TiVo Coming to Canada and DVR Info

By Mike on 4:19 pm

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Surely you've heard of TiVo. It's a digital video recorder that's been available in the United States since 1999. The company that sells the device plans to have it for sale in Canada in the next couple of days at a price of $199 for the box, plus a monthly subscription fee of $12.95 per month, though prepaid plans are available. Basically, the device allows you to select programs, records them like a VCR, and then allows you to play, pause, rewind, or fast forward TV. Americans claim this has revolutionized their TV viewing experience since they never miss their show, can fast forward through commercials, and all their stuff is in high quality.

So what is a DVR anyway? Well, think of a DVR as a VCR on steroids. Rather than using magnetic tape and FM analogue recording, DVRs store video digitally on a hard drive built inside the unit. The devices themselves have never gained a lot of popularity in Canada. Most Canadians that own one get theirs through their TV service provider. However, such units are very expensive. A basic DVR (also known as a PVR) from Bell ExpressVu costs $299 for the standard definition model and a whopping $599 for the HD model. It can store up to 200 hours of SD video so we can assume it has a 250-500gb hard drive built into it. Most people aren't going to be willing to pay that so VHS and DVD Recorders have remained the dominant means of recording TV.

Problems with VHS and DVD Recorders:
VHS has numerous problems. Namely it can't record in full 480i, it uses roughly 320 lines of vertical resolution versus 480 used in SD broadcasts. Noise introduced with analogue cable systems is more noticeable though programs recorded from digital sources over S-Video will be close to commercial VHS movie quality. Sound quality of VHS is also quite low, about equal to FM radio. VHS tapes gets stretched as it's played causing it to warp, further degrading playback. Lastly, one has to fast forward or rewind through the tape to find the shows they want, which is inconvenient.
What about DVD-Rs. Many commercial DVD recorders are available which essentially resemble your typical set top DVD player. but include a burning drive. The player allows you to record programs onto a DVD disc at either 480p, 480i, or a reduced resolution for longer playback. Recording time is two hours on standard play, which is comparable with VHS. While DVD offers higher resolution playback, it can't record HD programing in HD. Also, it's always more convenient to have everything in once place. Some DVD Recorders do have a DVR integrated in them.

What should I look for in a DVR:
A PCI video capture card and at least 40gb of hard space is a cheap way to get a DVR. If your computer was bought/built after 2005, chances are it has a DVD writer too. Most modern HDTVs have VGA, DVI, and HDMI ports so you can connect your computer to them. 40gb can store 17 hours of DVD quality video. If money is no object, new 1tb drives can store 425 hours of SD video. Such a big drive will cost at least $260. However, cheaper 500gb drive can still store up to 212hr of video and only cost around $100 for the cheapest units. This will store more than most stand alone DVRs.
As for stand alone units, in Canada, we're pretty much limited to what cable and satellite providers charge. The new TiVo is one option but it's monthly use fee spoils it's usefulness. The largest stand alone unit can store 250gb and this isn't the one available in Canada. We'll most likely get stuck with the 80gb model which TiVo claims can store 80hrs of video, though likely not at DVD quality. The Canadian model will also not be able to record HD broadcasts, unlike some of the US models. The HD model will likely come out eventually.
As for other models, a quick search of Best Buy only turned up two DVR/DVD Recorder combo units from Pioneer. This is a good brand and the units upscale SD content to fit HDTVs, the price on them is very high. $450 for the 120gb model. All other units are sold directly through cable and satellite providers and are usually combined with the decoder box. As mentioned before, these are also very expensive.

If you want a DVR, going the PC route is still the best way to go. You can have as much or as little space as your wallet will allow by going this route. You can also stream your recorded programs to media servers like the Playstation 3 and convert your favourite shows easily for watching on your mobile device. This is the best way to go for Canadians who want digital video recording.

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