Our Top 5 DVRs for 2017
DVRs (Digital Video Recorders) have transformed the entertainment industry. Rather than being limited by the programming available to us, we are instead only limited by how many hours there are in a day to watch TV. Primitive DVRs simply fulfilled the function of clunky, old school VCRs digitally, but today’s providers offer cable boxes that are whole-home systems. These miracles of TV technology are powerhouses of playback, recording, and seamless integration that allow consumption in any room in your home and on the go. To help you choose the best from the rest, we’ve inspected each of the major cable providers’ DVR offerings and declared the clear leaders in the battle for superior equipment.
Before we give you the lowdown on the winners and losers, we’ll cover a few considerations you should keep in mind when choosing a DVR. And we’ll give you recommendations on which piece of equipment to pick based on your priorities, whether that be price, advanced features, or the ability to record every episode of Game of Thrones in HD before your hard drive runs out of space.
What Should I Consider When Choosing a DVR?
Availability in Your Area
Of course your primary consideration in choosing a DVR, especially if you intend to rent, is making sure the provider services your area. The bells and whistles of the X1 won’t help you much if you don’t live in a Comcast service area.
Want to see which provider on our list services your area? Enter your ZIP code and we’ll let you know.
Provider’s DVR or a Third-Party DVR
Move much? Then you may want consider buying and using a third-party DVR. Many cable customers aren’t aware that federal regulations require companies to allow the use of third party DVRs and cable boxes. Rather than being tied to your provider’s proprietary equipment, you can opt to take your DVR with you and just re-start TV service at a new location. Installing the cable card can get tricky, but your provider should be willing and able to help. Also, we have the internet and a wealth of resources at our fingertips. Find an online tutorial and make that high-speed connection earn its keep.
To Rent a DVR or to Own
Ah, the age-old question: Should you rent or purchase your own? The answer depends on how long you plan to stay with your current provider. If you’re not sure, it makes sense to rent rather than invest in a piece of equipment you won’t be able to use long term. This scenario is also one where you should consider plunking down your hard earned cash for a third-party DVR that can be used with any provider.
Rental fees top $10 a month on average, so for most of our recommended models you’ll break even in a little more than two years.
If you’re going to be fairly stable for a few years, it’s also a no brainer to purchase your own DVR. Some providers don’t sell theirs directly, but a few, like DIRECTV and DISH, make this remarkably easy.
If your entertainment happiness relies upon being able to record all the things, you’ll want to get a DVR that has more tuners (because more tuners mean fewer scheduling conflicts). While some providers don’t offer DVRs that can handle recording more than two or three channels at a time, most of the equipment that made our list can handle at least half a dozen shows at once. Multi-tasking is seriously in demand, even when it comes to TV gadgetry.
Do you prefer to digest your programming in a feast-or-famine approach? You’re going to need more storage for that. Busy households may not have the time to watch TV during the week, but binge-watching on the weekends is the new black. Recording dozens of HD episodes requires some serious disc space, so make allowances for your type and patterns of entertainment consumption.
The world behind your entertainment center is a nest of cords and cables, and all those components have to go somewhere. Make sure the DVR you choose has the ports to power connection to your home theater, HD TV, external hard drives, and all manner of devices. If you have an older TV or dated audio equipment, you may want to pay close attention to compatibility issues in the specs.
Netflix, YouTube, Roku, oh my. There’s a whole world of entertainment at your fingertips, so choose a DVR that can integrate it seamlessly. Most of the recommended equipment that hit our list has interfaces that allow for access to Netflix and other third-party apps, so you can share the unfettered joy of those cat videos with your entire family.
Top 5 DVRs of 2017
1. DISH Hopper 3 HD-DVR
DISH brags that its latest and greatest DVR is “the most powerful DVR in the world.” They’re not wrong. The Hopper 3 has more tuners than any other DVR on the market—a mind-boggling 16—that reduces the chance of scheduling conflicts into oblivion. Up to 2 terabytes of storage is powered by a processor that is seven times faster than its predecessor, enabling customers to store up to 500 hours of HD programming. DISH also has some fantastic features that outshine the competition, like the ability to auto-skip commercials, a voice remote, Netflix integration, and a sports bar mode. Considering the bargain-basement pricing, DISH’s Hopper 3 easily snags our top spot along with the “Best Overall” recommendation.
“The Hopper 3 is the most ludicrously powerful cable box ever.” Wired, January 5th, 2016
2. The Genie (HR-44) from DIRECTV
The Runner Up
DIRECTV’s Genie doesn’t hop over the competition, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make your DVR dreams come true. While it can only record five shows simultaneously, the lowest number of any DVR on our list, it does have a respectable amount of storage that is optimized for HD and 3D content. DIRECTV also offers wireless mini-clients that can deliver 4K HD content to 4 TVs without the clutter of cords. If you’ve been dealing with a dated DVR, the Genie will grant your wish for dynamic TV at your fingertips.
3. TiVo T6
TiVo has been leading the charge among third-party DVRs for years, and the TiVo 6 is one of the few available through a major cable provider. Both RCN and DIRECTV offer TiVo T6, with the ability to record up to six shows at once and 1 terabyte of storage. You may look at that price tag, however—which is a full hundred dollars above the competition—and wonder why we would consider it a best value. The difference is that the TiVo is not proprietary, so the ability to take it anywhere and use any TV service for the life of the equipment makes it a superior value long term.
4. X1 from XFINITY
Comcast may be notorious for poor customer service in the cable industry, but when it comes to equipment, it’s not half-bad. The X1 is a whole-home DVR that has the ability to record six shows at once, includes a voice remote, and has multi-platform integration. While the X1 has a pitiful amount of storage compared to the competition (only 100 hours of HD), it does have cloud storage, which would allow customers to store programming without the limitations of a hard drive. Comcast intends to fully realize this technology with the X2, launching in late 2017, allowing for easier remote access and increasing capacity via complete cloud storage.
5. Quantum Multi-Room DVR from Verizon
While Verizon Fios snags our top spot for best provider, it sneaks in just under the wire on our recommended DVRs list. The Quantum Enhanced DVR service does have some impressive specs, including the ability to record twelve shows at once and over 2 terabytes of storage, but it has some serious drawbacks as well. First off, Verizon makes this offering incredibly confusing, presenting it not as a DVR but as a service. The DVR equipment Verizon utilizes is either from Cisco or Motorola and is not widely available for purchase. Secondly, it appears the hard drives in these units are not optimized for HD, storing just over 200 hours in comparison to DISH’s 500. And while many of these DVR whole-home systems can connect as many as eight TVs, Verizon’s Quantum can only handle three TVs per DVR, which may be a deal-breaker for some households.
Want to learn more about third-party DVRs and other TV equipment? Visit our equipment reviews and additional resource guides here.