Maybe it’s the constant Dwight Schrute quotes. Maybe it’s the pretending to be bionic. Maybe it’s the framed Alias and Amazing Race posters that grace several walls in our home. Whatever the tipoff, I’m constantly asked this question: “How much television do you watch?”
In an average week, I probably watch between 20 and 30 hours of television. Go ahead and gasp. It’s practically my second job. So when the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) became available through my cable company, my gut reaction was “Where do I sign up?” I’d heard about DVR technologies, but hadn’t had any first-hand experience until about three years ago. To say this little digital box of wonder changed the way I watch television would be an understatement.
How DVRs Work
Most commercially available DVRs operate like a ‘hard-drive’ for your television. The DVR captures the broadcast signals and stores the digital information internally. You, the viewer, provide commands which tell the computer which programs to store, how long to store them, and what to do with them after viewing or after a pre-determined period of time. Once a show has been recorded, you decide when and how you want to view them. These playback options are often referred to as “time shifting.”
Advantages of the DVR
One of the greatest features of the DVR is the pause button. Say you’re cleaning up the dinner dishes, and your favorite show is about to start. No worries – all you have to do is press the pause button, and the DVR will hold your show for you at the beginning so you won’t miss a minute. Best of all, a delayed start (around fifteen or twenty minutes for a one-hour show) gives you the added bonus of fast-forwarding through all the commercials.
The playback quality of the DVR is far superior to the bulky cassettes of the VCR. High-definition shows are as crisp and clear in playback as they are when viewed live. You don’t have to search through several programs on one tape to find the show you’re looking for, since everything is cataloged nicely for you in a list in your database of recorded shows. And you get to choose the speed at which you rewind or fast-forward. It usually takes us about 20 to 22 minutes to watch a 30 minute show, and hour-long shows take about 40 to 45 minutes in playback, depending on the number of commercials. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. We’ve been known to take up more than a half-hour watching How I Met Your Mother, when Barney says something so hilarious, we rewind and re-watch multiple times.
Most DVRs offer a “set it and forget it” feature, which ensures that you’ll never miss an episode of your favorite show. Want to record every single syndicated episode of Seinfeld from every channel on which it appears? You can do that in three easy clicks of the remote. Want to record only the first-run episodes of Grey’s Anatomy? No problem. The built-in technology makes it easy to record more than one show at a time.
Disadvantages of the DVR
While it is possible to record two (or more, depending on your unit) shows at once, many DVRs limit the number of shows you can be recording and watching at once. For example, if we are recording Dancing With The Stars and Chuck at the same time, we can only flip between these two shows. Our DVR will not allow us to watch a third show while two others are recording. However, if we are only recording one show, we can flip channels to our hearts’ content.
The storage capacity for a DVR is not infinite. Our DVR, for example, holds approximately eighty hours of regular digital recordings, and about sixteen hours of high-definition recordings. This may sound like a lot, but if you don’t keep up with watching your recordings and deleting old ones, your DVR will fill up quicker than you’d think. Once your hard drive is full, the DVR will cease recording and you can find yourself easily disappointed when you sit down to watch a much-anticipated episode of Heroes, only to find it’s not there.
If the digital video recorder seems like a good option for you, there are several choices on the market from which to choose. Most cable and satellite companies provide DVR boxes for a rental fee, along with an additional monthly fee for the recording service. Services such as TiVo allow you to purchase the DVR box and pay a monthly subscription rate for the recording features. Many of these services allow you to select features a la carte, or select different subscription levels that best meet your viewing needs.
If you’re worried that a DVR might increase your couch potato habits exponentially, fear not. After several years with a DVR, I can say that, although we are probably watching more television, our viewing habits have improved. It’s amazing how much we get done during those twenty minutes of ‘pause time’ at the beginning of each show. The laundry basket has never been emptier and the dishes have never been cleaner. All the little household tasks we all tend to procrastinate are much more do-able in the little window of opportunity that the DVR provides.
If your wallet permits, I highly recommend taking the plunge into DVR territory!