We spent over 20 hours comparing the best digital video recorders. We determined that the best DVR choice overall is the Dish Hopper 3. It has 16 tuners – over three times more than any other DVR in our comparison –allowing you and your family to record or watch up to 16 shows simultaneously. It also has the largest amount of onboard storage, the most input and output options, and the greatest content accessibility of any DVR.
Dish Hopper 3
The Dish Hopper 3 lets you watch or record 16 shows simultaneously. It has a 2TB internal hard drive and access to the most content sources of any DVR.
DirecTV HR44 Genie HD
The DirecTV Genie HD can record up to five shows simultaneously. It can skip commercials and schedule future recordings too. And this affordable device has a 1TB hard drive to store 200 hours of HD content.
TiVo Roamio OTA VOX
With the TiVo Roamio OTA VOX, you can watch over-the-air shows with the benefits of a DVR, like scheduling recordings and skipping commercials, without the hassle of a subscription.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Price||Functionality||Design||Access||Simultaneous Recording||Simultaneous Watching||Schedule Recordings||Skip Commercials||Parental Controls||Hard Drive Space||HD Recording Capacity (hours)||USB||HDMI||Ethernet||Coax||Dimensions (inches)||Cable Channels||Over-the-Air Channels||Satellite Channels||Streaming Services||4K Content Supported||Mobile App|
|Dish Hopper 3||View Deal||4.5/5||5||5||5||4||16||16||✓||✓||✓||2TB||0||2.0||✓||✓||✓||11.4 x 16 x 2||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|DirecTV Genie HD||View Deal||4.5/5||3.2||3.9||4.4||5||5||4||✓||✓||✓||1TB||200||2.0||✓||✓||✖||15.5 x 15.2 x 4.5||✓||✖||✓||✖||✓||✓|
|TiVo Bolt VOX||View Deal||4/5||4.4||4.8||4.4||2.5||4||4||✓||✓||✓||1TB||150||2.0||✓||✓||✓||11.4 x 7.3 x 1.8||✓||✓||✖||✓||✓||✓|
|TiVo Roamio OTA VOX||View Deal||4/5||2.5||4.7||4.4||3||4||4||✓||✓||✓||1TB||150||2.0||✓||✓||✓||15.1 x 7.4 x 2||✖||✓||✖||✓||✖||✓|
|Tablo Dual Lite OTA||View Deal||3.5/5||1.9||3||3.4||5||2||6||✓||✓||✖||0||2.0||✖||✓||✓||1.5 x 4.9 x 4.8||✖||✓||✖||✖||✖||✓|
|Tablo Dual 64GB OTA||View Deal||3.5/5||1.9||3.5||3.4||4.5||2||6||✓||✓||✖||64GB||0||✖||✓||✓||1.5 x 4.9 x 4.8||✖||✓||✖||✖||✖||✓|
|AVerMedia EzRecorder 310||View Deal||3.5/5||3.2||2.9||2.4||4.5||1||1||✓||✓||✖||0||2.0||✓||✓||✖||7.5 x 6 x 1.3||✓||✓||✖||✓||✖||✖|
|Tablo 4-Tuner OTA||View Deal||3/5||1.9||3||3.7||3.5||4||6||✓||✓||✖||40||2.0||✖||✓||✓||1.5 x 6.9 x 4.6||✖||✓||✖||✖||✖||✓|
If you’re a Dish customer, you have access to the most powerful and capable DVR on the market.
The Dish Hopper 3 has unparalleled storage and content accessibility, as well as 16 tuners – allowing you to watch or record far more shows simultaneously than any other digital video recorder in our comparison.
The large 2TB hard drive gives you twice the native storage capacity of any DVR, which means you can record and store up to 500 hours of high definition content, or 2,000 of standard definition content. It also supports 4K content. If you purchase Dish Joey devices, you can stream anything saved to the Hopper 3 on multiple TVs throughout your home. There is also a companion mobile app which allows you to watch live TV on a portable device, like an iPad.
The DVR has impressive content source accessibility and built-in Wi-Fi, so you can watch shows from your TV subscription as well as from other sources such as Netflix or YouTube. This DVR can skip commercials, and the Hopper 3’s powerful search function compiles all shows, no matter the source, in a single place, streamlining the process of finding the perfect show. You can schedule a single recording or recurring series using the remote, or from your phone or tablet through the app.
DirecTV’s Genie HD DVR is a powerful and versatile option for medium-size households wanting to record and watch multiple shows at the same time.
It has 1TB of onboard storage, though you can easily connect more via the USB 2.0 port. With that much storage, you can store approximately 200 hours of high definition content, or 800 hours of standard definition content. The device also supports 4K content, which is great for anyone who already has a compatible 4K UHD television.
There is also the option to add on a Genie Mini, which allows you to play recorded content on multiple TVs throughout your house. This is handy if you and your kids want to watch different shows at the same time. With the Genie HD DVR, you can easily skip commercials and schedule future single or recurring recordings. It also has solid parental controls, allowing you to control what kind of content your kids can access.
The Genie HD has somewhat limited access to content sources. You’ll have access to anything in your TV package subscription, but that’s about it. Many other DVRs allow you to access over-the-air content or anything from streaming video and audio services. DirecTV makes up for this slightly by allowing you to watch your recordings on the go via its companion mobile app.
Best OTA Option
If you’re a cord cutter, or simply want to trim your budget, TiVo’s Roamio OTA VOX is an excellent DVR option for you.
Although it offers less content than the top-ranking DVRs, it is otherwise on par with the best, most powerful options in our comparison. It boasts 1TB of internal storage, plenty of input and output options, and best of all – it doesn’t require any subscription in order to work.
With the Roamio OTA VOX, you can record or watch as many as four shows simultaneously. It can access any over-the-air content, as well as media from streaming video and audio services. TiVo also makes it exceptionally easy to schedule a recording. Whether you just want to record a movie, or every upcoming episode of a TV show, the OTA VOX’s recording function is easy to use.
The 1TB hard drive can hold about 150 hours of high definition shows. If you want more storage, the OTA VOX has a USB 2.0 port for connecting an external hard drive. It also has HDMI and Ethernet ports, as well as coax connectivity. TiVo’s complementary mobile app even allows you to schedule a recording or watch your recorded content while on the go.
Best for Video Editing
The AVerMedia EzRecorder 310 lets you trim and edit the video you record right from the device.
It's perfect for cutting out unwanted commercials or inappropriate content for younger viewers. You can record content from cable channels, over-the-air channels and your favorite streaming service or set it up to record scheduled content and even automatically cut out the commercials. You can only record one TV show at a time, but this isn’t a problem if you’re the only one using it. You need a dedicated hard drive with at least 500 GB to store all your recorded content, though it can't be any larger than 2 TB. This DVR is better suited for tech-savvy users who want hands-on editing capabilities.
Best Budget OTA
The Tablo Dual Lite OTA is one of the best over-the-air DVR units because you can watch recordings on up to six devices simultaneously.
It's also really affordable. You can record over-the air content in both standard and high definition and because it has two tuners to record two shows at once. You need your own hard drive to save all this content to, but the Tablo Dual Lite OTA is compatible with units up to 8 TB, which is a massive amount of storage space. The built-in dual band Wi-Fi lets you watch your recorded content on internet-connected devices around your house so there’s no arguing about who gets to watch their favorite shows. You can't record cable or satellite content with this DVR, but it you're interested in solely over-the-air content, like free local TV stations, it's the best option out there.
Why Trust Us
We spent over 20 hours evaluating eight DVRs and determined that the best choice overall is the Dish Hopper 3. We compared DVRs from cable and satellite companies, as well as those manufactured by third-party sources. We evaluated their storage and file organization, media sourcing abilities, recording and playback capabilities, and interface. We noted which devices were easy to use, powerful and capable.
How Much Do DVRs Cost?
The DVR boxes we tested cost an average of $250. Units with more modern capabilities like 4K video and multi-program recording cost closer to $400, while old fashioned OTA boxes are about $200. Some DVRs require a separate hard drive to store your recorded content, which increases the overall cost of your investment. Purchase one with at least 1 TB of storage space, which costs roughly $50.
How We Evaluated
As we evaluated these DVRs, we looked at how much high definition (HD) and standard definition (SD) content they can store, how many tuners they have, how they record and play content, how many unique sources of content each can access, and the quantity and quality of inputs and outputs each comes with. We also pored over reviews from actual customers and compared them to manufacturer specifications.
We found that the best options were powerful, feature-rich high performers with all the bells and whistles, as they offer the most flexibility for the widest variety of users. However, there are plenty of less expensive DVRs that provide basic yet solid functionality.
Key Features to Look for When Buying a DVR
Odds are, if you’re considering a DVR, you’re serious about keeping up with your favorite TV shows and movies. If your DVR has a small hard drive and you can’t keep up with your shows, the DVR may quickly fill up and become unable to record new episodes. We found that the best DVRs have at least 1TB of storage, if not double or triple that. At the very least, a DVR should allow you to connect an external hard drive, so you can store more of your shows.
Households with more than one person using a DVR should choose a device that allows for simultaneous recording and viewing from at least 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 multiple TVs throughout your home, appeasing everyone in your family. Mom and Dad can watch the latest Netflix series in the living room while the kids watch their favorite TV shows in the playroom, and Uncle Joe can catch up on the latest sports highlights in the guest room. Of course, if you want to ensure your little ones aren’t watching anything inappropriate, look for a unit that has versatile parental controls.
Consider your viewing needs as well as what – if any – hardware or cable contracts you currently have as you look for a DVR. Few DVRs can record content from every single given source. More often, however, you’ll see some that 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 devices, 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 the DVR companies 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. DVRs 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, travelling 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 cable contract. A few of them, like TiVo, 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 is less than advertised, as it does have some software already installed on it by the manufacturer which allows it to run; this is the same case for computers, smartphones, etc. Most DVRs have between 500GB and 2TB of space, which is enough for most users. However, power users may find that they need to connect an additional external hard drive for even more space. Before you buy a DVR, consider your general storage usage habits and think about how often you plan on watching then deleting future content.
It’s also good to know exactly how much space a TV show or movie takes up on a hard drive so that you can plan ahead and buy a DVR that’s the right size for your needs. Also consider whether you regularly consume more HD or SD content. In general, high-definition (HD) and 4K content take up much more space than standard-definition (SD) does. Files for these formats are bigger because they contain more data. Because of this, you won’t be able to record as much HD or 4K content as you can SD content.
For reference, every hour of standard-definition content you record will require approximately 1GB of space on the DVR’s internal hard drive. So, if you have a 500GB DVR, you can store about 500 hours of content. This translates to roughly 1,000 hours for a 1TB DVR, and about 2,000 hours for a 2TB DVR. For HD content, the rate is about 6GB per one hour, and around 12GB for an hour of 4K content. If you want to record multiple shows of varying definition, it’ll be up to you to plan ahead.
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 licensed 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. Beyond 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 a 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, and who could blame you, you can opt for an over-the-air (OTA) DVR, such as the TiVo Roamio OTA VOX, 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. All DVRs are intended for personal, home use only. If you are unsure what any of the legal limits are, consult your DVR’s provider or legal counsel.