PVRs: How to choose a digital TV recorder Choosing the best digital TV recorder

PVR rewind live TV

A PVR lets you rewind live TV – perfect if you miss a scene

What is a PVR?

A PVR is a versatile TV recording device that stores the programmes you have recorded onto a large internal hard disk drive. Typically they can store hundreds of hours of recordings. 

The best PVRs are very easy to use, have well laid-out EPGs and intuitive remote controls. Find out how to buy the best PVR that combines all these attributes.

At the heart of a PVR is an on-screen electronic programme guide (EPG) that lists all the TV programmes to be shown over the next week. You can scroll through these listings using the remote control and select all programmes that you want to record. The PVR then does the rest.

See our expert reviews of Best Buy PVRs that represent the best models around.

Most PVRs have twin digital tuners, which means that you can watch one programme while recording a different one, or record two programmes simultaneously which watching a third you've previously recorded. The hard disk means that PVRs can perform clever tricks such as pause live TV while you make a cup of tea, or start watching a programme before its finished recording, perhaps skipping through the ad breaks as you catch-up with the live broadcast.

The hard disk size limits the amount of programmes you can store at any one time, so they're not best-suited for archiving programmes you want to keep long term, though you can download programmes to a separate DVD recorder if you want to do this.

PVRs - the pros:

  • Twin tuners - PVRs generally have twin tuners, which gives you fantastic recording versatility.
  • High definition - Many PVRs can record high-definition (HD) TV content. If you want to record high-definition content you must choose an HD PVR and have an HDTV to watch it on.
  • Ease of use - A good PVR is very easy to use.

PVRs - the cons:

  • Archiving - A PVR is only suitable for recording programmes to watch later (time-shifting) and not suitable for archiving programmes or to share recordings with family and friends.

What is a DVD recorder?

A DVD recorder records TV programmes onto a recordable DVD disc. Like a PVR they have an on-screen electronic programme guide (EPG) that lists all the TV programmes to be shown over the next week. 

The best DVD recorders are easy to use and deliver excellent picture and sound quality. Find out how to buy the best DVD recorder that delivers in all these areas.

You choose the programmes that you want it to record from the EPG but must swap discs when they fill-up - typically a single disc will store around two hours of good quality recordings or more if you're prepared to compromise on picture quality. Some DVD recorders also have a built-in hard drive which increases their storage capacity.

Recordable discs can be either 'write-once' - which means that once full you can't record on them again - or 're-writeable' - which means they can be used repeatedly, erasing previous recording to free up space for new ones. Once a disc is full of recordings you want to keep it can be 'finalised' which means that it will also play on other DVD recorders or DVD players. As such DVD recorders are ideal for recording TV programmes that you want to keep long-term or which you want to share with family and friends.

DVD recorders - the pros:

  • Archiving - A DVD recorder is ideal if you want to record TV programmes for long-term storage or to share with family and friends.

DVD recorders - the cons:

  • Single tuners - DVD recorders do not have twin tuners, so do not offer the recording versatility of a PVR.
  • Standard definition - A standard DVD recorder cannot record high-definition programming onto disc. Only the rarer and significantly more expensive Blu-ray recorders can record HD.
  • Ease of use - DVD recorders are generally more difficult to use than a good PVR.

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