“PVR” stands for Personal Video Recorder. Like a VHS recorder, a PVR can be used to record your favorite programs on TV. Unlike a VCR, however, a PVR lets you skip commercials without fast-forwarding. Convenient, right? It’s an advertiser’s nightmare—but consumers love the idea. Just look at sales for Sony’s TiVo.
PVR’s work by recording shows on a hard drive. On top of letting you skip commercials, you can also “pause” a live show—for up to an hour. So next time you have to answer the phone during Desperate Housewives, you don’t have to miss that key bit of dialogue—you can just pause it.
Types of PVR’s
PVR’s come in two types: HD and standard. “HD” in this case stands for “high definition,” and an HD PVR will let you record programs on a high-def television without compromising on picture quality. For non-HD televisions, a standard PVR should be fine.
PVR’s also come in consumer-electronics and computer formats. With the consumer-electronics PVR, you’ll get a device similar in style to a DVD or VCR recorder—one you can buy independently or through a cable subscription, and which hooks up to your television. The computer-based PVR generally consists of an internal or external card, with software to facilitate the recording process, that hooks into your computer.
Features to look for
Just about all PVR’s allow you to skip over commercials and pause live TV while watching. Not all PVR’s are created equal, however. One important feature to have is the dual-toner feature. This allows you to record two shows on two different channels, or watch one show while you’re recording another. It comes in handy when you have two shows on at the same time and you can’t decide which to watch and which to skip. Not every PVR comes equipped with this feature, but the better and newer versions do. In addition, some PVR’s have the space to record an entire season of a show. Some standard models have up to 150 hours of recording space, although HD PVR’s usually don’t have as much.
All PVR’s should have a way to receive broadcast program schedules—if you’re signed up for cable or satellite TV. Many broadcasting services, like DirecTV, will sell you a PVR along with your subscription. You’ll have to pay either a one-time fee for the PVR or a monthly subscription to use it, on top of your regular monthly costs for the service.
Many PVR’s are set up with an intelligent recording feature. This feature tracks the types of shows you watch, and records other shows it thinks you might like while it isn’t recording other things. When you go to watch a pre-recorded show, you’ll find these extras in among the shows you told the device to record. Some consumers found this feature a bit creepy at first—but once you get used to it, it can be a great way to find out about new shows.
Buying a PVR - Do I have to have cable?
Not necessarily. DirecTV will sell you a cable box with TiVo functions built in, and you pay a subscription to TiVo on top of your subscription to DirecTV. You can also buy stand-alone PVR’s, however. With both computer and electronic-based devices, they can pick up any signal—from your cable, digital or satellite TV subscription, or from the local broadcasting company if you don’t have cable.
The leading brands
TiVo is still the leading PVR brand on the market—despite inroads made by UltimateTV, DishPVR, and ReplayTV. One of the features included on the TiVo that isn’t seen in other brands is the preference engine—a feature that allows you to indicate how much you like or dislike a certain show. This gives TiVo a hint as to which shows to prioritize in your recording schedule, as well as which shows you might like that you aren’t recording. It makes the likes-and-dislikes analysis feature that much stronger. TiVo also has a WishList feature, which allows you to enter things like a favorite actor’s name or other search terms. The TiVo will then find and record programming which includes your favorite actor.
UltimateTV, however, has two tuners—something that most PVR junkies can’t live without. TiVo only offers one tuner at this time; its most recent model has two tuners, but one doesn’t work at this time—TiVo assures us that its software upgrade, which should get the second tuner in working order, is coming soon.
The bottom line when shopping for a PVR? Shop around. There are loads of features, some of which aren’t as necessary and some of which you may find you can’t live without. Regardless of the type of PVR you wind up getting, there’s no doubt that having one will change the way you watch TV. Most people who own PVR’s wonder how they lived without one for so long.