Things to Consider Before Buying a DVR

Does it make sense to buy a DVR when you can rent one from your cable company?

The world of DVRs has changed pretty drastically since the debut of TiVo. There were some competitors for a while, but only TiVo has remained standing because most of its competitors have gone out of business.

If you don't own a TiVo, you'll likely end up using one of the DVRs supplied by your cable company.

However, if you're still interested in buying a DVR, we have some questions you should ask yourself before throwing down your hard-earned cash.

Illustration of a person sitting atop a DVR unit, holding binoculars to their eyes
Lifewire / Miguel Co

How Much Am I Willing to Spend?

Set-top DVRs range in price from about $100 to upwards of $1,000. TiVo offers $99 models (plus a monthly service charge) that can record 40 hours of programming.

After that, the prices climb as the hours of recording increase. Other set-top DVRs vary in price depending on the size of the hard drive (the bigger the drive, the more hours you can record) and whether or not they record to DVD. Some even have VCRs built-in as well.

It's important to have a budget set for your DVR so that you can easily determine which companies to compare when you set out to choose one.

What Do I Want a DVR For?

Do you want to record lots of TV shows, watch them and then delete them? TiVo with a large hard drive would be best.

Or, do you plan on recording TV to a hard drive and then keeping the shows by putting them on DVD? Then you'll need a set-top DVR with a built-in DVD recorder.

Do I Subscribe to Cable TV or Satellite?

Most cable and satellite providers offer a DVR service for a monthly charge, usually under $20. A few even offer DVR service for free.

These DVRs are leased and remain the property of the cable or satellite provider. The clear advantage in this is that there is no upfront cost for these DVRs; they are part of your monthly bill.

Plus, you don't have to shop around for a DVR or really choose anything but the provider as the DVR device comes with the purchase.

Do I Prefer a Certain Manufacturer?

Some people love Sony and will only buy Sony electronic products. Others, Panasonic. If you are like them, this could be a factor in your decision.

Try to keep an open mind when it comes to electronics. Even if you haven't heard of a manufacturer, do some research and find out about their products. Don't sell yourself short just because of brand loyalty.

Things to Remember

Try to get the best connections for your set-top DVR and your TV and home theater set up (if you have one). If your TV has S-Video or component inputs, use those instead of composite (RCA) inputs.

If you have a surround sound setup, connect digital optical or coaxial audio instead of composite audio. You will get ​a much better picture and sound with higher quality connections.

Deciding on a set-top DVR isn't easy, but sometimes the decision is made for you. If you subscribe to cable or satellite, it makes sense to use their DVRs. However, if you want more recording time or DVD recording capability, then you might want to go with TiVo or a combination DVD/hard drive recorder.

It's best to read about the various set-top DVRs and decide what's best for you.