TiVo or DVR -- which one is better?


We're engaged in a little disagreement over here over what we should get ourselves for Valentine's Day. Forget the romance; we want TV options. Which is better -- a TiVo or a DVR?


Staff member
Aloha, Aloha Mates!

First of all, TiVo is a DVR. However, it is a DVR with internet connectivity and generally more features than the cable company DVRs. I think that TiVo is generally better but with a few caveats. I'll give you a few highlights, but my list is by no means comprehensive!

TiVo offers your regular TV content plus internet content, which includes Netflix, YouTube, Amazon VOD and a few others.
Cable company DVRs offer your regular TV content plus any on-demand content your cableco may offer.

Ease of use:
I've generally found TiVo's user interface easier to use than most cable company DVRs. TiVo also has features like wishlists which are generally not found on cable company DVRs.

Ease of setup:
Cable company DVRs win here. Why? TiVo needs to use a CableCARD from the cable company to record cable channels. The cable companies have never gotten this to work right for everybody. Cable companies are also deploying something called SDV which transmits some of your channels "on demand" to save bandwidth. TiVo generally does not play well with SDV and you need a device called a tuning adapter from the cable company. These have been somewhat of a hassle. But over time things have gotten better, so YMMV.

This one is all over the place. Some cable companies can squeeze as much as $30 per month out of you for the DVR rental and service. Some of them don't charge much at all. My cable company charges $14 plus tax for their DVRs. TiVo has monthly service plans which range from $13/month to $19/month. You also have to buy the box upfront. You also may have to pay for CableCARD rental which can be $2 to $6 per month. Some people think it's worth it. I didn't mind paying $700 for my TiVo Series 3 when it first came out. So this one is a big YMMV but factoring cable company fees TiVo may come out better.

So that's what I think based on my experience.


Staff member
Tivo's interface is definitely better than cable DVRs. I know n2rj said that he thinks that Tivo is worth it, but I favor a rented DVR these days because:

1. It takes almost 4 years for a Tivo to pay for itself vs renting.
2. You can turn a DVR in and upgrade to a new version from the cable company.
3. Getting warranty work done on a cable DVR is simple, most of the time they just exchange out the old DVR with a new one.
4. Some cable companies give a price discount on additional DVRs


Staff member
The fees may be better with some cable companies but it is really all over the map with various companies.

My cableco (Service Electric Broadband, NJ) charges $14/mo for a HD DVR (no DVR fee). Some cable companies charge a separate box rental and DVR service fee. My coworker on Optimum (Cablevision) in Long Island has to pay something like $7 for the box rental and $11 for the DVR fee. $18 total per month. Some cable companies are higher.

TiVo you have to buy the box ($299) plus $12.99 service fee. Or you could get lifetime for $399.

Newer models aren't really a problem for me. The cable company's DVRs are pretty basic anyway and TiVo is leagues ahead of them.

I've never had a TiVo fail other than a hard drive failure (easy, cheap fix).

The main thing for me is the recording space. Most cable companies put a 160GB or 250GB drive. Record a few football games and you're out of space. My media center DVR has a 2TB drive. When my wife had the babies last October we were able to basically record a whole season of TV with room to spare. TiVo has the ability to use external storage via eSATA.

And the one feature which I think that cable company DVRs will never have is TiVo to go where you can transfer your shows to a PC and eventually to a portable device like an iPod or PSP.

TiVo also has multiroom viewing although admittedly the feature is a bit weak. It copies shows from one DVR to another whereas media center and FiOS will allow you to stream shows from your main DVR.

But you are right that the cable company DVRs are perfect if all you want is a basic DVR that you don't have to worry about. I had a cablevision DVR (SA 8300 HD) in 2006 and it was OK for basic DVR use.


You've given us a lot to think about. Another related question that the conversation has brought up. Do the cable company DVRs provide for copying whatever is recorded onto external storage? We don't want to lose shows so what happens when it gets full or we just want a hard copy of a show on DVD?


Staff member
Most do not. In fact the only ones I know of that allow that are TiVos that are rented by some cable companies. The cable companies are scared to death of the copyright gods.

Some cable boxes have a firewire output that you can attach to a computer or DVHS deck to record. I'm not sure if they allow you to record all channels though.