Why Buy a DVR?
Believe it or not, there once was a time when catching your favorite show meant scheduling your activities around your TV program. Thanks to the advent of digital video recorders (DVRs) those days are gone. With a DVR your TV watching can be programmed around your schedule, instead of the other way around.
In many instances a DVR will replace your cable box and you can watch without a cable or satellite subscription. With many DVRs you have the option of acquiring a CableCARD from a cable provider and accessing digital channels by inserting the card into a slot on the DVR. The majority of DVRs have internal hard drives that allow you to record shows directly onto the device. Unlike the experience of recording on the prehistoric devices used by our cave-dwelling ancestors, recording on DVRs is quick and easy.
Most have recording options which let you set the DVR to record your favorite shows whenever there is a new episode and skip all the rest, so you will never forget to set it and your hard drive won’t get bogged down with shows you’ve already seen. While the majority of DVRs have plenty of internal storage space, they often have eSATA ports that let you connect to an external hard drive to expand your recording capacity even more. Many DVRs have streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, while allowing you to access channels over the air or through unscrambled digital signals instead of paying monthly cable fees.
Some DVRs have streaming options and give you access to both digital and analog (over-the-air) channels. It wasn’t that long ago that the thought of having the ability to manipulate live TV by pausing, rewinding, fast forwarding and even slowing it down seemed almost ludicrous. But virtually all DVRs can now do exactly that. You can skip over commercials, cruise by sappy love scenes or watch a winning touchdown in slow motion. To help you choose the right DVR for your home, we’ve written articles on DVRs to help you narrow down your selection.
DVRs: What to Look For
With a DVR gracing your entertainment center, everyone in your household can watch their favorite shows – even if multiple show times overlap. The best DVRs make this process easy with simultaneous recording and a large hard drive. Our favorites are the TiVo Roamio Pro, the Dish Hopper and the DirecTV Genie. These three products have excelled in our side-by-side comparison of the best DVRs, performing well in the following criteria:
A product is only as good as the sum of its parts, and a DVR is no different. The most important functional elements under a DVR’s hood are hard drive space and simultaneous recording options. If you want to build a large HD library of recorded movies and full seasons of TV shows, you should find a DVR with terabytes of storage space. Many of the latest models also have built-in Wi-Fi, which gives you access to a world of entertainment, such as On Demand programming and streaming options like YouTube, Netflix. It also lets you access live TV on your mobile devices.
Non-cable subscribers need to keep a careful eye on the compatibility options of their preferred DVR. You will want it to work with your television, whether standard or high definition and be able to access free, over-the-air channels. If you are a cable or satellite subscriber and don’t want to use the provided DVR, look for a unit that is compatible with all cable providers.
DVRs can access more than just the cable TV you subscribe to. Some give you access to online video services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video and even photo sharing sites like Photobucket and Flickr. If you don’t subscribe to cable, make sure the unit you buy can pull free channels from over-the-air broadcasts and unscrambled digital signals.
Input & Output
Most DVRs have both input and output connectors. While most of the activity of a DVR doesn’t require wires, it is nice to have the ability to, for instance, hook up an external hard drive to an eSATA port if you need it. Sometimes not even hundreds of hours of recording space is enough when extended over months and years, and you may find yourself wanting to expand. A USB port can facilitate expanded storage and connect to a mouse or a computer. An HDMI port allows you to connect to a computer or TV via an HDMI cable to access online content and assure top-quality digital sound and video. Some DVRs also have analog connections to access over-the-air content. The more connections you have the greater your entertainment options.
Help & Support
A good help and support base is an important aspect of the DVR you choose. These recording devices are fairly complex, and if you run into trouble, you’ll want a manufacturer who has responsive tech support in the form of live chat, email or phone support. You sometimes don’t realize how important customer support is until you experience a breakdown in communication when you’re having issues. So you’ll want to look for companies with a strong support system. Our Help & Support section will help you make an informed decision.
So many good TV shows, so little time. We'll help you find the best DVR for your needs so you can streamline your entertainment experience. Having the ability to record multiple channels at once and going back to watch your favorite shows when it's convenient for you keeps you in control of your entertainment.