Update: The world of DVRs has changed pretty drastically since the debut of the TiVo. For a while there were some competitors, but only TiVo has remained standing as most of TiVo's competitors have gone out of business. And if you don't own a TiVo, you'll likely end up using one of the DVRs supplied by your cable company. If you are still interested in buying a DVR, we have some questions you should ask yourself before plunking down your hard-earned cash.
Before you purchase a Set Top Digital Video Recorder (DVR) there are some decisions to make. What's your budget? What are your specific needs? Do you want to record just to a hard drive or to DVD as well? Is their a particular manufacturer you prefer? Are you a Cable or Satellite subscriber? Below are some things to think about before purchasing a Set Top Digital Video Recorder ( DVR ).
How much am I willing to spend?
Set Top DVRs range in price from about $100 to upwards of $1000. TiVO and ReplayTV both offer $99 models (plus a $13/month service charge) that can record 40 hours of programming. After that the prices climb as the hours of recording increase. Other Set Top DVRs vary in price depending on the size of the hard drive (the bigger the drive, the more hours you can record) and whether or not they record to DVD. Some even have VCRs built-in as well.
What do I want to do with my DVR?
Do you want to record lots of TV shows, watch them and then delete them? Then a TiVO or ReplayTV box with a large hard drive would be best. Or do you plan on recording TV to a hard drive and then keeping the shows by putting them on DVD? Then you'll need a set top DVR with a built-in DVD Recorder.
Do you subscribe to Cable TV or Satellite?
Most Cable and Satellite providers offer a DVR service for a monthly charge, usually under $20. A few even offer DVR service for free. These DVRs are leased and remain the property of the Cable or Satellite provider. The clear advantage in this is that there is no up front cost for these DVRs, they are part of your monthly Cable or Satellite bill.
Do you prefer a certain manufacturer?
Some people I know love Sony and will only buy Sony electronic products. Others love Panasonic. If you are like them, this could be a factor in your decision. I try to keep an open mind when it comes to electronics. Even if I haven't heard of a manufacturer, I'll try and do some research and find out about their products. Don't sell yourself short just because of brand loyalty.
Try to get the best connections for your set top DVR and your Television and Home Theater set up (if you have one). If your TV has S-Video or Component inputs, use those instead of Composite (RCA) inputs. If you have a surround sound set up, connect digital optical or coaxial audio instead of composite (RCA) audio. You will get much better picture and sound with higher quality connections.
Deciding on a Set Top DVR isn't easy, but sometimes the decision is made for you. If you subscribe to Cable or Satellite, it makes sense to use their DVRs. However, if you want more recording time or DVD recording capability, then you might want to go with TiVO, ReplayTV or a combination DVD/Hard Drive recorder. I encourage you to read about the various Set Top DVRs and decide what's best for you.