Input & Output
Help & Support
Why Use a DVR?
We spent over 25 hours researching and evaluating 10 DVRs, also called digital video recorders. We determined that the best DVR choice overall is the Dish Hopper 3. DVR units from cable companies as well as third-party sources were researched, and their functionality and features were studied, compared and pushed to their limits. We evaluated their storage and file organization, media sourcing abilities, recording and playback capacities and interface. We noted which devices were easy to use, powerful and capable.
Best DVR Overall
Best DVR Overall: Dish Hopper
The Dish Hopper 3 beat out every other DVR in our tests, with its unparalleled simultaneous recording capacity, impressive storage capacity and various media options. Its 2TB hard drive can store up to 500 hours of HD content or 2,000 hours of SD content. It can record videos from 16 channels simultaneously and boasts all the standard features such as multi-room streaming, parental controls, scheduling and the ability to fast-forward through commercials. It can record nearly anything, including streaming video services, cable channels to on-demand content.
Best Value DVR
Best Value DVR: TiVo Roamio Plus
For a fraction of the price of premium DVRs, the TiVo Roamio Plus offers similar functionality and compatibility while saving you a few bucks along the way. It has 1TB of storage, which is enough room to store up to 150 hours of HD content or 1,000 hours of SD content. Despite being our pick for a value DVR, it can record six shows simultaneously – the second highest capacity of any device in our comparison. It can skip commercials, stream to multiple TV is your house and has parental controls available. The Roamio Plus is compatible with cable and antenna video sources, along with streaming services. With coax, HDMI and Ethernet connections, as well as composite and component video, it’ll fit right into your existing setup.
DVR Worth Considering
DVR Worth Considering: TiVo Roamio Pro
Though it’s missing some functionality of the best DVRs in our comparison, the TiVo Roamio Pro still offers plenty of power and functionality. What really makes it a DVR worth considering is its gigantic storage capacity. With 3TB, you can save about 450 hours of HD content or up to 3,000 hours of SD content. It can record six shows at the same time and stream them to different rooms in your house. Built-in parental controls keep your kids safe, and it has the ability to record cable- and antenna-based media along with content from streaming services.
DVRs: What We Tested, What We Found
As we tested these DVRs, we looked at how much data they can store of both HD and SD content, how many simultaneous recordings they can handle, how they record and play content, how many sources of content each can access, and the quantity and quality of inputs and outputs each comes with. The best options were solid, feature-rich high performers.
Odds are, if you’re considering a DVR, you’re serious about keeping up with your favorite TV shows and movies. A DVR with a small hard drive can’t hold much, especially if you prefer HD content. The best DVRs have at least 1TB of storage, if not double or triple that.
Households with more than one person using a DVR should choose a device that allows for simultaneous recording from more than two channels. This feature is a must-have if everyone in your family loves primetime shows that play at the same time but on different channels. A good DVR has anywhere from four to six tuners that can each record different content at any given time. You should also make sure your device can skip through commercials for recorded content if you prefer not to watch them.
Equally important to recording multiple shows at the same time is the ability to stream that content on different TVs throughout your home, appeasing everyone in your family. Mom and Dad can watch a movie in the living room while the kids watch a TV show in the playroom, and Uncle Joe can catch up on the latest sports highlights in the guest room. Of course, if you want to have a way to ensure your little ones aren’t watching anything inappropriate, look for a unit that has versatile parental control settings.
Consider your viewing needs as well as what – if any – hardware or cable contracts you currently have as you look for a DVR. No DVR can record content from every single given source. Some can record from cable or an antenna but nothing from a satellite dish. Others may only record content from on-demand or streaming sources. A few can even replace your cable box. You may also be able to use your DVR to view your personal videos, photos and music, through apps like Plex. This helps you connect all of your media into a single, unified source.
You may also want to consider a DVR that has a companion mobile app, such as Tablo. This allows you to view any of your recorded content on your mobile phone, even if you’re not at home. Such apps are handy if you travel a lot but still want to keep up with your favorite shows.
Input & Output
Each DVR differs in the ports it offers. Some provide the bare minimum – for example, just a USB port and either an HDMI or Ethernet port – while others include a coax connection, optical and analog audio ports, component and composite video ports, and even 4K connectivity in addition to the basics. Consider your needs, your existing hardware and your willingness to deal with cords when searching for a DVR.
Help & Support
Ideally, the DVR manufacturer offers a variety of customer support resources, both direct and indirect. All of them offer support over the phone, and depending on the company, you may also have live chat or email support options. If you simply want to learn more about the product or troubleshoot an issue on your own, most companies have knowledgebases, user forums or FAQs on their websites.
How Do DVRs Work?
A DVR is essentially a hard drive, and when you record and save content to it, it’s not much different than saving a file to your computer. They are programmed to be compatible with your TV along with antennas, cable boxes and other media sources. From these external devices, the DVR receives signals through its tuner, and these signals then split, traveling to the hard drive then to your screen. It can do this for multiple shows at once, depending on how many tuners it has.
Most DVRs require a subscription to a service or a cable contract. A few of them, like the TiVo Roamio OTA, have no subscription but focus mainly on over-the-air content.
Planning Ahead: Understanding How Much Content Takes Up a Gigabyte of Storage
One of the main things to consider when buying a DVR is how much recorded content it can hold. A DVR’s actual capacity depends on its hardware, software and how much bloatware is loaded by the provider. In general, though, HD and 4K content take up much more space on the internal hard drive than standard definition videos, since they have more data attached to them. Because of this, you won’t be able to record as much HD or 4K content as you can SD content. Consider whether you regularly watch more HD or SD content to help you find a DVR with the right storage capacity for your needs.
Gray Area: What’s Legal to Record and What Isn’t?
In this age of rampant piracy, content providers and studios are on guard to protect their content and punish those who attempt – successfully or not – to illegally obtain and/or distribute it. DVRs that come with a satellite or cable subscription let you record any of the content they’ve license for as long as you’re their customer. This is justified because you ultimately download the commercials that pay for their content along with the content itself. However, using them to record content outside of the company’s parameters is where things enter a legal gray area. In the United States, the law is really only focused on the source of the content. Outside of the United States, laws may vary.
Content-recording ethics are a bit murkier when you buy a third-party DVR instead of getting one from your cable provider because it isn’t tied to a cable or satellite subscription. If you don’t want to be tied down to a cable subscription, you can opt for an over-the-air DVR, such as the TiVo Roamio OTA, which can legally capture content from free over-the-air channels you can access with a simple, inexpensive antenna. While you don’t have access to all the channels included in a cable or satellite subscription, it may be enough if you just want a little TV to watch every now and then.
It is ultimately a matter of permission, but it also boils down to your intention to distribute anything you’ve recorded, no matter whether it would be free or sold for a price. DVRs are intended for personal use only. If you are unsure what the legal limits are, consult your DVR’s provider or legal counsel.
With so many DVR options for recording all of your favorite shows, you may not have enough time to watch them all. By considering your preferences, usage habits and available resources, you can easily find the right DVR for you and your family’s needs, and streamline your entertainment experience at the same time. Having the ability to record multiple channels simultaneously, skip commercials and connect with online streaming services keeps you in control of your entertainment.
Contributing Reviewer: Suzanne Humphries