A look at the features of today"s set-top DVRs

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Digital Video Recording has quickly replaced the VCR. This started many years ago but it continues today as more and more people add these devices to their home theaters.

There are several advantages to using a digital video recorder (DVR) over a VCR. DVRs record programming to a hard disk within the device meaning that you never have to change tapes again. As well, most DVRs come with an electronic programming guide (EPG) so that you never have to manually program a recording again.

DVRs can go by several names including personal video recorder (PVR) and hard disk recorder (HDR).

Recording Space

DVRs can vary greatly in the amount of hard drive space available for recording. Many of the carrier supplied DVRs come with 160 or 250GB hard drives. When DVRs were first introduced, this was plenty of space. Most shows were recorded in standard definition and didn't take up much room.

Now that most programming is broadcast in high definition, these smaller drives are filling up quickly. If you use a DVR supplied by your content provider, you may find yourself having to manage your space in order to ensure that you don't miss or lose shows you want to watch.

The Electronic Programming Guide

All modern DVRs come with software that acts as an Electronic Programming Guide or EPG. The EPG is usually downloaded from your provider (or from the internet) and allows you to see what programming will be on each channel at a certain time. Most EPGs provide 10 to 14 days worth of Data.

Having an EPG makes recording shows much easier than manually programming them.

You can simply select the show you want to watch and using your remote control, setup one-time or repeat recordings that will record every episode of a show.

It should be noted that EPGs are not perfect. At times, channels will change programming and if the EPG isn't updated quickly enough, you may miss a recording. As well, sporting events usually run long and you can end up catching the end of a football game rather than the show you thought you'd be watching. That said, these occurrences are rare, and having an EPG is much nicer than manually programming every recording.

Time Shifting

Twenty years ago, if you wanted to watch a show, you typically had to be in front of the TV at the time it was played. With VCRs you could record programming but it was a very manual process and for many it was simply easier to be home at the right time. It allowed for time shifting but not like a DVR.

With the advent of the DVR in the late 1990s, people were finally able to truly time-shift their television watching. You could now watch programming on your time, not your provider's time.

This may be the biggest advantage that a DVR has. Once you have the ability to watch television when you want you may also find that you watch much less "live" TV. A DVR allows you to always have something to watch.


All DVRs come with some sort of TV tuner inside of the device. This allows channels to be changed and in some cases, allows for the watching of protected content from your provider.

DVRs usually come with either one or two internal tuners though some are starting to ship with up to three.

More tuners means more things can be recorded at the same time. With DVRs, more tuners is always better. Depending on the amount of programming you record, you may find that two tuners simply isn't enough. As DVRs mature, hopefully we'll see the integration of four and six tuners set-top boxes to ensure we can always record the programming we want.


Set-top DVRs are by far the most popular type of digital video recorder on the market today. While other options exist, they are by far the easiest solution to implement for most people. As technology moves forward they continue to get better by adding extra features and more recording space.

If you're in the market for a DVR, your best bet is to head to our "Before You Buy" page and familiarize yourself with all of your options. Your DVR may become the center of your entertainment, and you'll want the best experience possible!
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