Digital Video Recorders 101

If you’ve been hesitant to enter the world of the Digital Video Recorder (DVR), time shifting, and place shifting because it seems complicated and confusing, you may only need a short primer on the topic. Once you know how a DVR works, and what it can do for you, you may be a little more eager to use one. Once you do, you’ll be turning regular television entertainment into your own personalized viewing program.

How Does a DVR Work?

DVRs use computer-based technology that works with your regular television. TV programs are recorded digitally onto a hard disk. When you watch the recorded program, you access it from this hard disk, not from a tape or a live television signal.

Some DVR providers put this technology into a set-box that connects to your television system; it doesn’t matter whether you use cable, satellite, or air. You control the DVR through the box. Some television manufacturers are now incorporating DVR technology right into their new TV models so that the need for boxes and wires is mostly eliminated. This makes using the DVR much simpler.

The most basic thing you can do with a DVR is record a TV program that you’re unable to view at the time its being broadcast. DVRs are similar to your old video cassette recorder (VCR) was. They both let you record the television programs you don’t want to miss, and then watch them when it’s convenient. You won’t have to miss the season finale of your favorite show just because you have to work late or drive the kids to a baseball game. But unlike a DVR, the VCR is severely limited in capability.

DVRs provide you with a lot more than VCRs did. With DVRs, you can “pause” live TV to take a phone call or deal with an interruption; ost people love this. Your DVR will still be recording your show while you’re away. You can come back and start watching from where you left off. You can move backward or forward within the already-recorded portion of your show, even while it’s still recording. Another perk to using a DVR is that you can skip through the commercials without ever having to watch them.

Time Shifting

Like you did with your VCR, you can now use a DVR to ensure that you get to see the conclusion of that cliff hanger, even if you aren’t able to be at home when it’s broadcast. You’re probably already used to doing this with your old VCR.

With a DVR, you’re in charge of a whole lot more than you ever were with a VCR. You can actually start watching your favourite show from the beginning even if you got home 20 minutes late. This is what is now known as “time shifting.” You’re shifting your television programming to fit your own personal time schedule. That’s a whole lot more than your clunky old VCR ever did for you, plus you never have to worry about not having a blank tape on hand!

Place Shifting

Because the video recorded with a DVR is digital and your television programs are recorded onto a hard disk, you’re able to access it from your computer as well as from your DVR system at home. You are, in essence, shifting the place where your television programs will be viewed. Hence the term “place shifting.”

Imagine tuning into your favorite Sunday night line-up from your hotel room while on a business trip overseas. That hotel room feels a lot closer to home now, don’t you think? DirecTV’s newest DVR box will even let you program your DVR from the web, so while you’re out of town you can program anything you might have forgotten before you left!


Not only does having your video files recorded onto a hard disk let you access your entertainment in times and places of your choice, it also lets you share. Video in the form of digital recordings can be sent to others via email or uploaded onto websites. TiVo and One True Media are now offering a service called “Home Movies.” With this service, you can share cute pictures of your cat with your best friend, or annoy relatives with family home videos as often as you like. Your whole social circle will be thrilled!

Personalized Entertainment

Can’t you just see your old TV viewing habits falling into oblivion now? With a DVR, you’re in the driver’s seat, shifting the gears of time and place at will. Your television entertainment now revolves 100% around your personal schedule. And you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to do it all.

Never before has television viewing been so completely personal. So, now that you know the basics of how it works and how the DVR can revolutionize your entertainment world, you’ll look at your TV in a whole new light. You may just find yourself falling in love with your TV all over again and in places you never imagined before.