PVRs: How to choose a digital TV recorder How to buy the best PVR

Humax electronic programme guide

The electronic programme guide helps you plan your TV week

The best PVRs will revolutionise the way you watch TV. Which? Best Buy PVRs are flexible, easy-to-use recorders that put you in control of the vast range of digital channels on offer. 

There’s a PVR for whatever TV platform you choose – Freeview, Freesat, Sky or Virgin Media. See our expert reviews of  PVR Best Buys that will let you take control of the world of digital TV.

Clever features

As well as recording TV they also introduce some clever features that can make choosing and watching programmes far easier than the days of struggling to set your VCR.

PVR owners find they are no longer slaves to the schedule. PVRs easily record the programmes you want, allowing you to view them when you choose and skip through ads breaks at the press of a remote-control button. 

The best PVRs are simple to use and can perform tasks such as recording two programmes at once, or letting you pause a live programme while you answer the phone, for example. Many now also offer internet access to catch-up TV services, such as BBC iPlayer, and other Smart TV content.


PVR capacity

A 150GB PVR would store around 75 hours of SD TV

PVR essential features

When selecting a PVR there are some features that you simply must have:

  • Large hard disk - Opt for a minimum hard disk size of 500GB. This will let you record around 250 hours of standard definition TV or 100 hours of HD content. This may sound a lot but it's surprising how quickly your hard disk fills up.
  • Twin tuners - two digital tuners gives you great recording flexibility, the ability to record one programme while watching a second live or record two programmes while you watch a third you've previously recorded.
  • Comprehensive electronic programme guide (EPG) - the best EPGs show programme listings of around eight channels on screen at once, which helps when plotting your future viewing. You can also access a synopsis of each programme by clicking on it. Poorer EPGs can show just a single channel at a time and a limited amount of programme information.
  • Series link  - this is the ability to easily record a whole series of programmes over many weeks. A very useful feature that you'll find invaluable.
  • Accurate recording  - this feature means that the PVR will reschedule a recording if the schedules slip and is essential, for example, when a sporting fixture overruns.

PVR features that are nice to have

Some features are not essential and depend on how you want to use your PVR.

  • High definition (HD) recording - if you have a TV that can display high-definition pictures (HDTV), then choose a PVR that can tune into and record HD programmes. If you only have an older TV and are not considering upgrading it in the foreseeable future, then opt for a cheaper standard definition (SD) PVR.
  • Smart TV access - if you're not interested in accessing catch-up TV services, such as BBC iPlayer, or other internet TV content, then don't buy a PVR that can connect to the internet. Otherwise you'll be paying extra for a feature that you don't intend to use.
  • Trailer programming - this feature means that you can schedule a programme to record when you see a trailer for it by pressing a single button on the remote control. A useful feature to have on occasion, but hardly essential.

  • Recommendations - when you set a programme to record using the EPG the PVR recognises the type of programme it is and recommends other shows of a similar genre that it thinks you'll like. It's a nice addition to to have but doesn't add much to a PVR's versatility. For more on these Freeview+ features see Features explained.
  • YouView - this subscription-free service combines the ability to receive and record Freeview digital TV channels with access to the last seven days' TV programmes via catch-up services. It'll also brings on-demand TV services and other interactive applications to your TV. See our guide to YouView explained for more information.

More on this...