneer has two models, their DVR-810H and Elite DVR-57H. Wanting to jump on the TiVo bandwagon, they have paired with the company to offer their service free. TiVo Basic service is included, with no startup cost or monthly fees. The DVR holds 80GB for 80 hours of programming and has most of the same features of TiVo. The Elite DVR-57H or the DVR-810H are not manufactured any longer, but you can find them used on eBay and other places.

Toshiba SD-H400 and the TX60 models also include the TiVo Basic service, but like the Panasonic models, are no longer available new. I've seen these units on eBay for under $300, so that's a great economical choice for people who want to try the TiVo Basic service.

Sony's RD R-VXD655 DVD Recorder & VHS Combo Player with HD Tuner sells for about $329. It doesn't have a hard drive, but can record your favorite TV shows and movies on DVD discs or VHS tapes.

Another option for techies is to build your own DVR from a spare computer. You'll need a TV capture card, and DVR software such as SageTV or MythTV. The software gives you all the features you would expect in a DVR, including fast forward, rewind, pause, commercial skipping, and the ability to store programs on your hard drive. In a nutshell, you plug the TV capture/tuner card into an available slot on the motherboard, install the DVR software, then plug the coaxial cable (your TV service) into the back of the computer. You can find lots of tips and advice on doing this if you search Google for "make your own DVR".

DVR Service From Your TV Provider

Before you run out and buy a TiVo or a standalone DVR, you should check out the DVR service offered by your television service provider. If you get your television signal via cable, satellite or fiber optic service, then most likely you can get an upgrade which includes a TiVo-like DVR service. Expect to pay somewhere between $5 and $15 per month for the DVR service.

Direct Star is offered by Direct TV for satellite customers, AT&T's U-Verse users can try the Total Home DVR. Cable subscribers can use Optimum Online's DVR for iO or the Comcast DVR service. Verizon FIOS customers have the Home Media DVR option.

I recently upgraded my Verizon FIOS service with the DVR, and so far I really like it. The service costs $10/month extra, and they offer a 3 month free trial. After swapping my set top box and activating the service, I just press the DVR button on my remote to record or play back a show. To add a new show to my list of recordings, I just find it in the menu, and then choose whether to record one episode or the entire series. During playback, you can pause, rewind, or jump ahead to skip the commercials.

Do you have TiVo, a standalone DVR, or DVR service from your TV provider? Post your comments below...

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Most recent comments on "Which DVR Should I Get?"

(See all 43 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Dave in Indy
26 Feb 2009

The U-Verse Total Home DVR is very cool but it is still being made fully functional. You can watch a show from the DVR on any Set Top Box (STB) in the house but you can not schedule new recordings or delete recordings from the non-DVR STB's. That is supposedly coming. You can use the internet or enabled phone to schedule / delete, however.

One big drawback is that most of the UV DVR controls are very rudimentry. Comcast's DVR had richer controls. One good thing about the UV DVR (besides the whole house concept) is fast forwrding - if you love to buzz through commercials, allow the FF to skip into the first seconds when you can see that the program is back on. The DVR will back-track about 10-15 seconds or so and you are almost right where the program starts. Also good for FF through sports events / auto races. You see some "action play" in your FF and press play and it takes you right before the play.

Posted by:

26 Feb 2009

Thanks for the tips Bob. I hope to try and create my own DVR from a slightly older computer I already own. Sounds like a fun DIY project. I wonder why TiVo now has a monopolistic control over the DVR market besides the DVR's offered by cable/FiOS/satellite companies. It is interesting that Toshiba and Pioneer would just drop out of a flourishing market. Anyways, thanks for the advice. This will make a great weekend project!

Posted by:

26 Feb 2009

I recorded a show on my cable tv dvr and I'd like to make a permanent copy to dvd (or to my pc?). I don't currently own a dvd recorder and don't want to buy one if this won't work. Any suggestions?

Posted by:

27 Feb 2009

We've switched from Charter cable and its DVR, which was quite unreliable to DISH Network and its DVR and upgraded our service to HD when purchasing our first HDTV. The DISH HD DVR (VIP722)is as easy as it gets to operate!

Posted by:

27 Feb 2009

I used to have DirectTV with a hacked (250G drive) DirectTV/Tivo unit, loved it.
I switched when uverse came in (wanted to switch from comcast internet), and signed up for uverse to try it.
- whole house DVR, very cool
- it uses my existing (1G wired) network to connect extra TVs, no additional wiring needed.

- DVR is crap
* Can't limit # of recordings.
* Can Prioritize series recordings
* Buggy - hit 30 second advance, it will either change channel sometimes or bring up menu normally shown when show is over (restart, delete, etc)
- Had a couple of time when it recorded a movie for ~1hr, stopped 5-10 minutes, then recorded rest of show.
- Not recorded some shows (probably related to non-prioritzation or crappy program guide).
* Uverse's channel guide sucks. Half the shows don't list if its a repeat or not, so you can't schedule first run only, or you'll miss shows.
- They raised extra TVs to $7 a month two months after signing up. No extra benefits, just higher cost.
- HD only - show freezes/pixelates/sound drops first few seconds after changing channels. This is understandable but annoying nonetheless.

I will be switching back to DirectTV as soon as their HD Tivo is ready!

Posted by:

Daniel Slosberg
01 Mar 2009

We have a TIVO connected to one television and a TimeWarner-supplied DVR connected to another. There's no comparison between the two (but I'll compare them anyway): the TIVO is easy to use, friendly and fun while the TimeWarner DVR is complicated, hard-to-use, and frequently screws up recordings. It's like the difference between a Ferrari and a Yugo.

Posted by:

02 Mar 2009

I use Optimum's IO DVR, and I love it. The downsides are the same ones the Charter customer had complained of:

-If you record two shows, you cannot watch a third show while the two record.
-I've tried moving the begin and end times for shows to prevent the very end from getting cut off. But invariably, the DVR begins and stops at the preset time slots on the IO tuner.
-If you pause for too long, the DVR will eventually take itself out of pause and start playing on its own.

All that said, the system is pretty easy to use. I was hesitant to do the cable company's DVR, as the $10 per month is in addition to a $40 installation fee (what installation? *I* had to go to their office and switch settop boxes myself...nobody came to my house!). But I think it's been a worthy purchase after all.

Oh, and to the guy who was lamenting Time Warner's prices: I feel your pain! I lived in the FL market for a long time and was served by Time Warner. They were SO expensive!!!! Optimum provides quadruply faster internet service, reliable phone service, and FREE HD...all for a HELLUVA lot less than I was paying for basic cable, internet, and phone thru Time Warner!

Posted by:

04 Mar 2009

Out of curiosity, why did you ignore the Dish Network DVRs? They not only do pretty much the same things the others you mentioned do, but as far is I can tell, has the only dual-tuner DVR that allows you to record 2 different channels while playing a recorded show. They can, on occasion, be less precise in setting recording times than TiVO, but this is due mainly to the broadcasters who purposely skew the timing of their shows to optimize receipt of their garbage advertising. Paying careful attention to setting schedules can usually overcome this issue.

Posted by:

04 Mar 2009

To anyone currently using a DVR provided by your cable provider, I say this:

Do yourself a huge favor and TRY a TiVo. You'll be amazed at the difference in the ease of use, reliability of recording, and flexibility of the TiVo experience. Add in the extra features that TiVo now offers, such as the ability to stream movies on your NetFlix queue direct to your TV, and you'll be truly "once bitten, forever smitten."

TiVo has a legion of loyal fans such as myself who advocate the product purely because we want others to experience the joy of TiVo ownership for themselves. When was the last time you heard a Time-Warner DVR user extolling the virtues of his equipment? More likely, you heard him complaining about how it missed his favorite show (again) last night.

Yes, there's an upfront cost and a monthly service fee, but you can ditch your cable company's STB/DVR which in most cases will wind up actually saving you money each month. I'm not going to lie and say it'll pay for itself in the first year, but you really owe it to yourself to give it a try.

They have a 30-day money-back guarantee if you're not absolutely delighted, but I doubt they get very many people ever taking them up on that - it really is that good.

Superior product, money back guarantee, lower monthly cost... it's a no-brainer!

Posted by:

06 Mar 2009

In Summer, 2008, I bought a Philips DVDR 3576H, which is a standalone DVR and DVD player/recorder with a 160 GB hard drive. It has worked great--I have no complaints. I capture TV signals with an antenna (no cable or satellite).

Posted by:

06 Mar 2009

By the way, I just checked the price of the DVR I mentioned (the Philips DVDR 3576H) and notice that Amazon lists it for an outrageous $800. When I bought it last summer at Sam's outlet store, I paid about $250.

Posted by:

Mary A. Axford
10 Mar 2009

I have a TIVO and love it for the most part. A coworker of mine has it through her satellite company, I'm not sure whether Direct or Dish, and so does her sister. They've both had their entire set of recordings wiped, sometimes more than once. I've never had this problem with Tivo. Anyone else know about this problem and why it may be happening?

Posted by:

Paul Hansknecht
23 Mar 2009

I've been using Comcast's HD DVR for 5 years now. I'm generally very satisfied with it, now that I have their latest box. The first 3 died and were promptly replaced by Comcast, but all my recordings were lost each time. They have no mechanism to transfer content from DVR to DVR! Seems like a designer wasn't thinking ahead. And that leads to how I am now set up to record to DVD from my DVR:

To the person who wants to burn DVDs from recorded content: No problem, except, of course, that you can't record in HD. The best you can do is to make an S-video connection from your DVR to your DVD recorder. It does quite well, but it's frustrating that you can't record faster then real-time. It takes an hour to record an hour.

Posted by:

08 Apr 2009

Quoted from Jon "To anyone currently using a DVR provided by your cable provider, I say this:"

I am glad you are happy with your Tivo. However, I am perfectly happy with my Moxi HD DVR through Charter (only part of the service I am totally happy with). Not only is it easy to use and reliable but at $15 a month ($2 more than a Tivo Subscription) it would take 150 months before I would pay the same amount as buying a Tivo upfront and paying for the monthly service. That is not taking into account depreciation or any of the other standard accounting practices when dealing with money over time. I am pretty sure both will be obsolete by the time I would break even with a Tivo.

Posted by:

Swede in NJ
08 Apr 2009

Had DirectTv for years (with Tivo service), until the new UNRELIABLE HD satellite went up. That and coupled with no TIVO anymore with the new satellite, we went back to cable (CableVision) despite that Direct offers (a lot) more HD channels.

I have had (or used) pretty near all the dvr services there are (including DISH's) and there is no question that TIVO is in a class by itself. Far far and away superior. And it DOES record 2 channels while watching an already recorded program. (not with all models of Tivo)

Posted by:

D Knape
08 Apr 2009

I've had several Tivo's the latest of which is a Tivo HD. Some of the things I love about it go beyond just recording 2 channels at the same time and watching a 3rd recorded program. We also have the Tivo connected to the internet and are able to download Netflix movies as well any of the videos available from Amazon. We can also listen to any mp3's and or display any digital photos we've taken and stored on the computer. You can even watch You Tube videos.

We have had some problems of late with Time Warner as they are changing some of there HD chanels to Switch Digital which requires a Tuning adapter to be installed all provided by Time Warner. We do pay $12.95 per month for the Tivo service and $2.50 per month for the cable card from Time Warner that inserts into the Tivo and allows us to watch the digital channels. The Tuning adapter is provided free of charge from Time Warner and after a few glitches is working great.

I love Tivo.

Posted by:

08 Apr 2009

We just got Tivo recently and love it. Being able to record two channels at once is nice, the system is extremely easy to use, and there are many helpful features for selecting programs included in the service.

Posted by:

L Potts
08 Apr 2009

On a dvr that you purchase can you unplug it and take it to another city and watch it there?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't see why not.

Posted by:

Jo L. Will
09 Apr 2009

Or, not even mentioned: if you can find one of the earlier models of Replay TV on Ebay, that came standard with Commercial Advance. It skips over the commercials automatically. Replay was sued at the time by the movie/TV industry, and in the settlement agreed to drop the CA feature on future models. I bought mine on Ebay four years ago and the CA feature now works about 70% of the time with an over the air Digital signal (through a Channelmaster digital to analog convertor box). My lifetime subscription had been $300 (same as TiVo). The schedule listing service updates nightly over the Internet (ethernet cable to my wireless router). Now if one could just buy the Commercial Advance software load from somewhere?

Posted by:

29 Jan 2010

Is it possible to download DVR movies to the computer? (as easy as possible please)lol Thanks

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