Your TV Tech Fix: Why Are You Still Using Your Cable Company’s DVR?

While common US vernacular would have you believe otherwise, the fact of the matter is that most cable subscribers use a generic DVR (or PVR in Canada) provided by their cable company. TiVo, the stand-alone boxes that pioneered the time-shifting category make up a small relatively small fraction of the installed DVR base today.

How can it be that pretty much everyone agrees TiVo DVRs are significantly better (are easier to use, offer more innovative features, give you more spacious hard drives, and even now integrate with things like HP MediaSmart Servers for expansion), yet STILL opt for the craptastic box from the cable company?

Let’s find out what’s holding everyone back, shall we?

I’ve heard several people say they don’t use a TiVo because they can’t use their cable company’s video on demand (VOD) features. That’s still true; 2-way CableCard remains a pipe dream. But really, how much do you actually use VOD? I had it for years (until I dropped my cable package to near nothing to save money), and over that time only found a handful of things I ever wanted to watch. Netflix Instant Watch (something you can do on a TiVo if you subscribe to Netflix) offers far more variety of  TV and movies in my opinion.

The most common excuse (which just so happens to be the biggest myth): TiVo is ‘too expensive.’ A few years ago I may have agreed with that statement, but today it just doesn’t hold true. With cable companies charging up to $16.95 per month for their DVR, TiVo is almost looking like a deal. In fact, if you have the means to prepay your service for a lifetime, a brand new TiVo Premiere could actually save you money over a four to five year period. Over three years prepaid, a good life for a DVR, it’s pretty much a wash depending on what your cable company charges for a CableCard (assuming you need one). If you have to pay month to month, it will be more expensive than the cable company freebie, but you’re also getting a whole lot more than just a DVR.

Finally, the ridiculous reason… “I don’t watch a lot of TV.” What exactly does that mean, anyway? If you really don’t watch TV, why have a DVR at all? Even if you only record the occasional show, and with costs roughly the same over time (meaning all things being equal) why does not watching a lot of TV mean you have to get less for your money?  Besides, if this describes you, why exactly are you reading anyway?

I’m not here to try and sell you a TiVo. Even the new TiVo Premiere is hardly perfect, but it offers a heck of a lot more bang for the buck over the Cable Co boxes and is easy enough to operate that the whole family can use it to its potential.  However, if you happen to be the kind of person to roll your own DVR or want something less mainstream, I would just as easily recommend Windows Media Center (part of Windows 7), Moxi or SageTV. My only goal is to show TV addicts like you how to get more for your sixteen bucks a month, and ultimately get a lot more from your television experience.

Satisfy your inner geek while fueling your TV addiction… TV Tech Fix is a column by Matt Whitlock, editor of the Consumer Electronics Community (plus several other gadget-focused community websites), and lover of both technology and TV. In this column, he’ll cover a wide variety of tech topics aimed squarely at the TV addicts of the world – from tips and tricks to help you better your TV experience, to gear recommendations, to the impact technology is having on the TV shows we love.

For all the latest TV news and reviews

  • John

    I have DirecTV and us ethe DVR that comes in the required receiver. It is hardly perfect, but has the virtue of needing no hook up or installation.

    I wouldn't even know how (or if) I could set up a TiVo and have it tell my receiver which channels to tune into and when.

  • Jen

    Once you use a TiVo, you'll wonder how you ever used the cable company version. The TiVo software and interface is so superior! I heart my Tivo.

  • joshemerson

    TiVo is not compatible with satellite TV services, only cable and antenna. So as long as I have DirecTV, I have no choice but to use their DVR. And it's only $5.99 per month for overall DVR use. We actually have two DVRs in the house and that's the total cost, not per receiver.

  • As cool as TiVo looks, what always bothered me about it is the cost associated with it. Having bought my Rogers (local cable company) DVR outright, I don't have to pay a monthly fee. With TiVo, not only would I have to pay for it, I'd have to pay a monthly fee on top of it which is actually ridiculous.

  • BJ

    After nearly throwing my television out the window and cursing American Idol's name furiously over and over for five minutes because they ran late and cut the final five minutes of Glee the other night, I ask myself the same question now.

  • mattwhitlock

    No doubt the value proposition can look a little different for Canadian providers, as here in the US we don't really get the option to buy the cable co DVR (or PVR as you guys call it) outright. Although, other than to save in the long run, I wouldn't want to buy their box anyhow given that it's not transferable from provider to provider.

  • mattwhitlock

    Well, I was speaking specifically to cable in this post, but even DirecTV still gets you coming and going. According to their current terms DVR service is $7 per month (although it doesn't say “per” DVR. That's not bad, until you factor in the extra $5 for the 2nd and each additional receiver (assuming all your equipment is leased), and the infamous $10 “HD Access Fee.”

    And let's also not forget the 24 month commitment for new DirecTV subscribers.


  • mattwhitlock

    To be fair to the crapola boxes, most (the SA and Moto boxes for sure) give you an option to tack on extra minutes to the beginning or end of a recording, which is particularly useful for live events.

  • I love my Tivo. Have had one for years, and have the lifetime service plan on it – no monthly fee. That one is in my son's room. Got an HD Tivo and paid for the longest prepaid plan we could. That one is in the living room. But, I do like the On Demand service my cable company offers, so I have one of their DVR's in the bedroom. My family watches lots of TV. Thursday nights are completely ridiculous. So sometimes when I miss recording a show (last year it was Survivor) I would just watch it On Demand. There are benefits to having both DVR's. I do like my Tivo better.

  • Tali

    Not to mention that you CANT USE a TiVo box with Directv… and you certainly can't use any High Def features with TiVO… when will they offer TivO for Directv!??????

  • Vb2424

    hi, i have tech-o-phobia and don't understand any tech stuff. having said that, please inform if i can use my own dvr, tivo, etc. that i can purchase from amazon, ebay, etc and hook it up to my existing dish network such that it records my programs from dish receivers and i do not have to pay anything to dish. i don't even want to call dish or involve them in any way whatsoever. is it possible? if so, how should i proceed and what do i do? thanks in advance.