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Digital Video Recorder (DVR) Buying Guide

A comprehensive guide that will give you all the information you need on how to buy a new digital video recorder.

Getting Started

Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) are found in many places and formats. They have the ability to record TV programming and play it back at a later time. Some DVRs allow the user to pause, playback, rewind, or slow down live TV. DVR features are readily available through TiVo, cable boxes, and Satellite receivers. They come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. Some DVRs have a feature allowing the user to record multiple programs, while watching another channel. Recording and playing programs in HI-Def is easy with a DVR. They also have management functions that will delete recordings when the DVR is too full and prioritize programming.

Types

When buying or leasing a DVR ask yourself these questions:

Do you need your DVR to record in HI-Def?
If you watch TV in Hi-Def, you will want a DVR to record in HD. If you plan to burn your programming onto a DVD, even if the TV and DVR are in Hi-Def, the DVD that you will burn is not.
How large is the hard drive?
Typically, you will find that for every Giga Byte of your hard drive, you will get 15 minutes of programming. Make sure that you have enough memory for all of your programming needs.
What outputs does the DVR have?
 Make sure that the DVR is compatible with the rest of your entertainment system. Determine the types of cables that you will be able to use to connect your DVR to the rest of your entertainment system.
What connections will I need?
 You will need audio and video connections. Most DVRs come with their own component video cable included. To ensure high quality audio and video, the best cable to use is HDMI.

Features

Coaxial Digital Output-Digital Output
This output is the source of sound from the DVD player to the TV. Most DVD players have both the coaxial digital output and the optical digital output. Coaxial outputs are made with standard cables and copper. There is a possibility of interference with Coaxial output because the cable is susceptible to magnetic interference.
Component Video
Between S-Video, Composite, and Component-Component is the best signal you can send to your TV from your VCR or DVD player. The component signals are separated into color and brightness. The color and brightness signals are separated into two separate signals each. This gives a better, clearer signal and eliminates color bleeding and improves color precision.
Composite Video
The brightness and color signals are combined into one signal.
Digital to Analog Converter
a device that converts digital signal to analog.
Direct TV
Satellite provider. Direct TV buying guide.
Electronic Program Guide
Up-to-the-minute, on-screen guide that gives information on TV programming for up to two weeks.
Dolby Digital
This surround sound technology gives the listener undeniable music quality from any source. Dolby can produce anything from 1-5.1 channels of surround. (Dolby Digital Plus offers up to 7.1 channels of surround) If the DVD player that you are purchasing does not include a Dolby decoder, then you will have to connect it with a receiver. Dolby Digital has been the standard for surround sound for many years. DTS Digital Theater System: Similar to Dolby Digital surround, but DTS is usually 5.1 channel only. DTS is used for commercial, theatrical, and consumer applications.
HDCP-High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection
A security function that requires compatibility between the sender (DVD) and the receiver (TV). Compatibility must be built-in to both the sender and the receiver.
HDMI
HDMI cables are able to send Hi-Def video and multi-channel audio to a TV. HDMI cables are important for a few reasons. They send the best audio and video to your TV from any number of components. If you have an HDTV and a Blu-ray player, an up-converting DVD player, Playstation 3, or an Xbox 360 chances are that you will want to use HDMI cables. HDMI cables are not all the same. They are constructed of different materials, have varying lengths, and some are rated for the signal quality they must maintain over long lengths. HDMI cables must be tested at an authorized HDMI testing center to be able to carry the HDMI name. Testing centers are very strict with the specifications that the cables must have. There are a few different types of HDMI cables: HDMI 1.3 and HDMI 1.4. HDMI 1.3: Bitrate increases on the 1.3 as well as the bandwith. This cable can support Deep Color whereas the previous cables could not. CEC capacitance limits were changed, CEC commands for timer control were brought back-with added audio commands, and the sRGB quantization range was clarified. HDMI 1.4: Released in June of 2009, version 1.4 increases the resolution available through the cables, HDMI Ethernet Channel allowing for a transfer rate of 100 Megabytes per second between the two HDMI devices. An automotive connection system has been added, along with and Auto Return Channel, micro HDMI connector, and added support for color.
HDTV
Screen Resolution is a way of explaining how crisp the picture looks. Usually, the resolution is described in numbers and letters. 1080p, 720p, and 1080i are the numbers that are associated with High Definition TV (HDTV). The numbers stand for the lines of pixels in the screen. The total number of pixels is measured by multiplying the lines of pixels (horizontal and vertical). For instance, when a TV is 1080p, it is actually 1920 (horizontal lines of pixels) X 1080 (vertical lines of pixels) = 2,073,600 total pixels. The letters associated with the numbers "P" and "I" stand for progressive and interlaced. Comparing screens with the same resolutions, progressive has double the picture information than the interlaced with a more fluid and stable image. Is there a noticeable difference between 1080p and 720p? Yes, especially when watching HD and Blu-ray DVDs. The 720p image will look as if it is lacking the same quality that the 1080p has.
IEEE 1934
This is an access spot for camcorders to connect to a DVR, offering high-speed digital transmission of audio and video from the camcorder to the DVR. If the camcorder records in HD, as long as the DVR is an HD-DVR, then the video will be played in HD.
IR Blaster
This is a device that allows a DVR to control a cable box. This is done by the IR Blaster sending a signal to the cable box, similar to the signal a remote control sends.
Optical Digital Output--Digital Output
Optical Digital Output provides the second option for connecting a DVD player and a TV/Receiver for sound. The Optical Digital Output is made with fiber optics and therefore eliminates interference.
Radio Frequency (RF) or 75-ohm Coaxial
A cable that sends analog audio and video from an antenna to receivers (TV, Tuner, Cable Box, or DVR)
S-Video
This cable carries the color and brightness parts of a video signal.
TV Guide on Screen
Is a service provided free of charge on some DVRs. It provides a search feature, recording option, and an 8-day program guide.

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