It's hard to imagine anybody who watches
even a little bit of TV not wanting a digital video recorder (DVR). Whether it's a true TiVo or one of the many generic DVRs now available, these next-gen hard-disk recorders do everything you've always wanted from a VCR. You can pause and rewind live TV, search and choose your shows from an onscreen programming guide, and record single episodes or whole series at the touch of a button, all without having to bother with annoying tapes, discs, or convoluted timer programming. A DVR has the potential to be a great gift, but the choices vary according to the TV service provider: satellite (DirecTV or Dish), cable (analog or digital), or over-the-air antenna. The best choices for each follow. DirecTV (satellite):
DirecTV used to have dedicated TiVo models available, but the company has since started producing its own DVRs. HDTV owners will want the DirecTV HR20
($300), which offers the ability to record two HD channels simultaneously. Those who can live without HD programming can opt for the $100 DirecTV R15
(which largely includes the same features, except for the ability to receive high-def channels). Note that our user opinions haven't been kind to either unit, but CNET's HR20 sample has continued to perform superbly for several weeks. Dish Network (satellite):
HDTV owners should opt for the Dish Network ViP622
, our Editors' Choice high-def DVR. It can cost as much as $700 (less special offers for new customers), but the system's stellar feature set includes the ability to record up to three
HD shows simultaneously (with the addition of an antenna), one-button commercial skip, and dual output to a secondary (non-HD) TV. Those without HDTVs, meanwhile, can save some money by going with the similarly featured Dish Player-DVR 625
. Digital cable:
If you (or your intended gift recipient) already have a digital cable box, upgrading to a DVR is almost certainly just a phone call away. Most cable companies have full-service DVRs, including HD models, for the asking. These so-called free TiVos
lack an up-front fee, but your monthly bill will be assessed an extra charge (generally in the $8 to $15 range).
If you're willing to pay for ease of use and some value-added features (home networking connectivity, remote programming), consider the TiVo Series3
Just make sure you're willing to pay a princely premium ($800, plus a monthly service fee above and beyond the price of your cable service). The Series3 replaces your cable box and receives the complete lineup of digital channels (including those in HD), but you'll be forced to live without some digital cable niceties (pay-per-view, video on demand, and any other cable-sponsored interactive services aren't compatible with the TiVo). Analog cable:
There are still millions of households that opt for analog cable over its digital counterpart. Among the big reasons: You don't need a box (just plug the cable right into the TV), and it's cheaper than digital services. If you're in that group, the older TiVo Series2 DT
($250, less with rebates) is a worthwhile choice. It doesn't handle HD, but--unlike the Series3 model--you can use the TiVo To Go software to transfer recorded shows for viewing on Windows PCs. Like all TiVos, the Series2 model requires a monthly service fee. But that subscription will deliver a digital cable-style onscreen programming guide that will make your TV Guide
a thing of the past. Over-the-air antenna:
For those brave souls who can live with the handful of channels they can pull in over the air, TiVo's the way to go. The Series3 model pulls in analog and digital broadcasts (including HD), and the Series2
(the older, non-DT model) works fine for standard, non-HD programming.
Bottom line: A DVR can make a great gift for anyone. Just be sure you're matching the right model to the recipient's TV provider. And understand that you're giving them the burden of a monthly bill in order to maintain the service.