The attraction of free or nearly free DVRs from your cable or satellite company is obvious. But don't expect these knockoffs to be as easy to use or as full-featured as a real TiVo.
TiVo Series2 DVR (40 hours)
A true TiVo
DVR offers a bevy of great features the competitors don't. In addition to its easy-to-use interface, TiVo's Wish List function lets you easily and automatically record favorites by genre, star, or keyword. Furthermore, standalone TiVos include a variety of Home Media features
, including the ability to remotely program from any Web browser, stream digital music and photos from a networked PC, share recorded programs among multiple TiVos in the same household, and transfer programs to networked PCs and laptops for viewing--or burning to DVD. Downside:
You get what you pay for, and these sweet features will cost you. The base price of the TiVo is as little as $49 (after rebate), but the service costs either $12.95 a month or $299 for the lifetime of the unit. And unlike the integrated satellite or cable units, the standalone TiVo means yet another box--and more wires--in the home entertainment system. Moreover, standalone models don't offer dual-tuner capability, so you can't watch one program while recording another. And while cable and satellite DVRs record the actual MPEG video stream, preserving the video quality of the digital source, TiVos usually look softer because they reencode the digital video from the source's analog outputs to store it. Outlook:
If you can stand having only one tuner and want the most user-friendly interface, the most features, and the "real" name brand, get out your checkbook and buy a TiVo. Just remember, TiVo's been sailing through some rough seas on the corporate front; whether the company will be around in its current form in six years--or six months--remains an open question.