When you need to watch your favourite shows, you can go searching for online streaming sites such as Netflix or Stan. But what if the shows are available on your TV already, just at times that don't suit? That's where a a PVR or personal video recorder comes in allowing you to watch what you want, when you want and for no extra subscription costs.

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PVR and DVR reviews

Personal video recorders (PVRs), or digital video recorders (DVRs), essentially replaced the video cassette recorders (VCR) which were so popular in the 80s and 90s. PVRs can record and store hundreds of hours of footage alongside a host of multimedia functions. Thanks to PVRs, you'll never have to miss the latest installment of your favourite series, and you can keep a stockpile of shows recorded for a rainy weekend.

There are some functions that are really handy, but some are only for serious media consumers, so it's good to know what to look for before you meet the hard-selling shop assistants.

PVRs sound pretty good! What do I need to know?

PVRs record to an internal hard drive, which comes in different sizes. Most can be programmed up to seven days in advance using an onscreen electronic program guide (EPG). Dual-digital receivers also come as a standard feature, so you can record shows on one channel while you watch another. PVRs also let you pause and rewind live TV, known as time shifting. This is particularly useful if the oven timer goes off during the proposal episode of The Bachelor or a classic only-on-live-TV moment of Q&A.

Higher-end models offer more sophisticated features:

  • Scheduling beyond seven days
  • Series-linking – the recording of an entire season of a show across multiple weeks.
  • Setting up a recording schedule remotely via the internet.
  • Playing DVD and Blu-ray discs.
  • Playing other popular digital media formats such as MPEG, MKV or DivX.
  • Connecting to DLNA devices for media streaming from a home network (DLNA stands for Digital Living Network Alliance – a collaborative trade organisation established by Sony).
  • Offering digital media for rental or sale such as Netflix and Stand directly via the internet.

That all sounds great, but what features do I really need?

When shopping for a PVR, consider whether you simply want to record TV programs or whether you want an all-in-one media hub that can also download and play other content.

For recording TV programs: The only features you really need are enough space on the hard drive to hold the capacity you want, and the ability to program recording as far into the future as you wish.

For an all-in-one media hub: All the other features will be useful for you, but think about whether you need DLNA access – you may never use it, so don't let it be a selling point if that's the case.

How will it affect my internet download limits?

While recording free-to-air TV, a PVR won't bite a chunk out of your data limits, but if connected to the internet and using an online streaming service you'll need to keep an eye on your numbers.

How big does the hard drive need to be?

The amount of hard drive space available on your DVR determines how many hours of recordings you can hoard. Consider a capacity of 500GB as a minimum, which will hold about 50 hours of HD video as a rough rule of thumb. The amount you can hold before needing to free up space on your drive will vary depending on how much of the content you record is high definition (HD) and how much is standard definition (SD), but if you don't want to have to make any difficult decisions between your shows when you start running out of space you may want a drive of 1TB or more.

Some models will let you plug in an external hard drive for additional storage or back up recorded shows to DVD or Blu-ray disc. This is an important feature if you want to store a lot of content or archive recordings for later viewing.

Okay, I've worked out what I need. What else should I look for?

Connections

While HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) is the usual connection for all modern equipment, you might also need a model that has some of the older analogue component video/RCA connections.

Maximum approximate recording

This provides an indication of the time available for a high-definition recording. These figures are approximate only, as HD video can take up anything from 5GB to 15GB per hour, depending on factors such as resolution and the level of video compression used.

Remote controls

Your remote control should have buttons that are sized, shaped and spaced so you can easily find and press them individually. They should be grouped so you can quickly go to specific functions, and the most commonly used buttons should be prominent. Buttons for direct connection to online streaming services can also be handy.

Record from AV input

While all PVRs record free-to-air TV, you need an analog input connection if you want to record another video signal - for example, from a Foxtel box. This is not a common feature with Beyonwiz and Humax including this sort of feature in some of its models.

An ethernet connection

Ethernet connections are now common on PVRs, allowing you to share video on your home network (LAN – local area network) or stream video from the internet. Many now also do this via wireless (Wi-Fi) connection.

Antenna pass-through

This allows you to connect another device to the antenna without going through the DVR processor. This was once a useful way to attach an analogue device to your DVR, but now that the signal has been turned off this feature is obsolete.

Cost

PVRs range in price from $200 to $999.