Choosing the Best DVR Solution for You

Samsung SDS-P3040N 4 Channel DVR (DVR only) with 500GB HDD

Photo from Amazon

When it comes to choosing a DVR, here in the US, we're pretty limited. Most, if not all, of the content providers (cable/satellite), offer some sort of ​DVR service, and then there's TiVo. Other than that, however, there really aren't that many choices on the market.

Even with limited selection, however, every DVR user does have a choice to make and that's the one between using your provider's solution or purchasing one for yourself. There are a few reasons to go either way so let's take a look at each one to help decide which solution is best for you. Both have their pros and cons and we'll try and cover them all here.

Connecting Your Device

Getting your DVR connected to your TV isn't an overly difficult proposition but it does require some technical know-how. Understanding which types of cables to use and for what type of content is important. While most people can handle connecting a few wires, if it's not something you want to deal with then a service provider DVR is for you. When you order your service, a technician will handle connecting everything for you. By the time they're done, your system will be working and you won't have had to do anything special.

While this saves you the step of having to worry about getting connected, it's recommended you pay some attention to how the technician connects your service. If you ever decide to move your TV or purchase a new one, you're going to want to be able to reconnect everything yourself.

If you're comfortable with typical A/V wiring then a self-purchased DVR might be a better choice for you. You'll have to be prepared for the work involved but you can get things set up the way you want them the first time. Just be sure you understand how to connect and use a tuning adapter depending on your provider as it may be required in order to receive all of your services.


This is a hard point to understand since we have to compare upfront cost to lifetime cost with monthly fees. While a provider DVR will typically have no cost other than installation fees, you will be required to pay a monthly DVR fee. You have to look at the lifetime cost of the device, not just the price you pay in the beginning.

Keeping Your Content

If you're the type of person who wants to save certain programming over an extended time period, you may want to consider purchasing your own device. With a provider-owned DVR, the content is trapped on the DVR. There's almost no way to get it into another format. As well, provider DVRs have extremely limited space. It's getting better with Samsung's MSO DVR offering a 1TB hard drive, but HD recordings can still fill it rather quickly. TiVo's latest device offers 2TB of storage which will allow you to save a good number of shows. For the ultimate, an HTPC has virtually unlimited storage. You only need to add additional hard drives. As well, you gain the ability to burn certain content to DVD or Blu-ray to keep for later viewing.


With provider DVRs, all maintenance and issues are handled by your cable or satellite company. If your DVR breaks down a technician can be called in to replace it for you. If however, you purchase your own DVR, you'll be required to handle maintenance and repair yourself. Even with devices such as TiVo or Moxi, it will be your responsibility to deal with getting replacements or repairs. An HTPC requires a certain amount of regular maintenance, no matter which system you choose to use.


As you can see, there are several points to consider when choosing to use a provider DVR over a third-party device. Cost, as well as the amount of work one is willing to do, are both a part of the equation. In the end, the device you choose to use will be a trade-off between work and cost. If you're willing to put in the work, you can typically get a better experience by choosing your own device. If you want someone else to handle the heavy lifting, your content provider can give you a decent experience and take care of any issues you may come across.