The way we consume TV has changed â no one is tuning in to their favorite TV shows at specific times anymore. Instead, people are watching TV through their streaming devices or recording them on their digital video recorders (DVRs) to be watched later, at their convenience. With a DVR, you can watch when you want to watch, and you can skip the
Most people rent their DVRs from their cable television providers. However, there are better, more flexible, and more affordable options out there as well as a host of options for cord-cutters who want to record shows from their local broadcast TV stations
No matter what kind of TV broadcasts you want to record, there are some great options out there in the DVR world. There are definitely a few to avoid, as well
Not sure what to look for in a DVR or how to narrow down your search? Start by asking yourself the following questions:
â¢ Will you be recording shows with an over-the-air antenna or from a cable provider? This question is really important because DVRs are usually made for one scenario or the other but not both. If you are looking for a DVR to use with your cable TV subscription, look for models that expressly state that theyâre CableCARDâ¢-compatible. If you are a cord-cutter looking to record live TV or shows from local broadcasts, make sure to consider how you will connect your antenna to the DVR
â¢ How many TV shows do you want to keep on your DVR at once? One of the factors that can drive up costs is storage space â the more you need, the more you pay. Think about how many shows you typically keep around on your DVR at any given point in time. If itâs a lot â like more than 50 to 100 shows â consider a DVR with more storage or one with USB ports for adding expandable storage
â¢ Do you own a streaming box? Some DVRs pull double duty as both DVRs and streaming boxes, so you can watch your recordings or movies from streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime all on the same platform. If youâve already got a streaming box, youâve got this need covered. But if you are also looking for a way to get your streaming content on your TV, we suggest a DVR that has streaming video apps built into it
Over-the-air antenna DVRs are great for recording live local broadcasts at the cost of being a tad harder to hook up. We weigh the pros and cons of this style of product during our evaluations. Cable card DVRs utilize any cable subscription that you may have, allowing for a wider variety of broadcasts to be recorded. We consider how easy these products are to set up before use. The storage capacity of a DVR will often determine how expensive it will be. We like to look for options that will meet the needs of a variety of users. For many users, the future capacity of a DVR is a concern. For this reason, we do research into products that can utilize external hard drives or USBs for added storage. With every big network having a streaming service of its own, many DVRs are adding an app store that enables users to access them. We investigate whether each product has the versatility that streaming services provide. As 4K TVs become more popular, so too do DVRs that can record shows that have higher screen resolution. We vet products that claim they support 4K to see if they do in fact provide this high fidelity. One of the most important things to consider is how often you will need to record multiple shows that are on at the same time. We prioritize DVRs that have multiple tuners for a variety of channels. The size of the physical DVR box can determine what area of your television space you are able to keep it in. We consider options that are compact enough to fit in most places. Many DVRs will have a monthly fee that may tack on quite a bit of cost overall. We consider how much the subscription affects the usability of the product itself. The internal settings of a DVR can help provide you with a ton of different options for what shows you record. We vet each product to see how much customization it allows
So what separates the good DVRs from the best DVRs? It comes down to a few key features
Despite the fact that broadcast and cable have not yet adopted the 4K standard, there are still DVRs out there that support 4K â usually because they have streaming apps with 4K content on board as well. If you are planning to use your DVR as a 4K streaming box, be sure to pick one up with 4K support
One of the big differentiators between the various digital video recorders on the market is how many tuners they have â that is, how many shows they can record at once. Consider how many of your favorite shows air at the same time or if youâll want to simultaneously stream your DVR recordings to another device, like a tablet. Every activity requires a tuner, so you will need to make sure the DVR you buy has enough. Most DVRs have a minimum of two tuners. However, if it is within your budget, we recommend opting for one with at least four tuners
DVRs all have hard drives, and the bigger the hard drive, the more episodes you can store on it. Our general advice is to buy more space than you think you will need because itâs better to have extra space than it is to run out. We recommend a minimum of 500GB of space
Some DVRs solve the storage dilemma with USB or eSATA ports, so you can bring your own flash drives or external hard drives to add more space. Using external hard drive or flash drive storage is perfect for people who just canât bear to let some shows go by without recording them, or those who simply watch everything. If you are looking at DVRs that work with external hard drive or flash storage, keep in mind that you will not have the functionality to transfer your DVR recordings to a computer due to file limitations and copyright restrictions
DID YOU KNOW?
A DVR needs a DVR service to function. In some cases, you can get DVR service through your regular cable company with or without a monthly fee
Entry-level DVRs usually cost between $150 and $200. In this price range, you will find DVRs for over-the-air TV, but they often have clunky interfaces or require you to spend more and bring your own file storage space. Some CableCARDâ¢-compatible DVRs can be found in this price range
DVRs that cost between $200 and $500 tend to pull out all the stops. Theyâve got built-in apps and tons of tuners, and they often support streaming to mobile devices â even if theyâre not on your WiFi network. If you record everything, binge everything, and rewatch everything (or if youâre a home theaterwho wants the optimum viewer experience), the best DVRs for you are likely the ones in this price range
Did you know?
Most DVRs require a monthly subscription fee for program and channel guide information. Youâll need this so your DVR knows when your TV shows will be on â it will be nearlywithout it
â¢ If youâre buying a DVR to record content from your cable provider, get one that supports CableCARDâ¢ technology. Cable companies will let you use their TV services with your own DVR via one specific method: CableCARDâ¢. Using CableCARDâ¢, you rent a card from your cable provider that slides into the back of your compatible DVR. Then, the channels you subscribe to become available from within your DVR. Most cable companies only charge a few dollars a month for renting a CableCARDâ¢ (which is still usually cheaper than renting a DVR from them)
â¢ To save space for recording more programming, set your DVR to only record new episodes (and to never record reruns). One mistake a lot of users make is to set their shows to record âall episodes.â This usually results in a lot of reruns or duplicate recordings â so when youâre setting up your recordings, save space by setting them to only record new episodes
â¢ If youâre recording TV using an over-the-air antenna, make sure the antenna youâre using has a large enough range to pick up local live TV and local broadcasts. (Note: most TV antennas sold today are HD antennas. Read our guide to learn more.) TV antennas are each rated based on the mile range of signal they can pick up. For example, a 30-mile HD antenna will likely pick up content in your area, but a 60-mile HD antenna can receive signals from neighboring areas. Do some research online based on your location to find the right antenna range, and make sure the antenna youâre using is the best for your circumstance
â¢ You may have heard of cloud DVRs, and you may be wondering what they are. A cloud DVR stores recorded material on the internet rather than on the device itself. Some Roku devices have built-in cloud DVRs. At this time, however, you should not expect cloud storage to be found on every DVR on the market
Q. How much space does a typical hour of TV take up on a digital video recorder?
A. An hour of high-definition programming will usually consume anywhere between 1.5GB and 5GB. The size will depend on the quality of your recording â for example, most DVRs allow you to record in lower resolutions to conserve space, but if you want to see every original pixel, your recordings will be on the large side
Q. Can I watch my DVR recordings on other devices like my Android or ios smartphone?
A. Most DVRs include support for streaming recorded content to other devices. In most cases, itâs usually limited to streaming on your local network, so you will need to make sure both your DVR and the device you want to watch content on are on the same network. Some high-end DVRs support streaming from anywhere, so you can stream to your phone when youâre on the go or stream to your laptop while youâre at work (not that we encourage that sort of thing)
A. Not yet. The technical standards for antenna broadcasts are currently based on the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) 2.0 standard. Testing and planning are underway for the upcoming new standard: ATSC 3.0. This new standard will support 4K broadcasts. However, there is no current timeline for when it will be implemented.