The 3LA Podcast, Episode 6: DVR

The DVR — or Digital Video Recorder — is sometimes known by its most popular manisfestation, the Tivo.  Indeed to “Tivo” something has become a verb.

You can think of a DVR as a Video Cassette Recorder, but with a hard drive instead of video tapes used for recording.

More importantly, however, is that DVRs are also computers, albeit ones with a features limited to TV recording and controlled by a remote rather than a keyboard.  And because they’re computers, they can be a lot more powerful and easier to use that VCRs.

I don’t think anyone ever got user interface on the VCR to the point where it was universally usable.  And it’s not that there weren’t attempts — the crazy “VCR Plus” system comes to mind.

With DVRs, things are getting pretty close to “anyone can use this.”  The printed TV Guide is gone, replaced by up to two weeks of electronic TV guide, navigated on the TV screen with a remote.  Want to record something?  Press the “RECORD” button.  That’s it.

DVRs can also be used to record entire series — you tell the DVR to record every new episode of your favourite program and it just does it.  Indeed more sophisticated DVRs, like the Tivo, can be set to record automatically based on other criteria, such as actor, or genre.

Because DVRs automatically invisibly save some amount whatever you’re watching “live,” even if you’re not recording a program you can generally “pause” and “rewind”.  Which makes it a lot easier to watch credits, and listen to confusing dialog again.  To say nothing of making for easier washroom breaks.

We’ve had a DVR for almost a year, and perhaps the greatest change it’s made in our television watching life is that we simply don’t watch commercial anymore.  We’ve got the DVR set up to record the programs we want to watch, and we generally watch them anywhere from an hour to a day after they’ve aired, which means that when commercials happen, we just fast-forward through them.

Most cable and satellite providers now have DVRs available, usually as a more expensive version of the digital box you need anyway.  We pay an extra $10 a month for ours.  It’s not without its quirks — two or three times a month it won’t record something, it’s “crashed” on us a couple of times, and the interface could use some polish.  But it’s also changed the way we watch TV completely.