Cable company DVR
Cable company DVR

Best DVR for cable subscribers

Though not as sophisticated as the TiVo Premiere, cable company-provided DVRs are becoming easier to use, offer good performance and are the least expensive solution for most cable subscribers. Though models, features and capabilities vary by provider, most cable DVRs top out at 300 hours of standard-definition (SD) programs, or 60 hours of high definition (HD), though many have less capacity. They are able to pause, rewind and fast-forward live television and skip ahead (over commercials, for example) and back (instant replay). Many providers are also offering advanced features, like the ability to program your DVR online or from a phone. Most also have dual tuners for recording two shows at once. Because you're renting the DVR, you can usually upgrade to your cable provider's latest technology at no or low cost. Some cable companies -- with more to follow -- are now offering DVRs with TiVo software.
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*Est. $8 to $20 per month Estimated Price
TiVo Premiere
TiVo Premiere

High-definition TiVo DVR

The TiVo Premiere HD DVR offers a rated capacity of 45 hours of HD recording and 400 hours of SD. If that's not enough, you can add an external hard drive for more recording time. You can also transfer programs to your PC for viewing, storage or to be saved to DVD using third-party software. The ability to watch streaming video from a number of online providers -- including Netflix and Blockbuster -- is also included. Built-in OTA tuners mean that you can receive local broadcasts via a TV antenna. On the downside, though the TiVo Premiere is designed to work with digital cable, you'll need to rent a CableCard (*Est. $4 a month) and will usually lose out on some cable company features, such as video on demand. Finally, while critics say that the TiVo Premiere might be the best TiVo, they add that most cable subscribers will be served nearly as well -- and in some cases better -- with a cable company-provided DVR, and will save money. While you can still opt to pay full retail price for the TiVo Premiere (*Est. $300), the company has revamped its pricing structure to allow for a lower upfront cost in exchange for a one year service commitment. Either way, the monthly (*Est. $20) or lifetime (*Est. $500) service cost is the same
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*Est. $100, plus TiVo service Estimated Price
DirecTV Plus HD DVR
DirecTV Plus HD DVR

DirecTV HD satellite receiver and DVR

Although the DirecTV Plus HD had a rocky debut, it is now a stable, reliable and very capable DVR. It does lack some of the polish of TiVo, but reviewers say the user interface has its share of great features, including the ability to be programmed from afar using a web browser or mobile phone. You can also send content from the DVR to your PC for viewing and vice versa. This DVR has dual satellite tuners and can record two programs simultaneously. Other features include pause/fast forward and instant replay of live TV. In addition, you can search program listings by keyword, actor or director. A whole-home DVR feature adds multiroom capabilities, though you'll still need a standard (non-DVR) HD receiver for access. Recording times are 400 hours for standard definition and up to 100 hours for HD. Although the receiver carries a $200 upgrade fee, that's waived for new subscribers. All DirecTV DVRs are leased, not sold.
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Dish Network ViP922
Dish Network ViP922

Dish Network HD satellite receiver and DVR

Dish Network offers subscribers a very capable high-definition DVR with some neat features. None draws more attention than its Slingbox software, which lets you view recorded or live content anywhere in the world via a web browser or supported mobile device. This two-tuner DVR can record up to two HD satellite channels at once, and a low-cost adapter (*Est. $50) adds the ability to record two over-the-air channels simultaneously. Recording quality is excellent and indistinguishable from the original broadcast. Independent tuner outputs let you feed separate programs to two different TVs -- though one will be in SD only. Record, playback and search functions are good, and commercial skip is included. However, unlike some older Dish Network DVRs, the ViP922 DVR does not integrate with Google TV. Recording capacity is immense at 1,000 hours of SD and up to 140 hours of HD, and if that's not enough, the DVR will accept an external hard drive to store more content. Finally, the user interface draws kudos as the best available on a Dish Network DVR.
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Dish Network DuoDVR ViP722K *Est. $6 per month

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