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Entertainment - Personal Video Recorders

An entertainment system can be as simple as an AM radio or as complex as a complete home theater and beyond. In most cases, it is something in between. Maybe a TV set, a DVD player combined with an audio system that doubles up as a CD player and radio.

Most components of the entertainment systems are independently designed and sold by (usually) different and competing manufacturers. Selecting the right components can be challenging. The combination of those components must create the final product that the customer is looking for, and it must fit into the budget and physical space of the house, and be expandable enough to address not only today's needs, but the future needs as well. And of course, there are a multitude of choices and some of those choices may or may not be compatible!

Personal Video Recorders

Just what is a Personal Video Recorder (PVR)? A PVR resembles a DVD player or VCR in appearance and is used to digitally record programs for later viewing. They are also commonly known as Digital Video Recorders (DVR).

In the not-so-distant past, one had to use a VCR to record programs. Once a program is recorded on to VHS, the picture quality is noticeable inferior when compared to the original broadcast. And repeated viewing would deteriorate the picture even further. Then came PVR. PVRs provide an intuitive interface that allow the user to choose programs to record. When the time comes for the program to be recorded, the PVR digitally records the program by storing it on to a hard drive (exactly like the kind on a computer). In theory, the recorded program now has an infinite life. The user can watch the program numerous times without any deterioration in picture quality.

With the right equipment, the program can be transferred on to video tape, VCD, or DVD. Because the programs are recorded digitally they can easily and quickly be manipulated. The possibilities are limitless.

So now you want a PVR. Where do you begin? Purchasing a PVR is a lot simpler than you think. There are four major items you need to give special attention to: recording time, connectivity, features, and price/fees.

Recording Time

Recording time is determined by the capacity of the hard drive on your PVR. The PVR's specifications will list the the recording time, so you will not have to worry about converting hard drive capacity to recording time. Typical recording time ranges from 30 - 80 hours. The PVR can keep a recording for a specified period of time (or indefinitely if you would like). If you are someone who will be recording a lot of programming in a short period of time (recording a few movies and a handful of TV programs daily), then you will need a lot of recording time. If your PVR will be used to watch a few select shows daily, you can get away with a small capacity PVR. Can you increase your recording time without having to purchase a new PVR (in other words, can you replace the hard drive)? The answer is no, unless if you or a friend know how to modify your specific PVR.

Connectivity

Connectivity will define what your PVR can connect to and to how many devices it can connect to. At this time, there are not very many options.

For output, PVRs generally only have 2 kinds of connectors S-Video (better) and RCA (those red/white/yellow connectors that you always see). If you would like to use an S-Video connector to connect your PVR to your TV, make sure your TV has an S-Video input. To connect audio from your PVR to TV, you will be using the standard RCA connectors (red and white)

Your PVR will also need "inputs" (a signal from an antenna or satellite). Unless if stated otherwise, assume you can only input one type of signal (single tuner) at a time to your PVR.

Features

Features will determine what your PVR can or cannot do. One feature that you would appreciate (especially sports fans) is "time shift." Time shift allows you to pause or rewind a real-time broadcast. Once you are done watching the replay, you can use a fast forward feature to catch up to the broadcast again. A second feature you should look for is how sophisticated the recording functions are. Can you record a show with a touch of a button? How about an entire season of a show without the re-runs? Will it let you record all movies with Sean Connery in them? Will it analyze your recording patterns and automatically record programs that it thinks you will enjoy. These are all features that some PVRs currently support and may interest you. Lastly, examine the interface. Some items like appearance are subjective. But other features like ease-of-usage are quantifiable. Ideally, you should not have to shift through several menus for tasks. Try finding a demo unit of a PVR you are interested in to make sure the interface is suitable for your tastes.

Price/Fees

There are two factors to consider here: price of the PVR and additional fees. Many companies like TiVo will charge you a monthly fee. Sometimes you will be able to pay a one-time fee which will waive the monthly fee. Read the documentation on these types of offers carefully. Sometimes this one-time fee will only waive the monthly fees for that particular unit. What does that mean? It means if you decide to upgrade your unit, you will either have to pay a monthly fee or a large one-time fee.

Summary

PVRs are an incredible piece of consumer electronics. They are much more sophisticated than VCRs and will push VCRs further into obscurity. The two biggest advantages that PVRs have over VCRs are its picture quality and the complexity of the recording functions. Remember the four key items of purchasing a PVR: recording time, connectivity, features, and price & fees. With these 4 items in mind, purchasing a PVR should be much easier.