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A digital video recorder (DVR) or personal video recorder (PVR) is a device that records video in a digital format to a disk drive or other memory medium within a device. The term includes stand-alone set-top boxes, portable media players (PMP) and software for personal computers which enables video capture and playback to and from disk. Some consumer electronic manufacturers have started to offer televisions with DVR hardware and software built in to the television itself; LG was first to launch one in 2007. A digital camcorder combines a camera and a digital video recorder. Also, mobile phones often have a camera as well as some digital video recording capability.


Hard-disk based DVRs

The two early consumer DVRs, ReplayTV and TiVo, were launched at the 1998 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegasmarker. Microsoft also demonstrated a unit with DVR capability but commercial availability of this software would have to wait until the end of 1999 for full DVR features in Dish Network's DISHplayer receivers. TiVo shipped their first units on March 31 1999, and to this day the last Friday in March is celebrated as a company holiday known as 'Blue Moon'. Although ReplayTV won the "Best of Show" award in the video category with Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen as an early investor and board member, it was TiVo that went on to much greater commercial success. While early legal action by media companies forced ReplayTV to remove many features such as automatic commercial skip and the sharing of recordings over the Internet, newer devices have steadily regained these functions while adding complementary abilities, such as recording onto DVDs and programming and remote control facilities using PDAs, networked PCs, and Web browsers. The label PVR has almost fallen completely into disuse in the US trade news media (it is still use in the United Kingdommarker and South Africa) in favor of the more popular DVR descriptor. The name PVR never really caught on, although its use has not entirely vanished. As of December 29, 2008, Armstrong Cable still uses PVR terminology.

Hard-disk based DVRs make the "time shifting" feature (traditionally done by a VCR) much more convenient, and also allow for "trick modes" such as pausing live TV, instant replay of interesting scenes, chasing playback where a recording can be viewed before it has been completed, and skipping of advertising. Most DVRs use the MPEG format for compressing the digitized video signals. When there is recorded time left to be played it is often referred to as "future credit" or "the power". Despite the yearnings of customers, one cannot purchase more "future credit" from a service provider.

DVRs tied to a video service

At the 1999 CES, Dish Network demonstrated the hardware that would later have DVR capability with the assistance of Microsoft software . Users would have to wait until June 1999 for simple time shifting capabilities in the 7100, rebranded as the DISHPlayer satellite receiver, which also included WebTV Networks internet TV. By the end of 1999 the Dishplayer had full DVR capabilities and within a year, over 200,000 units were sold.

In the UKmarker, DVRs are often referred to as "plus boxes" (such as BSKYB's Sky+ and Virgin Media's V+ which integrates an HD capability, and the subscription free Freesat+ and Freeview+). British Sky Broadcasting markets a popular combined EPG and DVR as Sky+. TiVo launched a UK model in 2000, and while no longer on sale, the subscription service is still maintained. South African based Africa Satellite TV beamer Multichoice recently launched their DVR which is available on their Dstv platform. In addition to ReplayTV and TiVo, there are a number of other suppliers of digital terrestrial (DTT) DVRs, including Thomson, Topfield, Fusion, Pace Micro Technology, Humax and AC Ryan Playon.

Many satellite, cable and IPTV companies are incorporating DVR functions into their set-top box, such as with DirecTiVo, DISHPlayer/DishDVR, Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8xxx from Time Warner, Total Home DVR from AT&T U-verse, Motorola 6xxx from Comcast, Moxi Media Center by Digeo (available through Charter, Adelphia, Sunflower, Bend Broadband, and soon Comcast and other cable companies), or Sky+. Astro introduced their DVR system, called Astro MAX, which was the first PVR in Malaysia. Sadly, it was phased out two years after its introduction.

In the case of digital television, there is no encoding necessary in the DVR since the signal is already a digitally encoded MPEG stream. The DVR simply stores the digital stream directly to disk. Having the broadcaster involved with, and sometimes subsidizing, the design of the DVR can lead to features such as the ability to use interactive TV on recorded shows, pre-loading of programs, or directly recording encrypted digital streams. It can, however, also force the manufacturer to implement non-skippable advertisements and automatically-expiring recordings.

In the United States, the FCC has ruled that starting on July 1 2007, consumers will be able to purchase a set-top box from a third-party company, rather than being forced to purchase or rent the set-top box from their cable company.
This ruling only applies to "navigation devices," otherwise known as a cable television set-top box, and not to the security functions that control the user’s access to the content of the cable operator. The overall net effect on DVRs and related technology is unlikely to be substantial as standalone DVRs are currently readily available on the open market.

Introduction of dual tuners

In 2003 many Satellite and Cable providers introduced dual-tuner DVRs. In the UK, BSkyB introduced their first PVR Sky+ with dual tuner support in 2001. These machines have two tuners within the same receiver to operate independently of one another. The main use for this feature is the capability to record a live program while watching another live program simultaneously or to record two programs at the same time while watching a previously recorded one. Some dual-tuner DVRs also have the ability to operate two separate television sets at the same time. The PVR manufactured by UEC (Durbanmarker, South Africa) and used by Multichoice has the ability to view two programs while recording a third using a triple tuner. With some machines, such as the Scientific Atlanta 8300DVB PVR, it is possible to view one program whilst recording two other programs according to the users preference.

Integrated LCD DVR

DVRs integrated into LCD displays also exist. These systems let the user to simplify the wiring and installation, and they have to use only one device instead of two.

There are examples of security systems integrated into such DVRs, and thus they're capable of recording more input streams in parallel. Such devices can also be used as disguised observation systems, displaying pictures or videos as typical store display.

VESA Compatible DVRs

VESA compatible DVR are designed small and light enough to mount to the back of an LCD monitor that has clear access to VESA mounting holes (100x100mm). This allows users to use their own personal monitor to save on cost and space.

PC-based DVRs

Software and hardware is available which can turn personal computers running Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X into DVRs, and is a popular option for home-theater PC (HTPC) enthusiasts.


There are many free DVR applications available for Linux, each released as free and open source software under the GNU General Public License:

A commercial and proprietary application called SageTV is available for most popular Linux distributions.

Mac OS

Elgato makes a series of DVR devices called EyeTV. The software supplied with each device is also called EyeTV, and is available separately for use on compatible third-party tuners from manufacturers such as Pinnacle, TerraTec, and Hauppauge.

SageTV provides DVR software for the Mac with built in placeshifting for watching TV remotely and sells and supports the Hauppauge HVR-950, myTV.PVR and HDHomeRun hardware with its DVR software. SageTV software also includes the ability to watch YouTube and other online video with a remote control.

MythTV (see above) also runs under Mac OS X, but most recording devices are currently only supported under Linux. Precompiled binaries are available for the MythTV front-end, allowing a Mac to watch video from (and control) a MythTV server running under Linux.

Apple provides applications in the FireWire software developer kit which allow any Mac with a FireWire port to record the MPEG2 transport stream from a FireWire equipped cable box (for example: Motorola 62xx, including HD streams). Applications can also change channels on the cable box via the firewire interface. Only broadcast channels can be recorded as the rest of the channels are encrypted. iRecord is a free scheduled-recording program derived from this SDK.


There are several free DVR applications available for Microsoft Windows including GB-PVR, MediaPortal, and Orb (web-based remote interface). DScaler also has DVR support in the works.

There are also several proprietary applications available including CyberLink, SageTV, Beyond TV, Showshifter, InterVideo WinDVR, the R5000-HD and Meedio (now a dead product - Yahoo! bought most of the company's technology and discontinued the Meedio line, and rebranded the software Yahoo! Go - TV, which is now a free product but only works in the U.S.).

Windows Media Center is a DVR software by Microsoft bundled with the Media Center edition of Windows XP Home Premium / Ultimate editions of Windows Vista as well as most editions of Windows 7.

Source video

Television and video are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but differ in their technical meaning. Video is the visual portion of television, whereas television is the combination of video and audio modulated onto a carrier frequency (i.e., a television channel) for delivery. Most DVRs can record both.

Analog sources overview

The first DVRs were designed to record Analog television in NTSC, PAL or SECAM formats.

To record an analog signal a few steps are required. TV tuner card tunes into a particular frequency and then functions as a frame grabber, breaking the lines into individual pixels and quantizing them into a format that a computer can comprehend. Then the series of frames along with the audio (also sampled and quantized) are compressed into a manageable format, like MPEG-2, usually in software.

Analog broadcast copy protection

Many mass-produced consumer DVRs implement a copy-protection system called CGMS-A or Copy Generation Management System—Analog. This encodes a pair of bits in the VBI of the analog video signal that specify one of the following settings:
  • Copying is freely allowed
  • Copying is prohibited
  • Only one copy of this material may be made
  • This is a copy of material for which only one copy was allowed to be made, so no further copies are allowed.

CGMS-A information may be present in analog broadcast TV signals, and is preserved when the signal is recorded and played back by analog VCRs, which of course don't understand the meanings of the bits. But the restrictions still come into effect when you try to copy the tape onto a PVR.

Digital sources overview

Recording digital signals is generally a straightforward capture of the binary MPEG data being received. No expensive hardware is required to quantize and compress the signal (as the television broadcaster has already done this in the studio).

DVD-based PVRs available on the market as of 2006 are not capable of capturing the full range of the visual signal available with high definition television (HDTV). This is largely because HDTV standards were finalized at a later time than the standards for DVDs. However, DVD-based PVRs can still be used (albeit at reduced visual quality) with HDTV since currently available HDTV sets also have standard A/V connections.

ATSC broadcast

ATSC television broadcasting is primarily used in North America. The ATSC data stream can be directly recorded by the DVR, though many DVRs record only a subset of this information (that can later be transferred to DVD. An ATSC DVR will also act as a Set-top box, allowing older televisions or monitors to receive digital television.

Copy protection
The U.S.marker FCC attempted to limit the abilities of digital DVRs with its "broadcast flag" regulation. Digital video recorders that had not won prior approval from the FCC for implementing "effective" digital rights management would have been banned from interstate commerce as of July 2005. The regulation was struck down on May 6, 2005.


DVB Digital television contains audio/visual signals that are broadcast over the air in a digital rather than analog format. The DVB data stream can be directly recorded by the DVR.

Digital cable/satellite

Recording satellite or digital cable signals on a digital video recorder can be more complex than recording analog signals or broadcast digital signals. A number of different transmission schemes exist, and the video streams are usually encrypted to prevent people from viewing the content without paying subscription fees.

A satellite or cable set-top box does two things. First, it decrypts the signal. Second, it decodes the MPEG stream into an analog signal for viewing on the television. In order to record cable/satellite digital signals you must get the signal after it is decrypted, but before it is decoded (between steps one and two); this is how DVRs built into set-top boxes work.

Cable and satellite providers often offer their own DVRs along with a service plan. These DVRs have access to the encrypted video stream, and will generally enforce the provider's restrictions on copying of material outside the confines of the box.


Many DVD-based DVRs have the capability to copy content from a source DVD. In the U.S.marker this is disallowed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act if the disc is encrypted. Most such DVRs will hence not allow recording of video streams from encrypted movie discs.

Digital camcorders

A digital camcorder combines a camera and a digital video recorder.

Some DVD-based DVRs incorporate connectors that can be used to capture digital video from a camcorder. Some editing of the resulting DVD is usually possible, such as adding chapter points.

Some digital video recorders can now record to solid state flash memory cards. There are some digital video recorders that combine video and graphics in real time to the flash card, such as the video logger from Racelogic [43833] which takes multiple camera inputs and GPS generated graphics and merges them into one video.

Security applications

Digital video recorders configured for physical security applications record video signals from closed circuit television cameras for detection and documentation purposes. Many are designed to record audio as well. DVRs have evolved into devices that are feature rich and provide services that exceed the simple recording of video images that was previously done through VCRs. A DVR CCTV system provides a multitude of advanced functions over VCR technology including video searches by event, time, date and camera. There is also much more control over quality and frame rate allowing disk space usage to be optimized and the DVR can also be set to overwrite the oldest security footage should the disk become full. In some DVR security systems remote access to security footage using a PC can also be achieved by connecting the DVR to a LAN network or the internet. videoNEXT also makes a NVR surveillance application for the Mac OS X.Some of the latest professional DVRs include video analytics firmware, to enable functionality such as 'virtual tripwire' or even the detection of abandoned objects on the scene.

Security DVRs may be categorized as being either PC based or embedded. A PC based DVR’s architecture is a classical personal computer with video capture cards designed to capture video images. An embedded type DVR is specifically designed as a digital video recorder with its operating system and application software contained in firmware or read only memory.

Hardware features

Hardware features of security DVRs vary between manufacturers and may include but are not necessarily limited to

  • Designed for rack mounting or desktop configurations.
  • Single or multiple video inputs with connector types consistent with the analogue or digital video provided such as coaxial cable, twisted pair or optical fiber cable. The most common number of inputs are 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 and 32. Systems may be configured with a very large number of inputs by networking or bussing individual DVRs together.
  • Looping video outputs for each input which duplicates the corresponding input video signal and connector type. These output signals are used by other video equipment such as matrix switchers, multiplexers, and video monitors.
  • Controlled outputs to external video display monitors.
  • Front panel switches and indicators that allow the various features of the machine to be controlled.
  • Network connections consistent with the network type and utilized to control features of the recorder and to send and/or receive video signals.
  • Connections to external control devices such as keyboards.
  • A connection to external pan-tilt-zoom drives that position cameras.
  • Internal CD, DVD, VCR devices typically for archiving video.
  • Connections to external storage media.
  • Alarm event inputs from external security detection devices, usually one per video input.
  • Alarm event outputs from internal detection features such as motion detection or loss of video.

Software features

Software features vary between manufacturers and may include but are not necessarily limited to
  • User selectable image capture rates either on an all input basis or input by input basis. The capture rate feature may be programmed to automatically adjust the capture rate on the occurrence of an external alarm or an internal event
  • Selectable image resolution either on an all input basis or input by input basis. The image resolution feature may be programmed to automatically adjust the image resolution on the occurrence of an external alarm or an internal event.
  • Compression methods determine quality of playback. H.264 hardware compression offers fast transfer rates over the internet with high quality video.
  • Motion detection: Provided on an input by input basis, this feature detects motion in the total image or a user definable portion of the image and usually provides sensitivity settings. Detection causes an internal event that may be output to external equipment and/or be used to trigger changes in other internal features.
  • Lack of motion detection. Provided on an input by input basis, this feature detects the movement of an object into the field of view and remaining still for a user definable time. Detection causes an internal event that may be output to external equipment and/or used to trigger changes in other internal features.
  • Direction of motion detection. Provided on an input by input basis, this feature detects the direction of motion in the image that has been determined by the user as an unacceptable occurrence. Detection causes an internal event that may be output to external equipment and/or be used to trigger changes in other internal features.
  • Routing of input video to video monitors based on user inputs or automatically on alarms or events.
  • Input, time and date stamping.
  • Alarm and event logging on appropriate video inputs.
  • Alarm and event search.
  • One or more sound recording channels.
  • Archival.
  • Commercial hopping. Rather than fast-forwarding through commercials, an undocumented feature of the TiVo box is that the user can reprogram the tab-to-end button by entering a sequence of buttons on the remote: SELECT-PLAY-SELECT-3-0-SELECT and listening for the confirming chimes that signal the feature has been activated (or deactivated). The tab-to-end button no longer jumps to the end of a recording when so activated: It skips 30 seconds, which is the length of U.S. commercials. In combination with the 8-second rewind button, most viewers can completely miss commercial breaks in programming.

Privacy concerns

Some DVRs connected to a network can gather real time data on user's viewing habits.

The future of TV advertisements

Digital video recorders are also changing the way television programs advertise products. Watching pre-recorded programs allows users to fast-forward through commercials, and some technology allows users to remove commercials entirely. This feature has been controversial for the last decade, with major television networks and movie studios claiming it violates copyright and should be banned.

In 1985, an employee of Honeywell’s Physical Sciences Center, David Rafner, first described a drive-based DVR designed for home TV recording, time-slipping, and commercial skipping. U.S. Patent 4,972,396 focused on a multi-channel design to allow simultaneous independent recording and playback. Broadly anticipating future DVR developments, it describes possible applications such as streaming compression, editing, captioning, multi-channel security monitoring, military sensor platforms, and remotely piloted vehicles.

The first DVR which had a built-in Commercial skipping feature was ReplayTV with its "4000 Series" and "5000 Series" units. In 2002 five owners of the ReplayTV DVR sued the main television networks and movie studios, asking the federal judge to uphold consumers' rights to record TV shows and skip commercials claiming that features like commercial skipping help parents protect their kids from excessive consumerism. ReplayTV ended up filing for bankruptcy in 2003 after fighting a copyright infringement suit over the ReplayTV's ability to skip commercials.Currently, Windows Media Center has the ability to skip commercials after installing a third-party add-on called "DVRMSToolbox" (which is not supported by Microsoft).There is a command-line program called Comskip that detects commercials in an MPEG-2 file and saves the positions of them to a text file. This file can then be fed to a program like MEncoder to actually remove the commercials.

Many speculate that television advertisements will be eliminated altogether, replaced by advertising in the TV shows themselves. For example, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition advertises Sears, Kenmore, Kohler, and Home Depot by specifically using products from these companies, and some sports events like the Sprint Cup of NASCAR are named after sponsors.

Another type of advertisement shown more and more, mostly for advertising TV shows on the same channel, is where the ad overlays the bottom of the TV screen, blocking out some of the picture. "Banners", or "Logo Bugs", as they are called, are referred to by media companies as Secondary Events (2E). This is done in much the same way as severe weather warnings are done. Sometimes these take up only 5-10% of the screen, but in the extreme, can take up as much as 25% of the viewing area. Some even make noise or move across the screen. One example of this is the 2E ads for Three Moons Over Milford in the months before its premiere. A video taking up approximately 25% of the bottom-left portion of the screen would show a comet impacting into the moon with an accompanying explosion, during another television program.

Due to this widely-used, groundbreaking technology, advertisers are now looking at a new way to market their products on television. An excerpt from the magazine, Advertising Age, reads: "As advertisers lose the ability to invade the home, and consumer's minds, they will be forced to wait for an invitation. This means that they have to learn what kinds of advertising content customers will actually be willing to seek out and receive."

Due to ad skipping and the time-sensitive nature of certain ads, advertisers are wary of buying commercial time on shows that are heavily DVR'd.. However, the DVR enables dynamic ad insertion. Advertisers could inject time relevant ads to recorded programs when the program is viewed. This way the ads could be not just time relevant but also personalized to viewers interests. It remains to be seen whether viewers want to receive such ads.

Patent and copyright litigation

On July 14, 2005, Forgent Networks filed suit against various companies alleging infringement on , entitled "Computer controlled video system allowing playback during recording". The listed companies included EchoStar, Directv, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Comcast, Time Warner, and Cable One.

Scientific-Atlanta and Motorola, the manufacturers of the equipment sold by the above mentioned companies, filed a counter-suit against Forgent Networks claiming that their products do not violate the patent, and that the patent is invalid. The two cases were combined into case 6:06-cv-208, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division.

According to court documents, on June 20, 2006, Motorola requested that the United States Patent and Trademarks Office reexamine the patent, which was first filed in 1991, but has been amended several times.

On March 23, 2007 Cablevision Systems Corp lost a legal battle against several Hollywood studios and television networks to introduce a network-based digital video recorder service to its subscribers. But on August 4 2008, Cablevision won its appeal. John M. Walker Jr., a Second Circuit judge, declared that the technology "would not directly infringe" on the media companies' rights.. The appeal to Supreme Court was rejected.

In court, the media companies argued that network DVRs were tantamount to video-on-demand, and that they should receive license fees for the recording. Cablevision and the appeals court disagreed. The company noted that each user would record programs on his or her own individual server space, making it a DVR that has a "very long cord."

See also


  2. "TiVo’s Blue Moon holiday — a walk down memory lane"
  3. "ReplayTV Wins CES 1999 'Best of Show' Award"
  4. "Netscape Pioneer to Invest in Smart VCR"
  5. "ReplayTV's New Owners Drop Features That Riled Hollywood"
  6. "WebTV Networks and EchoStar Communications Introduce First Internet TV Satellite Product and Service"
  7. "EchoStar Debuts DISHPlayer"
  8. "Forbes"
  9. SatelliteGuys.US - Judge Stops Countersuit against TiVo
  10. WIldstrom, W. H.: "An Early Independence Day."
  11. "FCC Press Release"
  12. Please note: Yahoo! Go for TV currently is only available inside the U.S., for Windows-based systems. [1]
  13. Martin, David: "TiVo's Data Collection and Privacy Practices." 26 March 2001. Last Viewed 18 September 2007.
  14. Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Buying Into American Idol. (p66-67)
  15. [2]
  16. [3]
  17. [4]
  18. [5]

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