Digital TV Recorders
If you were thinking of finally getting that cool UltimateTV that Microsoft hyped all over the place a while back... sorry. Microsoft thought they could take over the market, but it didn't fly, and you can't buy them anymore. I guess Microsoft isn't always the "safe" choice after all. Their current play at this market is Windows XP Media Center Edition, which you can only buy with a new specially-equipped high-end PC from certain vendors. Fortunately the original pioneers of this market are still arround and innovating, and new options are appearing that don't necessarily require you to buy a whole new PC to put in your entertainment center. There are three different approaches available: self-contained retail DVRs, Windows/Mac add-ons, and build-your-own kits using open-source software.
(If the system you choose can't record two different programs at once, here's a tip: Keep your VCR hooked up to either an antenna or your standard cable, and set it to record one of those programs off the air, while your digital system records the other. Not as elegant as the dual-tuner digital recorders, but it works for me.)
Shelf units - dedicated boxes that you buy, and hook up to your TV and antenna/cable/dish like a VCR:
close match high quality challenge MS TiVo pauses and rewinds live TV, fast-forwards pre-recorded shows, tracks broadcast schedules with nightly updates, and their software has some unique built-in intelligence, such as suggesting new shows similar to those you like, and finding shows with certain actors or teams or directors you specify. The "stand-alone" units work with any combination of satellite (Dish Network or DirecTV), cable (analog or digital). Some of the units (available from various manufacturers) include DVD players or burners, home networking, and the ability to play your digital photos and music. The combined "DirecTiVo" satellite unit can record-two-channels-at-once, even while you're watching a third program you've already recorded. Because its operating system is based on the open-source Linux, it's possible to hack it to add more storage, networking, remote programming, etc. even on the earliest models. my choice
close match high quality challenge MS DirecTV after a relationship with TiVo is now offering their own DVR-equipped receivers, with both standard- and high-definition models, to match the service you're subscribing to rom the satellite service.
close match high quality challenge MS DishDVR is a satellite receiver/recorder specifically for the Dish Network. Current subscribers can buy one to replace (or supplement) their existing receiver, but new subscribers can get the unit at a discount if they subscribe to to one of three popular Dish programming packages for a year. A second non-recording receiver is also available, which lets you watch a second channel on another TV.
close match challenge MS Cable operators such as Comcast are beginning to offer digital recorders as options with their digital programming service. They're not as flexible, feature-filled, or mature technology as TiVo's or ReplayTV's, but they offer the convenience of coming from a company you may already be getting service from.
high quality challenge MS Dream Multimedia is a German company whose digital satellite receivers can be equipped with a hard drive to record programs. The system (based on Linux, mostly open-source) comes in models with an ethernet port, multiple video inputs, media slots, etc. This is more of a "hobbyist" approach, but has the advantage of most of the system being finished for you, with only minor work needed to turn it into a DVR.
Computer add-ons - hardware and software you add to a Windows or Mac OS computer to make it also serve as a video recorder:
high quality low price SageTV is the software package that comes closest to the functionality of a retail DVR, on a PC running Windows. It does "live TV tricks" like pause, instant replay, and commercial-skipping while watching recorded shows. It has a free program-guide service covering cable and satellite services across the U.S. and can not only follow the shows you ask it to record, but also seek out shows featuring certain actorsrecord similar shows based on your viewing habits. It supports multiple tuner cards to record multiple programs at the same time. An optional piece of software allows you to watch shows on another computer on your home network. Another more limited package, but less expensive version called SageRecorder is available, which works more like a VCR, with simple timer-based recording. Windows
high quality low price ShowShifter can pause live TV, and records programs VCR-style (pre-set the channel, day of the week, and time), with Matrox, ATI, and Hauppage tuner cards. It can be controlled remotely using an infrared receiver and most programmable remotes. It also plays DVDs, audio CDs, and various video and MP3 files. It works with electronic program guides for the US and Europe. A free trial version of the software is available. Windows
high quality low price SnapStream works with some existing TV tuner cards, or you can buy the software with a tuner card included, still for a fraction of the cost of a dedicated recorder. It lets you watch the programs you record on any network-connected computer, even "PocketPC" handhelds (provided you have a fast enough connection between the two). It can also be programmed through the internet. An interface is available to electronic program guide services for the US and UK. A free version with some feature limitations is available. Windows
high quality low price EyeTV is software and a cable-ready tuner that plugs into either the USB or Firewire port of a Mac running OS X.1 or later, and allows you to record shows much like a stand-alone recorder, including instant replay and watching one previously recorded program while recording another. Playback is on your computer monitor, or (using their companion product EyeHome) on your TV. It uses your internet connection to download programming information for your area, or can be used for timed manual recordings without that information. Mac OS
high quality low price CyberLink PowerVCR offers some of the "live TV" features of the dedicated units, allowing you to start viewing a recording already in progress, and do your own instant replays. In addition to tuner cards, it supports input from digital video cameras. It has some handy featuers that make it easier to archive video files to CD. And it includes an interface to their "CyberEPG" service for easier scheduling of recordings. Windows
low price GB-PVR is a freeware digital-recording system, for Windows. It's a solo programming project (and not open-source), so it'll be limited to working with whatever hardware the developer supports, and it's a work in progress at this writing, but it reportedly works quite well. It uses XMLTV as a program guide. Windows
low price If all you want is basic digital recording, you can probably buy just a TV tuner for your PC or Mac and use it as is. They're packaged mostly for watching live TV, but they can often record to your hard drive using the software that comes with them. This means manually recording each show, with no nifty features like pausing live broadcasts, but it's inexpensive. Hauppage WinTV, ATI's "TV Wonder" line, and Pinnacle Studiomy choice are some of the more popular, inexpensive devices. BTWinCap is a free video-capture driver for Windows and most video cards based on BT8xx chips. Windows MacOS
Home-Brew/DIY - hardware and Free software for assembling your own custom unit:
high quality low price challenge MS MythTV is a fairly mature package based on Linux and other open-source software, which runs with off-the-shelf PC hardware. It doesn't offer all the same features as TiVo or ReplayTV, but because it's a fully open architecture, its more easily extendible, and a community of add-on developers is coalescing around it. The Linux HTPC How-to is a good site for getting started with a project of this sort. KnoppMyth is a handy CD-based tool for installing MythTV. Unix-like
high quality low price challenge MS Freevo is another open-source project, developed in Python using MPlayer as its main playback tool. It can be installed on any Linux system with the requisite hardware. In addition to background recording (using XMLTV as a program guide) and playback, it can play movies and music stored in an extensive array of formats (including AVI, MPEG, Quicktime, Ogg, MP3, AAC, WMA, and DVDs), using either a TV and remote, or your computer's monitor. It has a web-based control interface in development. At this writing, live TV pause is in the works. Unix-like
low price challenge MS For Europeans (it's not compatiable with American broadcast standards), VDR is a dedicated digital video recorder and satellite receiver, which you can build using off-the-shelf hardware and open-source software. Playback is via TV (it's a "headless" system, so no X installed). It includes support for up to 4 tuner cards, a handheld remote with on-screen menus, automatic recording from electronic program guide data, etc. Recordings can also be scheduled remotely via telnet. It includes a plug-in interface for easier development of add-ons (if which there are many). Unix-like
low price challenge MS If you're eager to start taking advantage of HDTV broadcasts, pcHDTV is a video capture card designed expressly for digital video enthusiasts: fully documented, free of Intellectual Property constraints, and with drivers available for Linux. Unix-like
low price challenge MS See also: Build Your Own PVR, a community forum site for people interested in building their own PVR; and VCR, a text-console app which records programs from a video tuner device in AVI format for later viewing, programmable remotely via telnet. Unix-like
close match a close match or substitute for Microsoft's product
high quality an especially high-quality alternative
low price an inexpensive (or even free) alternative
challenge MS offers a strong challenge to Microsoft's influence
my choice my personal selection
Runs on: Windows Windows, Mac OS Mac OS, Unix-like Unix-like systems, Java Java-compatible systems, Symbian Symbian OS, Palm OS Palm OS, Netware Netware, OpenVMS OpenVMS, BeOS BeOS, OS/2 OS/2, Amiga Amiga, RISC OS RISC OS, DOS DOS
More Options
Comments? Suggestions of other alternatives to include? Send them in, to "contact me at rzero dot com" (without the spaces)

All logos and product names are trademarks of their respective developers or distributors.
This site is in no way affiliated with Microsoft Corporation
© 1999-2008, Rzero.