Comparing Top DVRs on the Market Today

So you’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon and purchase a DVR for your home entertainment system. DVRs are a great piece of technology that help make a busy day a little more relaxing by recording your favorite programs while you’re out. DVR is short for “digital video recorder” but you may have also heard it called “personal video recorder.” Either way, they’re going to make sure you watch the programs you love, at a time that’s convenient for your hectic schedule. The best part is you can do all of it without commercials!

Let’s take a look at few popular brands of DVR systems. Here you will find information on TiVo, ReplayTV, UltimateTV and Open Source DVRs. Knowing the good, the bad and the ugly of all of these brands will help you make a better decision on which one is right for you and your pocketbook.


TiVo has been known for its simplicity and remains the widest selling DVR system in the United States. Their ad campaign claims that TiVo “gets you” and will always supply a lengthy list of shows suiting your television needs. TiVo also lets you rewind and fast forward through live TV, so you don’t have to pre-record to skip all those pesky commercials. You can also watch one channel while your TiVo records another. Having TiVo makes all those movie channels you pay extra for, worth it!You can throw out your TV guide too, because TiVo has its own program guide stocked for 2 weeks at a time.

Of course with every great product there are a few downsides, but TiVo isn’t too bad. The biggest issue with TiVo is the cost. There are several different systems to purchase and beyond that, you have to pay for a monthly service plan. And yes, you have to pay a lot of money if you want to reap all the wonderful benefits that TiVo has to offer. You can’t just pay monthly for TiVo like you do with cable; you have to enter a contract lasting at least 3 months. Beyond what you’re paying for your regular cable bill, you will most likely be tacking on another $20.00 a month. However, you can prepay for up to 3 years, and that will give you a big monthly discount. The boxes themselves will cost you anywhere between $100-$800.

Find more on TiVo


ReplayTV started in 1997. This brand works with your home PC to record your favorite shows, skip commercials and even download photos and make a slide show on your television set. Considerable less expensive than top models like TiVo, ReplayTV is the perfect option for people looking for a standard DVR.

ReplayTV comes with some great options that TiVo and other brands do not offer. Since it’s compatible with your PC, you can record your favorite programs while not even in your home. If you find yourself working late and don’t want to miss your favorite sitcom, simply use any computer to tell your DVR what to record. That way, when you get home from a long day at the office, your shows will be saved and waiting for you. A downside to ReplayTV is that it doesn’t have the “brain” that TiVo has. It has yet to come out with a system that records shows it thinks you may like. This may or may not be a desirable feature to all DVR users, and is important to consider. ReplayTV also has a very reasonable monthly subscription fee. For less than $10 you can activate all the goodies it has to offer. Also, unlike other DVR subscription and even cable packages, the more boxes you install in your home, the cheaper your monthly bill will be, as ReplayTV offers discounts if you purchase multiple units. This system is great for anyone who knows exactly what they like to watch and doesn’t want to pay a hefty subscription bill each month.

Find more on ReplayTV


UltimateTV is a service provided by Microsoft. Loaded with goodies, this system works with users subscribed to satellite DirecTV. It offers anything and everything that great DVRs should have, and can record and store up to 35 hours of your favorite programming. UltimateTV has two satellite tuners for maximum usage. Users can watch 2 shows at once with the picture-in-picture function and even watch one show while recording 2 others!

A downside to UltimateTV is that it is only available to consumers who plan to buy, or already have DirecTV. Unlike its competitor TiVo, this unit is unable to record shows it thinks you may enjoy later.But this would be great for satellite users who know exactly what they want to watch, and do not need robotic assistance. The packages for conjoined DirecTV and UltimateTV are pretty inexpensive, with packages starting around $50.00.

Find more on UltimateTV

Build Your Own

Still not interested in any of the above options? You can always use open source information and build your own. It will take some money, a ton of patience, knowledge of computers, especially Linux and some electronics know-how. You’ll most likely need a surplus of scrap parts and/or an old computer. Combine all of that and you’re sure to have a great DVR of your very own, with all the bells and whistles that the big boys have. The Linux-based software is supposedly easy to work with, and once completed you can control your homemade DVR with a simple remote. Not to mention, open source means the software is free!

Since you won’t be paying costly DVR bills each month, what could possibly be wrong about open source, DIY DVRs? Well for starters, if something goes wrong, you’re the customer support and the repairman. It is a costly venture to build one on your own from spare parts, and will most likely cost A LOT more upfront to build than buying a ready-to-use model like TiVo, but on the bright side, you’ll save money on subscription fees. A few hundred bucks upfront will save you thousands down the road.

Those are just 4 out of many options to suit your DVR needs. Always remember to shop around, do your research and think of long term budgeting when it comes to subscription costs. Don’t feel the need to pay for extra services when you don’t really think you’ll use them. You can always get them later. Don’t forget to enjoy your DVR. Once you’ve started using one in your home, watching television will never be the same!

Find more on DIY DVRs


The Butler's picture

Watch one channel while recording another on TiVo?  Not on my series 2!  How is this done?

Chris Miller's picture

Agreed.  That was a somewhat misleading comment for Series 2 Tivos.  Unless you have a Series 2 DT (dual tuner), you can't watch/record two programs directly through the Tivo.  That said, there are a couple round-about ways to handle dual content with a single tuner Series 2:

1. Watch a previously recorded show while a new program is being recorded.

2. Watch a live show directly (ie NOT through Tivo) while Tivo records another show.  I split my cable at the wall: one feed goes to the Tivo and one bypasses the Tivo and goes through the VCR to the TV.  I just change the TV's video source if I want to watch live TV while Tivo records another channel.  Of course, I lose all ability to pause, rewind, etc when I bypass Tivo.

Tivo doesn't appear to be selling the single tuner models on their website anymore, so the comment about recording a show while watching another is probably relevant for NEW Tivo users.

The Butler's picture

Sounds like you don't have a cable box.  I have an HD box.  Without the box I wouldn't be able to watch any premium  or HD channels.  I don't think I can split the output of my Scientific Atlanta Explorer 4250 HD.

Chris Miller's picture

Correct.  I'm using analog cable.  However, when I DID use a cable box, I still used the same cable split.  I let the split going toward the Tivo use the cable box so the DVR had access to all channels.  The feed going directly to the TV/VCR was analog only, so I only had access to network and basic cable stations live.  For my needs it was fine.  I almost never found myself wanting to watch 2 shows that were both on the premiums.  I certainly could have rented a second box from the cable company to put on that non-Tivo line if I'd needed to view & record 2 premiums simultaneously.  I'm assuming that those folks who have the dual tuner Tivos (either series 2 or 3) also require 2 cable boxes to be able to record those shows simultaneously.