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Digital Recorders Explained

In the sixth of our FrequencyCast Podcasts, we explored DVR (Digital Video Recorders), also known as PVRs in more detail. This page contains more details on what these are.

We featured Digital Recorders in Show 34 of our podcast.

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What is a digital recorder?

Sky DigiboxGoing by the names Personal Video Recorder (PVR), Digital Video Recorder (DVR) or even Digital TV Recorder (DTR), a digital recorder is essentially a set-top box that has a built-in hard-disk (like a computer).

The hard-disk is used to record TV shows for playback at a later time, and this replaces the good old VCR video recorder. You use an on-screen programme guide to select your favourite shows in advance, then let the PVR record your shows for you.

Many PVRs allow you pause live TV, rewind live TV, and set series links so you don't miss a favourite show. Most of the PVRs have what's known as a "twin tuner", which means that the machine can cope with two digital TV channels at the same time - so you can watch one digital channel and record a different channel, or record two digital channels simultaneously.

Probably the most well known PVR in the UK is the Sky+ box. This supports Sky Digital, has a twin tuner, and you can remotely program this digital recorder from outside your home via mobile phone.

Other links: Sky's Sky+ site ; Freeview PVRs


The advantages of a DVR:

The first mainstream DVR was the TiVo, which was available in bulk in the UK in 2001. The appearance of DVRs has brought users the following benefits:

  • The ability to record onto a hard-disk, not videotape (convenience and better quality)
  • Pause live TV (when the phone rings)
  • Electronic Programme Guide and Series Link (Sky+)... select and forget
  • Digital quality - no chewed tapes / quality loss - you can dub to DVD

Buying a PVR

Some things to look for when selecting a PVR:

  • Twin tuner - Most PVRs have something called a "twin tuner" - this means that it can cope with two digital TV channels at the same time. With a twin tuner, you to record one digital channel whilst watching another digital channel, or record two digital TV channels simultaneously.
  • EPG - Electronic Programme Guide (an on-screen TV listings service for easy selection of shows to record)
  • Disk size - PVRs have different sized hard-disks. If you're likely to record and store a lot of shows, consider a box with a larger drive

Some of the DVRs on offer:

Sky+Sky+ PVR: This is our top recommendation - Sky customers can set their Sky+ boxes to record TV using the seven day Electronic Programme Guide, can watch one satellite channel while recording another satellite channel, and the box supports Live Pause and Live Review. Most useful is the Series Link, which is used from the EPG to select show, then make sure the box records the series in the right order, without any further intervention.

The current Sky+ box hold up to 40 hours of TV. You can also set your Sky+ box to record programmes via your mobile - see our TV control page

A Sky+ box is normally available for free when ordered at

Humax PVR-3200TBHumax PVR-9300TB: This Freeview DVR is also recommended by our forum visitors. It has a stack of features, supports the Freeview Playback system, and has a large, 320GB hard-disk (for up to 160 hours recording). It supports Picture-in-picture, has USB support for PC connectivity, and mp3 playback.

Prices start from £165. More details on the Humax PVR-9300-T review

BT Vision Set-top boxBT Vision: This supports Freeview as well as content downloaded from a BT broadband Internet connection. The BT Vision+ Box is made by Philips, supports HDTV, holds 80 hours of TV, and makes use of a BT Broadband connection to download TV shows and movies for on-demand viewing on your telly.

The BT Vision service is available to BT Total Broadband customers either on a subscription basis, or on pay-to-watch.

More on our BT Vision page, or at

Sony HXD710Sony RDR-HXD710: High-end Freeview unit with a DVD recorder and a 160 Gig hard-disk (up to 269 hours). 8 day EPG, multi-format recording onto DVD.

Available from Amazon and

Panasonic DMREX75: High-end Freeview unit with a DVD recorder and a 160 Gig disk (up to 284 hours). Has an HDMI  connector for use with High-definition TVs and an SD card slot. Available for £299 from

Humax Foxsat-HDRHumax FOXSAT-HDR: The first Freesat High Definition recorder. Store over 200 hours of subscription-free TV on the 320Gig drive. Twin tuner, 8 day EPG.

Available now for around £240 from

Digital recorders for your PC. You can buy a USB box, or a plug-in card for your PC that takes a TV aerial feel, and uses your hard-disk to record TV shows. We recommend you take a look at the Hauppauge range, available from PC World, Amazon and

There's more on our TV on your PC page.



Listener questions
  • Question: "What I am looking for is a standard hard drive recorder 80gb that I can record both cable channels on a pace cable box and normal TV. What I don't want is cable box that you don't own and you pay £15 to Telewest a month. I have Humax 8000 that you cannot record cable on so still use my VHS not bothered if the box has Freeview" - David, Nov 2006
  • Question: In Show 07, listener Bob Smith doesn't want a Freeview or Sky+ digital recorder, just one that can be used with Freesat. We can't find one, so we suggested either going for a DVD recorder, or using a PC.

Update: Thanks to Alan Hart for the following: "Both of these can almost certainly be solved by buying a UK TiVo on Ebay. These devices are very well built - just change the hard disk every few years and they seem to keep on going. No monthly subscription (almost all boxes have a lifetime subscription on them by now). I've used mine with digital cable, analogue TV, a Thomson Freeview box and Tiscali TV. You can combine digital satellite with Freeview or digital cable with analogue TV, I believe."

Output in multiple rooms

A question from site visitor Andrew: "I am going to finally replace our ageing VHS recorder with a PVR. However, I would then like the option of watching the recorded programmes on my bedroom TV (which is digital and with built on Freeview). What are my options?". Well, If you want to watch the output of your BT Vision box on another TV set in your home, here are the options:

  • See if your DVR has a modulated output. A box with a modulator can 'rebroadcast' its output on a TV channel that a telly can be tuned into, so they're useful for connecting to a TV with no SCART socket. If your box has a modulated output, then you can feed the output over a standard aerial (co-ax) cable from the set-top box RF output, to the other TV in the house. BT Vision (grey models only) and Sky+ boxes have modulated outputs.

  • Get an AV sender - These connect to a spare SCART socket on the DVR box and transmit the output wirelessly to a receiver that can be connected to a second TV. Wireless AV senders are available from Argos and Maplin

Note that if you are using a PVR to feed two TV sets - the box can only 'play' one thing at a time, so it's not possible to watch a recording in one room whilst watching a live TV programme from the box in another room. If you're not happy watching the same thing in two rooms, you may want to consider getting another Freeview box for the other TV set.

Recording Sky

We've been asked if you can use a Freeview PVR to record the output of a Sky Digibox. The answer is almost certainly no. Freeview PVRs have a built-in Freeview receiver and aren't capable of recording from a Line in / SCART feed. If you want to record from Sky, either go for a Sky+ box, or a DVD recorder.

PVR for analogue TV

Site visitor Eric asks: "Are there any hard drive recorders that will work with analog signals ? I live in an area that is not due to be 'digitised' / receive Freeview until 2012."

As far as we know, there are no dedicated analogue PVRs available in the UK - with the UK going digital, there's not much demand for kit that will be obsolete in 2012. Also, one of the top reasons to get a PVR, is the electronic programme guide - which is only available with digital. Some notes:

  • Are you sure you're not in a Freeview area? Predictors tend to be conservative. See our Freeview Reception FAQ for more on coverage
  • Have you considered a DVD recorder? Many of these support analogue and digital.
  • We've heard of some combined DVD recorders / HDD recorders that support analogue - Models include: Samsung DVD-Hr750, LG Rh266 , Pioneer DVR-420H/520H - Try a Google search for a supplier.

What about video cassettes?

Site visitor Sam asks: "PVR's sound great for recording but what about playing pre recorded video cassettes. I've been told that once we go digital we will be unable to play the hundreds of pre recorded video cassettes we already have. Is this true?"

Not true - See the Digital Switch FAQ entry.

We featured Digital Recorders in Show 34 of our podcast.

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Got a question on DVRs / PVRs that we can answer in our next podcast?
Call 020 8133 4567 or send us a message

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