This is a response to a person on AMUG who was thinking about buying a PVR and asked for advice . . .
I bought a Dish PVR 500 (or 501?) a couple of years ago. It’s the greatest thing since color. It records about 1 hour per gigabyte. Mine has a 40 GB drive in it and that’s really plenty. I’ve got stuff on there I’ve saved for months (if you don’t protect a show, then the oldest shows will automatically be deleted to make room for new shows when the hard drive gets full) and not watched that I could get rid of if I needed the space. Now they have much bigger hard drives so I don’t see that as being a problem.
I love being able to skip commericals with the click of a button. John said he had a DirecTV model that did it automatically but it’s so much more satisfying to do it yourself. Then if you overskip you can back up in 10-second increments, so you wind up doing that almost every time. It lets you watch an hour of television in 45 minutes and some shows have 5 minutes of commercials during a break (10 presses of a button)!
It’s also nice to be able to pause a show and get behind so you can skip commericals to catch back up. Or you can pause and take a break for a while (up to an hour).
And the great thing is you watch what you want when you want meaning a lot less channel surfing but maybe spending more time in front of the TV. I record ABC news every night and never have to miss it. I record Saturday Night Live and then skip over the lame sketches (most of it). I record Ebert and Roeper at 1:30 AM and watch it on Monday. And it’s very easy: you just click through the onscreen TV guide and when you find something you want you click Record. You can’t record two different things at the same time and you can’t watch one thing live while you record another channel (that’s a drawback of satellite; though the newer ones may be able to tune two signals at the same time). But you can be recording while you watch something you recorded earlier. A lot of cable shows come on multiple times so if a show causes a conflict a lot of times you can get one of those shows at 2 in the morning when it shows again.
The Dish PVR isn’t as smart as Tivo. If you program it to record West Wing from 9 to 10 and there’s a baseball game or an episode of Law and Order instead, it still records 9 to 10. That isn’t terrible in my opinion. And as far as I know the signal isn’t compressed with the PVR whereas with Tivo it has to be compressed because they hold so many more hours than a PVR (the satellite signal is already pretty compressed but looks good; I think the PVR just records that compressed signal from the satellite).
The PVR puts a significant delay in the broadcast of a few seconds. You can’t listen to Larry Munson on the radio while watching a Georgia game because he will tell you what happens before the play even starts. Ditto baseball, etc.
I bought my PVR and it broke under warranty and they replaced it. I think they are very sensitive to heat so you can’t stack other components on them or put them in a closed space. The reliability may have gotten better, but there are a lot of stories of them failing. Leasing might not be a bad option and would allow you to upgrade as they make improvements. In general I believe in buying instead of leasing and not paying monthly fees. I haven’t had any trouble since I got my replacement and left the unit in the open (it comes with a UHF remote so you can leave it behind a wall and still control it; it does make some noise).
Because the High Definition signal has so much more data, you can’t use the PVR with HDTV (if you could an 80 GB drive might only record 10 hours). That’s a drawback, but I’m not doing HDTV yet.
The only way I know of permanently saving a PVR show is to record it onto videotape (which I do occasionally if I see a show and want to lend it to someone; sometimes I also need to record things for my cableless parents), so the one Royce is talking about that records to DVD would be neat to have though I would think the broadcasters would have ways to prevent you from doing that because of copyright violations.
I’d recommend the PVR and I don’t know why you don’t hear more about it. It seems like all the articles are about Tivo or Replay, but the Dish PVR is great and doesn’t have a monthly fee.