What Is a Dual-Tuner Digital Video Recorder?

The original watch-and-record-at-the-same-time DVR

Watching TV and using remote controller

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At one time, dual-tuner digital video recorders were at the cutting edge of DVR technology. Having a dual-tuner DVR meant you could record two shows at one time, record a show and watch it while it was recording, or record two shows while watching a pre-recorded show all at the same time.

Although a dual-tuner DVR may be all you need to accommodate your viewing needs, DVRs are available that can record four, six and even 16 channels at one time, depending on the brand you choose. They come with larger hard drives than the dual-tuner DVRs to accommodate the increased recording capability.

The Rise of Dual-Tuner Video Recorders

Most people were introduced to dual-tuner DVR capabilities in their cable or satellite TV set-top boxes. Cable TV providers, satellite TV providers and private manufacturers, such as TiVo, all offered dual-tuner digital video recorders at one time. If you've had your DVR or set-top box for several years, it may still be a dual-tuner DVR. DVRs made pausing, replaying and fast-forwarding during a show possible and popular. 

Dual-Tuner DVRs also allowed users to switch between tuners to watch two different TV shows concurrently. The current models of DVRs support all the dual-tuner DVR features along with other improvements.

The Importance of Capacity and Other Features

If you plan to record shows, watch them and delete them, the amount of memory or the size of the hard drive in a DVR doesn't matter much. If you plan to keep a lot of the recordings, you'll need a large hard drive, an external hard drive to connect to the DVR, or the capability to burn stored recordings to DVD.

Many modern DVRs have hard drives in the 1TB to 3TB capacity range—enough to record hundreds of hours of video. Many also come with other advantages over the original DVRs.

  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Parental controls
  • Multi-room streaming
  • Ability to record over-the-air channels, on-demand content and streaming video
  • An app for watching from your mobile device
  • Support for HDMI, external drives, Ethernet and coax component video

Although there isn't much 4K content available yet, new model DVRs are coming out that support 4K video. Some examples of DVRs with more recording channels and large memory limits are the Dish Hopper 3, TiVo Roamio Pro and TiVo Bolt.

Can DVRs Replace Cable Boxes?

In some cases, a DVR can replace a cable box, allowing you to watch shows without a cable or satellite subscription. They require a cable card from a cable provider, though, to access digital channels. Providers may not be up-front on the availability of the cable card, because service subscriptions are their main revenue stream. However, by law, they must offer a cable card option.

Many modern DVRs also support streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Video, and they can access over-the-air unscrambled digital signals.

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