What Is A PVR?
A Personal Video Recorder (PVR) is a stand-alone unit that combines a digital set top box (STB) with an internal hard disk drive (HDD) on which it records TV content in digital format, eliminating the need for tapes or disks.
Two Digital Tuners Are Better Than One
A digital tuner decodes television signals to be displayed on-screen. With all PVRs you can generally watch the channel you are recording – usually with the ability to pause and resume the show at any time – or watch a previously recorded show while recording another. Currently, PVRs can have one or two inbuilt tuners:
- Single tuner: You can record one channel but can't watch a different channel live while recording.
- Twin tuner: You can record two channels simultaneously or record one channel while watching another live.
Today, most PVRs are high definition and have twin tuners; if the budget permits, opt for one of these for the additional functionality.
Standard Definition Vs. High Definition Tuners
PVRs are available with either SD (Standard Definition) or HD (High Definition) tuners. High Definition Television (HDTV) offers a higher-detailed screen image than Standard Definition by using a greater number of pixels with a broader range of colours. HDTV refreshes the image on the screen more times each second than other television signal formats.
- High Definition tuners can show Standard Definition programs, but not vice versa.
- There is an increasing amount of new content on the High Definition channels and up to 50% of prime time content is now broadcast as proper HD.
Hard Drive – Bigger Is Better
This is where recordings are stored, so it's a good idea to buy a PVR with a big hard drive. Hard drive size ranges up to 1TB. As a guide, a 250GB model will hold approximately 100 hours of standard definition recordings and half of that for high definition recordings.
Never Miss Your Favourite Shows With The Electronic Program Guide
The Electronic Program Guide (EPG) delivers information about the time and date of a program, plus its name and classification rating. Usually, there's a brief summary of the plot and a list of the major actors or presenters.
Setting up a recording is usually a matter of highlighting the desired program on the EPG and pressing the record button, or setting a "timer" to record at a later time.
Timeshift Puts You In Control
Timeshifting is the ability to "pause and rewind" live television. This feature lets you put live television on hold and continue it at a later time, from exactly where you left off.
Transfer Important Files
As PVRs lack DVD burners, there's usually no easy way to get recordings off them, which means you'll have to delete earlier recordings to make way for new ones. Some units offer transfer to a computer, most commonly via USB connection.
It's Important To Stay Connected
There are plenty of different video and audio connections, so you need to make sure your television is compatible with those on the PVR. These connections will vary depending on whether you're using Standard Definition or High Definition content:
- Standard Definition: Composite (red, white and yellow plugs) or Component (red, green and blue plugs).
- High Definition: HDMI (high quality video and audio in a single plug), DVI (video-only single plug) and Component (red, green and blue plugs).
Consider Some Advanced Operations
Common PVR features to look out for are:
- Picture-In-Picture (PIP): View one channel in a small corner of the screen while watching another.
- LCD screen: Displays channel information on the front of the PVR.
- Basic video editing: Allows you to cut out unwanted pieces of recordings.
What Is TiVo?
Like other PVRs, TiVo features: two high definition tuners; the ability to record, pause and rewind live TV; and an Electronic Program Guide. There's the choice of a 1TB or 320GB hard drive, too. However, TiVo offers some additional features that set it apart:
- Season Pass: Automatically records every episode in a TV series you nominate, even if the network changes its schedule. Season Pass cancels the scheduled recording automatically when the series ends, and looks out for your show when it returns for a new season.
- WishList: Enter as many searches as you like and every time the seven-day on-screen guide is updated, WishList automatically scans for programs with your favourite actors, directors, genres or other keywords. Shows which match are then scheduled for recording.
- CASPA On-Demand: Lots of content to download via broadband — including television shows, music clips, artist interviews and concerts — plus you can download movies with Blockbuster Movies on Demand. Once you start playing the movie, you have between 24 and 48 hours to watch it as many times as you wish before it is automatically deleted.
- TiVo Suggestions: Recommends programs you may like, and even records them automatically, based on your recordings and viewing habits.
- TiVo Genie: Connect to TiVo using any Internet access point, including your notebook PC, an Internet café or the local library; TiVo Genie even supports many Internet phones and smartphones. Log into the TiVo website and schedule recordings via the on-screen TV guide.
- TiVo KidZone: Protect your children by blocking certain programs and channels, screening the classification of a program or limiting viewing to pre-recorded programs.
Simple PVR Choices
Basic Considerations SD vs. HD tuners: HD tuners can show SD programs, but not vice versa.
Hard drive: 250GB hold 100 hours of SD recordings and half of that for HD.
Timeshift: The ability to 'pause and rewind' live television.