Best Digital Video Recorder (DVR)

DVR's have proven to be one of the most useful and widely beloved pieces of consumer electronics equipment to permeate our culture since the introduction of the VCR. With the increase in quantity (and quality) of television programming across hundreds of channels, there is more content available to us than ever before. It's become darn near impossible to watch all of it; whether two shows are airing at once or you just can't be in front of the TV when your favorite show is on, now you no longer need to worry about either nightmare scenario. DVR's have given us the freedom to watch our favorite content anytime we choose. These digital miracles contain hard drives that store all of your favorite shows and movies for as long as you wish, enabling you to watch Sunday night television on a Wednesday afternoon.

Can't be home for that must see sporting event? Set the DVR! Most cable and satellite companies have picked up on how crucial these devices have become to our everyday lives, so they now offer brands and models that are compatible with their services. Unfortunately, you can't really choose the one you want. DirecTV and U-Verse supply you with the models they've deemed the best. But some cable companies allow you to use TiVo boxes for their programming and those who don't have cable and rely on a digital antenna need not miss out on this modern convenience either, there are options available for those of you who have cut the cord as well. These five choices below give you very distinct options for purchasing a DVR, based on the following criteria; hard drive storage size, additional features, number of recordable programs, output quality, compatibility, and price.

TiVo Roamio HD Digital Video Recorder and Streaming Media Player

TiVo blazed the trail with DVR. Heck, the name alone became a verb in our cultural lexicon. We were "TiVo'ing" our favorite shows so much, cable and satellite providers started adding their own versions of the company's recording service as part of their service packages. TiVo's Roamio line of DVR's features massive storage capacities, 1080p output, and streaming capability to mobile devices. You can record more than two shows at once, and the monthly subscription costs are low. Read Full Review

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    Why it's best:

    There are three versions of TiVo's Roamio line of digital video recorders; the base model, the Plus, and the Pro. All three of them work with various digital cable companies including Comcast and Verizon FiOS. The base model is also compatible with HD antennas, able to record shows from the networks while offering up streaming options like Netflix, Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus. However, none of the models are compatible with AT&T U-Verse or DirecTV because those companies offer their own versions of digital hard drives for recording shows. The Roamio units have three different hard drive sizes, 500 GB with the base model, 1 TB and 3 TB on the Plus and Pro able to record as much as 450 hours of HD content. If you watch a lot of television, then you'll love the fact that the base model can record up to four shows at once, while the Plus and Pro can record up to six at the same time. That's particularly helpful for major television junkies or families who have different tastes for shows that air in identical time slots.

    Video output on all three versions can be shown at 480, 720 and 1080i/p and all three models have built-in wireless and ethernet connections. The Roamio line of DVR's offers loads of entertainment choices as well, with TiVo's ability to give you recommendations for content you might like to watch based on things you've watched prior, as well as keyword searches for shows, movies, even your favorite actors and actresses. The aforementioned VOD apps are included on all models in addition to music and video apps like Pandora, Spotify and, of course, YouTube. But what gives TiVo's boxes a distinct advantage over all the others is the ability to store and play photos, home movies, and your entire music library at the touch of a button. You don't need to be home to enjoy your TiVo experience either; with the use of TiVo's Streaming service you can view all of this content on your mobile devices just about anywhere you wish.

    TiVo Roamio HD Digital Video Recorder and Streaming Media Player

    Magnavox MDR537H 1TB HDD&DVD Recorder with Digital Tuner

    Magnavox has a combination HDD/DVD recorder that offers a whole lot of storage capacity for SD and HD content. But this unit also has a DVD recorder that lets you transfer your recorded content from the hard drive to DVD and vice versa. Though it won't let you transfer protected data to your internal memory. However, the unit can upconvert DVD's for high-definition output, making your DVD's look a little bit more like Blu-ray's. Unfortunately, this unit will not record HD content. Read Full Review

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      The MDR537H is a digital tuner that acts as your cable box would, just connect it to your TV's digital antenna and you're all set. With 1 TB of hard drive space you get over a 1000 hours of SD content that can be stored on the internal memory hard drive. If there's something you really must have for posterity but need extra hard drive space (though with this much storage capacity that would be highly unlikely) you can transfer that content to a DVD. Much like a regular DVR cable box, you can pause, forward, and rewind live TV and you get up to 36 programs a month to record. This unit will also play DVD's and even upconvert them to 1080p resolution, and though it won't look as perfectly sharp as Blu-ray content, it will improve the picture considerably.

      Magnavox MDR537H 1TB HDD&DVD Recorder with Digital Tuner

      Channel Master DVR+ HD Digital Video Recorder

      The Channel Master DVR+ is a great conduit for recording all of your over-the-air content in full HD. It works just like the DVR on your cable box would, recording one show while you watch another and works in concert with just about any digital antenna and you even get access to the VUDU movie streaming service. Just one thing, however, the Channel Master doesn't have any internal storage itself, it's merely a box that captures your content. You need to connect an external hard drive to actually store it all. Read Full Review

      Why it's best:

      The DVR+ might be a bit misleading to some consumers so let me clarify things up front. Channel Master's unit works just like a typical DVR, designed for use with over-the-air HDTV antennas. You can record your broadcasts in uncompressed HD, watch and record one show while recording another at the same, and easily search and set recordings for your favorite shows, even pause live TV... all without the monthly subscription fee. But there's one fundamental issue here that some consumers might find fault with; and that's the lack of a storage drive in the unit. So while the Channel Master is performing all of these DVR functions with high-resolution picture quality, it's up to you to provide an external hard drive for storing all of your content. That means you're paying for an extra piece of equipment after you've already spent around $250 and this could turn some people off to the product. On the flipside, you have total control over the storage space capacity of your DVR, whether you want smaller size or larger; and if it ever fails you don't have to worry about getting rid of the entire unit. Just replace the external hard drive. The inclusion of the VUDU service offers wider viewing options for on-demand content in addition to shows, movies, and live sports you can pick up through your HDTV antenna.

      Channel Master DVR+ HD Digital Video Recorder

      Hauppauge 1512 HD-PVR 2 High-Def Personal Video Recorder

      Hauppauge's PVR unit is one for the gamers who also like to watch a lot of television shows. The 1512 lets you record HD video from your satellite or cable box while also compatible with a PC and all major gaming consoles for capturing those unforgettable moments in your favorite videogames. It'll even let you upload your sweet moves to YouTube, Twitch, and UStream. Read Full Review

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        This PVR (personal video recorder) is meant to work in concert with your pre-existing cable box or satellite hookup, but with this unit you can avoid paying your service provider's DVR subscription fee. With the Hauppauge 1512, you pay a one time price of around $200 and that's it, no monthly bill to record and store your favorite movies and TV shows from your cable service. Just connect the HD-PVR 2 to your box and then control the channels from the unit, setting recordings from Hauppauge's TV scheduler. Avid gamers can also connect the PVR to their PC or just about any gaming console like the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, to record those memorable moves that your friends just wouldn't believe without seeing them for themselves. The footage is captured in 1080p resolution using the H.264 video encoding format that is used to compress content on Blu-ray discs and is designed to bring excellent picture clarity while using less storage space. Recording your game is easy, just hit the record button on top of the unit and the machine does the rest. Once you've got some awesome footage of your expertise, it's ready to be uploaded to YouTube or open a StreamEez account to stream and upload the content to Twitch or UStream. If you start to run out of space, you can offload your TV shows, movies, and game footage onto a DVD-R that can be played in DVD or Blu-ray player.

        Hauppauge 1512 HD-PVR 2 High-Def Personal Video Recorder

        SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME CableCard TV 3-Tuner HDHR3-CC

        A DVR for watching television online, the HD HomeRun Prime from SiliconDust can bring HD quality programming to your computer. Connect it to any HDTV antenna and you're watching over the air content on your laptop or PC. This unit works much in the same way as the Channel Master DVR+ in that it doesn't have any storage capacity itself, but merely acts as a conduit for viewing and recording content. Read Full Review

        Why it's best:

        SiliconDust's HD DVR and tuner can be classified as a channel box for your computer. Those consumers who prefer to watch their shows and movies online no longer have to wait for streaming services like Hulu to offer the newest episodes from the major networks. The HomeRun Prime can deliver them immediately to your computer. You also have the option to purchase a CableCARD from your service provider to access the premium channels you have on your existing cable subscription so you don't need to pay the extra money for an additional cable box. But like the Channel Master, this unit has no internal memory on its own but instead utilizes your computer hard drive to store content. Of course, this could monopolize your available storage space, but you can always plug an external hard drive into the unit instead and work from there. Best of all, the HomeRun Prime also works with Xbox 360 and PS3 to receive and broadcast HD content, in case you don't have a PC, and the company's website even helps you find which over the air channels are available in your area. Just type in your zip code and the website will give you a list of what to watch.

        SiliconDust HDHomeRun PRIME CableCard TV 3-Tuner HDHR3-CC
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        1 comments
        • Dave C Dave C

        I'd like to dump my cable TV service and replace it with some combination of Roku, Boxee, NetFlix, Hulu, etc. etc. The choices are bewildering. Of course, I'll have an internet connection. I'd like to know the best options for my scenario. We watch very little TV -- just a couple regular shows and the Olympics along with couple sports (figure skating and college football for my team). What's your recommendation?

        Posted on 11/30/2009 8:19 am | Reply