Best PVR for a DirecTV subscriber?
October 3, 2007 6:22 AM   Subscribe

PVRFilter: Please save me from my VCR. I'm a DirecTV customer, wondering what my best option is. DirecTV PVR receiver? Tivo? Or something else?
posted by owen to Technology (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I didn't like Tivo. I thought the screen resolution during playback was crap and I didn't like the phone line aspect of it (which really was more a problem with the room than with the Tivo). We canceled our subscription less than 24 hours after we bought it, and returned it to the store. Of course, it's all very subjective and I'm sure there will be loads of people who say they love their Tivos.

We ended up getting the DVR from our cable company and I love it. It's easy to use, the playback doesn't look like crappy old VCR tape, and it's way cheaper than Tivo was.

I'd suggest you try them both out and see what you like best.
posted by cooker girl at 6:35 AM on October 3, 2007

How much effort do you want to put into this?

I contemplated doing a home-brew DVR for the longest time (as I'm a tech by trade and inclination) and just broke down and ordered the DVR my cable company provides. While I'd love to put my own together, I realized it will become yet another project I just don't have time for.

FWIW, I had almost settled on BeyondTV but just couldn't decide if it was worth the 100 bucks over one of the free packages.
posted by JaredSeth at 6:38 AM on October 3, 2007

Get the one from DirecTV, since it has dual tuner functionality. TiVo can't do that unless you have cable, and even then one channel has to not require a cable box. I love TiVo, but it's a hard sell now that cable and satellite offer real dual-tuner HD capability (do you have HD?) and TiVo just cannot.

And who knows? DirecTV may even offer TiVo in the future, according to a rumor from Matt's other blog.
posted by ALongDecember at 6:52 AM on October 3, 2007

Note: I don't presently have a TV, nor a DVR.

However, a couple things: TiVo has multiple compression settings, which affects playback image quality. The "rated" storage capacity assumes the greatest level of compression, which looks like an old VCR tape. Vastly superior playback quality is available if you tell TiVo to use it. Make sure you check this.

Second, if you have a broadband connection, TiVo can use that rather than the phone line. The one I set up for my parents uses their wireless network.

Third, I strongly recommend looking around online for reviews of the DVR provided by your cable company. Some of them are truly truly horrible, others are quite decent and worth getting.

If you can, look at how much control they give the networks -- HBO and the like have been agitating to get control of how many times you're allowed to watch their shows, as well as being allowed to delete shows (this is connected to their desire to make money on DVD box sets). I don't personally know what ever came of those arguments, but I'd personally be suspicious.
posted by aramaic at 6:53 AM on October 3, 2007

Also, getting it from DirecTV is cheaper. Looks to be about $6 a month, even doing a 3-year prepay plan from TiVo is $8.31 a month. Other plans are more expensive.
posted by ALongDecember at 6:57 AM on October 3, 2007

I have 2 older Directv units with Tivo built in. Both are Phillips with dual tuners. The newer ones have more features, but then Directv dropped Tivo, however they are getting back together now I guess. I'd recommend a used Phillips DSR6000 or 7000 any day. I can record 2 Directv channels and watch another show at the same time. Most stand alone Tivo's are single tuner I think, and even if they have dual, you'd need two Directv receivers feeding it.

To address Cooker Girl's and aramaic's issues with quality and compression, the built-in Directivo units record the satellite stream and decodes it when you play the recorded shows (at least that's how I understand it) so it should be as clean as watching Directv live. I don't have "quality options" on the Directivo units like good/better/best that the standalone units have.

If you're used to Tivo's menus and pausing/rewinding/etc they say the Directv DVR's will irritate you, but if you don't know better and the price is right, that might be O.K. with that.
posted by thilmony at 6:59 AM on October 3, 2007

We've been very happy with our DirecTV DVR, the dual tuner capacity is key.
posted by jalexei at 7:00 AM on October 3, 2007

TiVo has multiple compression settings

That is true of a standard, off-the-shelf TiVo for use with a cable box, but the DirecTiVo units do not. The signal from DirectTV is already compressed, and the DirecTiVo does not compress it any further.

Second, if you have a broadband connection, TiVo can use that rather than the phone line.

Also true of the newer TiVo consumer units, but the DirecTiVo units are older hardware versions and older software revisions that do not include networking support out of the box. If you don't mind voiding your warranty, are comfortable with computer hardware, and are not afraid of a Linux prompt, then the units can be hacked to add networking support (as well as to add additional hard drive space), but for the average consumer that is not practical.

I have a DirecTiVo box upstairs in the bedroom connected to two standard definition lines, and then a DirecTV HD DVR downstairs in the living room hooked up to the HDTV. I much prefer the TiVo software, but at least for the moment I can't have the TiVo interface with HD dual tuners. Since it appears that DirecTV and TiVo are kissing and making up, I am hoping that next year sometime I will be able to swap out the HD unit with one from TiVo, but I am not holding my breath.
posted by Lokheed at 7:05 AM on October 3, 2007

Oh, and if you don't have a phone line and you have a DirecTiVo unit, you will never be able to make it past setup. It doesn't actually need to use the phone line once it is up and running, since it gets all of its updates over the satellite signal (although it will still nag you to make a daily call every day), but to get through the initial setup you absolutely, positively have to have a land line plugged into it.
posted by Lokheed at 7:12 AM on October 3, 2007

Also, the Series 2 Tivos and the HD Tivos also have dual tuners. I agree that the dual tuner is extremely nice, but I just wanted to correct the impression that if you buy a Tivo it won't have this feature. Any new Tivo has dual tuners.

One way to save money on a Tivo is to buy one off eBay that has lifetime service. Even though Tivo doesn't offer lifetime service on new boxes, there are still lots of people selling Tivo boxes with lifetime service attached. That is how we got our first Tivo. Plus, once you have lifetime service they are pretty good about letting you keep it. Our original box finally died about 2 months ago. Tivo let me buy a new Series 2 box and transfer my lifetime service onto it.

I have experienced Tivo, Cox DVR, and Dish Network DVR. Based on my experience with those 3, the Tivo is far superior and is worth a slight price premium. The interface, remote, updates, are all better.
posted by bove at 7:26 AM on October 3, 2007

Another option is a DVD recorder with a built in HD. They are few and far between, and some units are getting premium pricing on Ebay. The only plus is that there are no monthly fees. Some units have an IR blast feature that can be programmed to control cable and satellite boxes.
posted by Gungho at 7:31 AM on October 3, 2007

First things first, either of the new Tivo boxes (HD or Series 3) will not work with DirecTV. They require CableCards and DirecTV doesn't offer them. So, your options are quite limited. You can either hit up eBay for an old Phillips or Humax DVR with Tivo software that was build for DirecTV. If you want something new, you'll need to use a Tivo Series 2 or DirecTV's DVR (the HR20). If you want to record in HD, you'll have to go with the HR20.

Personally, having thought about this same issue for quite some time, I'd highly recommend going with the DirecTV brand recorder. It's the cheapest and easiest way to have dual tuners and the software works. It's not as elegant as Tivo but it works better than any of the cable company DVRs I've used.

Having used the HR20 for a month, the only drawback is its Prioritizer. If you have three shows to record at the same time, but one has another showing at a different time, the box has trouble figuring this out. Other than that, the quality of the broadcast is great and the software is intuitive enough.

If you're still hesitant, DirecTV is supposedly introducing the HR21 this fall and it may or may not have Tivo software (I'm hopeful but I certainly won't be betting the farm). Either way, the reps told me the software got a complete overhaul, so we'll see. Good luck deciding.
posted by capndesign at 7:38 AM on October 3, 2007

Don't underestimate the religious applelike fervor that Tivo users have. There must be a reason for it.

It's a terrifically well designed DVR with an award winning remote. will sell you it in any flavor/storage level you want.
posted by filmgeek at 7:45 AM on October 3, 2007

I wouldnt want something that isnt integrated with DirecTV. Be it Tivo or their own device. You get dual tuners and the huge advantage of writing the mpeg2 stream directly to disk. This translates into a huge quality advantage on playback.

You cant do dual tuners with a stand-alone.

My hughes and directv branded dvr's run Tivo's software. I know the new product doesnt, but you can get what I have used on ebay for a song.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:24 AM on October 3, 2007

After having a directv tivo for five years I switched to the directv DVR a few months ago - it's a complete piece of junk. It reboots in the middle of recordings, it loses the audio in playback, and the user interface is clunky. I'm waiting for directv to offer a tivo in the next few months, otherwise I'll buy one on ebay.
posted by foodgeek at 8:43 AM on October 3, 2007

Lokheed, you can do everything without a landline, you gotta hack it but it can most definitely be done because I got everything working without a landline (it was a hassle though)
posted by zeoslap at 8:53 AM on October 3, 2007

The answer is to buy a hackable DirecTV TiVo off eBay (I bought a Hughes DVR2), install a 120 GB HD, and hack it using the CDs you can download from Then you get a Web interface, no need for a phone line (because when you do the hack, the image you install has already had the initial setup done), and the ability to easily slurp non-ecrypted MPEGs off it.

Or you can buy one off eBay already hacked, probably.

As it happens, I have one I hacked and am not using... I could probably be convinced to part with it for a reasonable fee.
posted by kindall at 9:05 AM on October 3, 2007

Directivos btw dont need phone lines. Mine gets all its data from the satellite. It wants to make phone calls, but I never let it. When I notice a performance drop, I hook up the land line and let it call.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:22 AM on October 3, 2007

If you're only want standard def, a used DirecTivo is the way to go. If not, switch to cable and get a HD Tivo. I've used several different PVR's, and the Tivo is the only one with the right combination of reliability, features, and ease of use.

I'm in the UK now, putting up with Sky's PVR which is ok, but still lame compared to the Tivo.

As an example, with a Tivo you can pause one live program at a commercial, switch to another, then pause the second and go back to the first continuing from where you stopped. Sounds obscure, but my wife and kids love this. No other PVR I know of can do this.

The Sky receiver works pretty well, but it has a lot of quirks. For example, you can't look at program information in the guide while it is recording two shows. What's with that?!
posted by cosmac at 9:31 AM on October 3, 2007

With the advent of cable company DVRs, TiVo may not survive in the long run, but its user interface is superior to cable company DVRs. These days TiVo is practically giving away their glut of non-HD hardware, so you're not making a big capital investment if you decide to quit your TiVo subscription and try something else in the future.

but to get through the initial setup you absolutely, positively have to have a land line plugged into it.

This is true, but you don't need to do the Initial Setup at home with your own phone line. You could bring the box to a neighbor or friend's house for one night, then once the Initial Setup was complete, bring it home and use your home network. A pain in the ass, but it works.

I find the TiVo user interface to be wonderfully friendly, and their scheduling tools are nearly perfect. My two major quibbles:

1> You can set a program to begin recording early and end recording late, but you can't set a program to begin late or end early. Many sitcoms have 5 minutes of commercials + credits at the end. It would be nice to save that 5 minutes on my hard drive?

2> Overlapping programs: If two programs overlap by a minute, it's very hard to force it to clip one program in favor of another. I'd much rather lose the last minute of a show (which is credits anyway) than the first minute.
posted by Lord Kinbote at 11:13 AM on October 3, 2007

I have had a standalone TiVo, a DirectTV TiVo, and a TiVo HD. The hard drive in my DirecTV TiVo just died, and I switched to cable specifically because DirecTV no longer offers real TiVo boxes.

There is a world of difference between a real TiVo and a cable or satellite company DVR. Also, dual tuners are a killer feature.

Your best bet is either a) tracking down a used DirecTV TiVo unit, or b) getting a TiVo HD and switching to cable.

Either way, you'll be able to record a direct digital stream from two channels at once. Picture quality will be indistinguishable from live TV. The TiVo HD does 20 hours of HD or 180 hours of standard-definition. The DirecTV TiVo will only record standard definition. For future-proofing, the TiVo HD is the way to go. The TiVo HD will also still work with over-the-air channels if you cancel your cable service. The DirecTV unit will not. The TiVo HD also has an expansion port on the back, for adding additional storage space in the future.

Comcast is also offering a deal now where you can get TV, internet, and phone service for $99/month. That's hard to beat.
posted by designbot at 11:14 AM on October 3, 2007

Get the one from DirecTV, since it has dual tuner functionality. TiVo can't do that unless you have cable, and even then one channel has to not require a cable box. I love TiVo, but it's a hard sell now that cable and satellite offer real dual-tuner HD capability (do you have HD?) and TiVo just cannot.

This is inaccurate. With CableCards, the TiVo HD has "real dual-tuner HD capability," and doesn't require a cable box at all.

Overlapping programs: If two programs overlap by a minute, it's very hard to force it to clip one program in favor of another. I'd much rather lose the last minute of a show (which is credits anyway) than the first minute.

What version of the software do you have? On my unit, programs which overlap are clipped automatically based on which has higher priority in the season pass list (or, more often, just both recorded, since there are two tuners).
posted by designbot at 12:05 PM on October 3, 2007

Response by poster: I'm very happily digesting all these responses. A few comments: The geek in me would love to do it myself with MythTV, but practically speaking it's not going to happen. Too much to do (all that TV to watch, right?).

Switching to cable isn't an option. I'm in a rural area with no cable service.

I'm really interested to hear from anyone who's actually using a recent version of the DirecTV PVR. Anyone have any horror stories?
posted by owen at 4:48 PM on October 3, 2007

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