A DVR, which is an acronym for “digital video recorder,” is a device that records and stores television shows in real time. It operates a lot like a videocassette recorder (VCR) but without the hassle of loading tapes and cuing them up. The digitally based system is usually part of a cable service plan, and is sometimes even imbedded within a television. Users can tell the device to save or record certain shows, which are then stored to a hard drive or a cloud server owned by the network. People often use this service to record shows while they are out of the house, but it can also be a useful service while a show is actually on, as it will usually allow pausing, rewinding, and fast-forwarding. As such, people can re-watch action that they missed and can commonly also zip through commercials. The service can be expensive and the recordings aren’t usually permanent; in most cases they disappear when a person’s cable subscription ends, and can also be erased or deleted in the event of a power outage or other server error. Still, the device is becoming increasingly popular, and as the technology changes many of the problems are being improved.
Basics of Operation
It’s usually fairly simple to operate one of these devices. In most cases they’re linked to the main television or entertainment system through a series of cables or other digital connections, and they’re accessible through a “main menu” screen on the television or through a special remote control function. Users can typically make their selections and set their programming selections from the TV screen rather than by manually programming buttons on the device. Shows can usually be selected by title or by timeframe, and in most cases the only thing a person has to do is tell the machine to record — setting exact start and end times isn’t usually required since the device can usually set these itself based on the show's programming length.
Accessing stored shows is usually just as easy. Users will typically go into a main menu or “library” to see a list of stored shows, which can often be watched over and over again. Titles are often arranged by date, but they can also usually be coordinated by title, series, or episode number. Many systems have separate menus for shows and movies, too.
There are many advantages to using a DVR. First, the image quality is considerably better than VCR recordings, and it is always consistent. The digital format also allows for video archiving and the transfer of data to a computer, CD, or DVD. The convenient search function allows users to quickly locate the show or specific scene that they want to watch. The device can be programmed to record an entire season of a television show, and it is even possible to watch the first half of a show while the DVR continues to tape the second half — or watch a show on one channel while the device records a different one on another.
One of the most popular features of this device is its ability to fast forward or skip commercials. It also allows users to pause, and replay live television. Since the machine is connected to the Internet, either through a direct link or a digital cable package, users may be able to access and view their favorite shows from anywhere in the world using a computer and a DVR remote monitoring feature. This may cost extra and may not be available with all plans.
Depending on how the device is set up, though, accessibility is usually universal throughout the house where the connection is situated. It's usually possible to watch several stored shows simultaneously on different screens — so one person can watch one show in the den, while someone else watches something totally different in the bedroom. It's also common to start a program on one device, pause it, then pick it back up later on on a different screen around the house.
Some recording packages also come with what is known as “smart” recording or programming options. In these instances, the device will automatically record shows that are similar to shows the user has actually instructed it to record. Cable companies often use this as a way to introduce viewers to new series or programs that they might be interested in, based upon their prior tastes and preferences. This can be a great feature for busy people, but others are annoyed by it, especially if it takes up a lot of storage memory. In most cases the smart programming option can be disabled by switching it off in the device’s settings menu.
Not all digital video recorders support High Definition television (HDTV) broadcasts, although this is more commonly a problem with older devices created before HDTV became more commonplace. Devices that don’t support high definition can usually still record the shows, but the clarity isn’t as good — though in some cases the recording itself simply can’t happen, and all that comes up is an error message.
Digital recorders also typically require a subscription, either with a company that provides the specific services or with a satellite or cable television company. Fees are often billed monthly, usually bundled into the larger cable bill, and any lapses in payment can clear the cache. Programs are also sometimes deleted inadvertently at the server level if there’s a problem at the cable company, and any time people’s cable boxes malfunction stored shows can be lost. Power outages or surges can cause similar issues.