How we test PVRs

Take a peek behind the curtain and learn how CHOICE's staff of experts test PVRs

Watching what you want, when you want

A PVR (personal video recorder, also known as DVR or digital video recorder) lets you pause, rewind, replay and record your 'can't miss' TV shows. We lab test and review the latest models to help you find the best PVR for you.

But there's a lot more to a PVR than just recording your favourite TV show to watch later. For example: 

  • searching for and recording complete series so you can binge later, 
  • accessing other services such as Netflix or video stored elsewhere on your network or 
  • simply being accurate and recognising when the networks change the time of your favourite program. 

All these are investigated and scored by our test TV boffins.

Here's how we test these appliances to bring you results that can help guide your purchase. In this article:

Our expert testers

Our testers have years of expertise in testing televisions, home entertainment gear and PVRs. Our testers' expertise ensures each product is assessed accurately and objectively.

How we choose what to test

We start by testing the most popular models available and then progress to other models on the market. We aim to cover a category evenly, right across the least expensive to the most expensive, and if you can't find an exact model in a review, then you should be able to find one that shares most of its features and functionality. While challenges such as the exiting of the popular Tivo PVR brand and the rise of streaming on demand video have led to a reduction in choice, new PVRs continue to deliver new features and functionality.

How we test

Our testing starts with updating each PVR to the latest firmware. We then assess each model's user manual, before cataloguing the features and functions.

Electronic Program Guide (EPG)

In order to assess the EPG performance, our tester Scott O'Keefe examines the following areas:

  • Onscreen information for simple or well organised layout of times, channels and program titles. 
  • How easy the characters are to read – considering the size, contrast, font, colours, background.
  • The quality of descriptor words, phrases or symbols and that selections stay on screen long enough to read. 
  • Examines which keys to use and whether there is support for one button recording. 
  • Confirms whether the EPG delivers instant, or near instant program information updates.

Remote control

Scott assesses the remote control to determine how easy it is to use for common functions. As many of these models have few controls on the front panel, the remote becomes an integral part of the functionality of the unit. He looks at key size, shape, colour and grouping for ease of understanding. Some of the new features he looks out for include smart TV features such as buttons for Netflix or other streaming services.

Timer accuracy

Timer accuracy was tested by recording three overlapping programs to ensure the ability of the unit to continuously record each program with no dropouts. For models without timer recording we used the EPG.

Timer recording

Dual-tuner timer recording performance is tested by programming events. Scott assesses how easy this process is, as well as testing how well the units carry out repeated recording.

Ease of use

Scott looks for an auto-tuning system that is informative and simple to use. He makes instant recordings and checks the menus for ease of understanding, navigation and clarity. He also plays back recordings to check the quality and range of functions that are possible. He looks at the front panel controls to see to what extent the machine can operate various tasks without using the remote control, and looks at the quality of information conveyed via the front panel display.

Standby power

Scott connects the PVRs to a regulated power supply and power meter, and records standby energy consumption. Products that use 2W or more score 0%.


Every Blu-ray player is awarded an overall score. This score, scientifically calculated based on a pre-determined weighting, lets you know how each performed at a glance. It also makes it easier to compare each model's features and specs. The overall score is composed of:

  • EPG ease of use: 25% 
  • Remote control: 25% 
  • General ease of use:15% 
  • EPG recording: 20% 
  • Series recording: 5% 
  • Timer accuracy: 5% 
  • Standby energy: 5%

Ready to buy

Separate the good from the bad by reading our latest PVR review. Or you can learn more about the flaws and features of PVRs by reading our buying guide.

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