Best DVRs

Updated July 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

108 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
134 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best DVRs

Last Updated July 2019

The way we consume TV has changed — no one is tuning in to their favorite shows at specific times anymore. Instead, people are recording them on their digital video recorders (DVRs), so they can watch when they want and skip the commercials.

Most people rent their DVRs from their cable TV providers, but there are better, more flexible, and more affordable options out there, as well as a host of options for cord-cutters who want to record shows from their local broadcast TV stations.

No matter what kind of TV you want to record, there are some great options out there — and there are definitely a few to avoid as well. Here’s everything you need to know to tell the difference.

If you’re not sure what channels you’ll receive at home with a TV antenna, go online and search for local broadcast towers. That way you’ll get a sense of what channels you can expect to receive and which direction to point your antenna.

Key considerations

Not sure what to look for in a DVR or how to narrow down your search? Start with these questions:

  • Will you be recording shows with an over-the-air antenna or from a cable provider? This question is really important, because DVRs are usually made for one scenario or the other, but not both. If you’re looking for a DVR for your cable TV subscription, look for models that expressly state that they’re CableCARD™-compatible. If you’re recording shows from local broadcasts, make sure to consider how you’ll connect your antenna to the DVR.
  • How many shows do you want to keep on your DVR? One of the factors that can drive up costs is storage — the more you need, the more you pay. Think about how many shows you typically keep around on your DVR at any given time. If it’s a lot — like more than 50 to 100 shows — consider a DVR with more storage or one with USB ports for adding expandable storage.
  • Do you own a streaming box? Some DVRs pull double duty as both DVRs and streaming boxes, so you can watch your recordings or stream movies from Netflix all on the same platform. If you’ve already got a streaming box, you’ve got this need covered.  But if you’re also looking for a way to get your streaming content on your TV, get a DVR that’s got streaming video apps built in.

DVR plus streaming video

Although not many remember it, TiVo was the company that brought DVRs to the mainstream — and while they’re not as ubiquitous as they once were, TiVos are still a solid product. Customers stick with TiVo for years because they’ve mastered the customer experience. From the easy initial setup to the best-in-class interface, it’s easy to fall in love with. The fact that it’s got streaming video apps onboard, in 4K no less, is just gravy.

Features

So what separates the good DVRs from the amazing ones? It comes down to a few key features.

  • 4K support. Despite the fact that broadcast and cable TV have not yet adopted the 4K standard, there are still DVRs out there that support 4K — usually because they have streaming apps with 4K content on board as well. If you’re planning on using your DVR as a 4K streaming box as well, pick one up with 4K support.
  • Multiple tuners. One of the big differentiators between DVRs is how many tuners they have — that is, how many shows they can record at once. Consider how many of your favorite shows air at the same time, or if you’ll want to simultaneously stream your DVR recordings to other devices like a tablet; every activity requires a tuner, so you’ll need to make sure the DVR you buy has enough. Most DVRs have a minimum of two tuners; if it’s within your budget, we recommend buying one with at least four.
  • Storage space. DVRs all have hard drives, and the bigger the hard drive, the more episodes you can store. Our general advice: buy more space than you think you’ll need, because it’s better to have extra than it is to run out. We recommend a minimum of 500GB.
  • External storage compatibility. Some DVRs solve the storage dilemma with USB or eSATA ports, so you can bring your own flash drives or external hard drives to add more space. Using external storage is perfect for people who just can’t bear to let some shows go, or those who simply watch everything. If you’re looking at DVRs that work with external storage, just keep in mind that you can’t transfer your DVR recordings to a computer due to file limitations and copyright restrictions.

With a DVR that’s connected to an over-the-air antenna, you’ll be able to record your favorite shows in crystal-clear HD that will look significantly better than anything you’ll see from a cable box.

DVR prices

Entry-level DVRs usually cost between $150 and $200. In this price range, you’ll find DVRs for over-the-air TV, but they often have clunky interfaces or require you to spend more and bring your own file storage space. Some CableCARD™-compatible DVRs can be found in this price range.

DVRs between $200 and $500 pull out all the stops. They’ve got built-in apps, tons of tuners, and often support streaming to mobile devices — even if they’re not on your WiFi network. If you record everything, binge everything, and rewatch everything (or if you’re a home theater nut who wants the user experience available), look at the DVRs in this range.

DID YOU KNOW?

Most DVRs require a monthly subscription fee for program guide information. You’ll need this so your DVR knows when your shows will be on — it will be nearly useless without it.

Tips

  • If you’re buying a DVR to record content from your cable TV provider, get one that supports CableCARD™ technology. Cable TV companies will let you use their TV services with your own DVR via one specific method: CableCARD™. Using CableCARD™, you rent a card from your cable TV provider that slides into the back of your compatible DVR. Then, the channels you subscribe to become available from within your DVR. Most cable TV companies only charge a few dollars a month for renting a CableCARD™ (which is still usually cheaper than renting a DVR from them).
  • To save space for recording more programming, set your DVR to only record new episodes (and to never record reruns). One mistake a lot of users make is to set their shows to record “all episodes.” This usually results in a lot of reruns or duplicate recordings — so when you’re setting up your recordings, save space by setting them to only record new episodes.
  • If you’re recording TV using an over-the-air antenna, make sure the antenna you’re using has a large enough range to pick up local broadcasts. TV antennas are each rated based on the mile range of signal they can pick up. For example, a 30-mile antenna will likely pick up content in your area, but a 60-mile antenna can receive signals from neighboring areas. Do some research online based on your location to find the right antenna range, and make sure the antenna you’re using is the best for your circumstance.

DVRs often list how many tuners they have. Tuners are what actually record programming, so the number of tuners a DVR has is the number of programs it can record simultaneously.

The cord-cutter’s dream DVR

Tablo has quietly built a following of loyal users, and it’s easy to see why: their DVR is affordable, flexible, and integrates well in any system, no matter what devices you want to watch TV on. Tablo’s DVR works a little differently. There’s no storage included, so you’ll need to attach your own. It’s also designed to transfer your TV signal and DVR recordings to other devices, but it’s not meant to be connected directly to a TV. In fact, Tablo has apps for just about every platform, which makes it easy to catch up on your shows on any screen.

Other products we considered

Amazon’s Fire TV Recast does a lot to innovate the over-the-air DVR category: it’s an all-in-one over-the-air DVR solution that works with voice commands. You can get it with four tuners and an impressive 1TB of storage space, so you’ll never miss an episode, and you’ll be able to stream from as many other devices as you like. Naturally, the real star of the show is Alexa, who can take voice commands from any Alexa-supported device — and that includes your smartphone. Now for the perfect binge session with your DVR, all you have to do is ask.

The Sling Media AirTV is the perfect companion device for subscribers of the Sling TV streaming service. It takes the cable-TV-over-the-internet channels that users love and integrates them with a DVR for local channels. This device is the dream: local channels and streaming cable TV all living together in harmony on one platform. If you’re a Sling TV subscriber, this is a must.

Most DVR manufacturers require a monthly subscription for program guide data, but many will let you buy a lifetime license, which pays for itself within a year or two.

FAQ

Q. How much space does a typical hour of TV take up on a DVR?
A.
An hour of high-definition programming will usually consume anywhere between 1.5GB and 5GB. The size will depend on the quality of your recording — for example, most DVRs allow you to record in lower resolutions to conserve space, but if you want to see every original pixel, your recordings will be on the large side.


Q. Can I watch my DVR recordings on other devices like my smartphone?
A.
Most DVRs include support for streaming recorded content to other devices. In most cases, it’s usually limited to streaming on your local network, so you’ll need to make sure both your DVR and the device you want to watch content on are on the same network. Some high-end DVRs support streaming from anywhere, so you can stream to your phone when you’re on the go or stream to your laptop while you’re at work (not that we encourage that sort of thing). 


Q. Are over-the-air broadcast channels in 4K?
A.
Not yet. The technical standards for antenna broadcasts are currently based on the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) 2.0 standard. Testing and planning are underway for the upcoming new standard: ATSC 3.0. ATSC 3.0 will support 4K over-the-air broadcasts. There’s no current timeline for when it will be implemented.

The team that worked on this review
  • Angela
    Angela
    Editor
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Jaime
    Jaime
    Writer
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Kyle
    Kyle
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor

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