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post #1 of 17 Old 11-28-2009, 01:02 PM - Thread Starter
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As a novice, Id appreciate help with my first DVR purchase (it's not clear to me what machines if any have all the features I want). I use an antenna to receive broadcast television (no cable or satellite). The features that interest me are:

CRITICAL
1. Pause/resume live television (I would guess they all do this?)
2. Can be manually programmed to record certain times/shows without a subscription service.
3. Allows users to download recorded shows to their computers (or flash drive). Am I correct to assume all DVR's use a standard (non-proprietary) video file compression format such as mpg or avi/DivX/Xvid? If not, this would be a critical feature so I can edit the files on my computer.

DESIRED
4 Can record two shows at once.
5. Can record analogue input from a VCR so I can convert old VHS tapes to digital format. Is this feature common?

Reliability and quality of recordings are important considerations. I would consider paying extra (within limits) for a DVR that could record in high definition if it had other features I desire. Thanks!
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post #2 of 17 Old 11-28-2009, 02:27 PM
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Originally Posted by mjs90201 View Post

As a novice, Id appreciate help with my first DVR purchase (it's not clear to me what machines if any have all the features I want). I use an antenna to receive broadcast television (no cable or satellite). The features that interest me are:

Refer to this DVR comparison table. It shows your basic options.

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Originally Posted by mjs90201 View Post

1. Pause/resume live television (I would guess they all do this?)

Magnavox H2160
DTVPal DVR
TivoHD

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2. Can be manually programmed to record certain times/shows without a subscription service.

Magnavox H2160
DTVPal DVR

The TiVo requires a subscription, but you can pay a large fee upfront to eliminate all future fees.

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3. Allows users to download recorded shows to their computers (or flash drive).

TivoHD

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Originally Posted by mjs90201 View Post

Am I correct to assume all DVR's use a standard (non-proprietary) video file compression format such as mpg or avi/DivX/Xvid? If not, this would be a critical feature so I can edit the files on my computer.

DVRs typically use Linux or proprietary file systems, with recordings stored as encrypted transport files on the disk. TivoHD allows you to login to the DVR over the network (like a router) and download these recordings in MPG format. None of the other DVRs allow one to offload recordings.

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4 Can record two shows at once.

DTVPal DVR
TivoHD

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Originally Posted by mjs90201 View Post

5. Can record analogue input from a VCR so I can convert old VHS tapes to digital format. Is this feature common?

Magnavox H2160

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Originally Posted by mjs90201 View Post

I would consider paying extra (within limits) for a DVR that could record in high definition if it had other features I desire. Thanks!

DTVPal DVR
TivoHD

Again, refer to this DVR comparison table.
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post #3 of 17 Old 11-28-2009, 03:29 PM - Thread Starter
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Refer to this DVR comparison table. It shows your basic options.

Thank you for your response. That table compares four high def DVR's and a DVR/DVD recorder. Are there any standard definition DVR's offering the five features I seek?

You seem to indicate that the only DVR that can record analogue input from a VCR is the Magnovox 2160 DVD recorder. I do not see this feature listed in the comparison table. Are you sure there are no current standard definition DVR's that can do this? Broadcast television only recently converted to digital, so I'd be surprised if there were no DVR's available that can record an analogue signal.
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post #4 of 17 Old 11-28-2009, 04:58 PM
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Thank you for your response. That table compares four high def DVR's and a DVR/DVD recorder. Are there any standard definition DVR's offering the five features I seek?

No. With exception to a few DVD recorders with limited DVR capability (i.e. Magnavox 2160 / Philips 3576), there are no SD DVRs with built-in OTA. Of those few that do exist with OTA, none allow one to download/offload recorded shows and none can record two shows at once.

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You seem to indicate that the only DVR that can record analogue input from a VCR is the Magnovox 2160 DVD recorder. I do not see this feature listed in the comparison table.

I added that "feature" to the table under OTHER.

The Magnavox 2160 is a DVD recorder with a hard drive and a single tuner shared between cable/ota, but it can also be switched to record from its composite/s-video input. It can't do both at the same time.

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Are you sure there are no current standard definition DVR's that can do this? Broadcast television only recently converted to digital, so I'd be surprised if there were no DVR's available that can record an analogue signal.

There are certainly some older SD DVRs that can record/timeshift analog signals -- ReplayTV, TiVo Series2, and some discontinued DVD recorders -- but these lack OTA tuners.

Roughly 85% of the population subscribes to cable or satellite, so there's a limited market for OTA recorders. Of those that do watch OTA, most are budget conscious and not interested in paying what these products would cost.
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post #5 of 17 Old 11-28-2009, 07:20 PM - Thread Starter
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There are certainly some older SD DVRs that can record/timeshift analog signals -- ReplayTV, TiVo Series2, and some discontinued DVD recorders -- but these lack OTA tuners.

If I understand correctly, "OTA" refers to the ability to process broadcast DIGITAL television signals? Did ReplayTV or TiVo Series 2 allow one to download/offload recorded shows? [If so, I could possibly pick up a cheap used one to convert my VHS tapes to digital.]

It seems my DVR choice is between the Magnavox and the much more expensive (with upfront fee) Tivo HD. Does the Magnavox H2160 allow one to transfer (write) recorded video to a DVD-R data disc in the form of an mpeg or avi file?

I like that Tivo can download recordings in MPG format, but I wish it could simply be done via a USB port (and that no internet or phone connection was required). Is there an economical device that would convert the analog output of my VCR to a digital signal that the Tivo could record?

Your excellent comparison table will help me make a final decision. Thank you for your help!
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post #6 of 17 Old 11-28-2009, 09:37 PM
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If I understand correctly, "OTA" refers to the ability to process broadcast DIGITAL television signals?

Yes.

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Did ReplayTV or TiVo Series 2 allow one to download/offload recorded shows? [If so, I could possibly pick up a cheap used one to convert my VHS tapes to digital.]

Yes, they did, but both of those products required monthly/yearly or lifetime subscriptions. I don't think you'd want to invest that sort of money in an outdated/obsolete product.

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Does the Magnavox H2160 allow one to transfer (write) recorded video to a DVD-R data disc in the form of an mpeg or avi file?

No, it does not. But there are always DVD ripping programs that will take a DVD and give you a file.

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It seems my DVR choice is between the Magnavox and the much more expensive (with upfront fee) Tivo HD.

There is another option to consider.

If you have a Windows 7 PC, you could purchase of a tuner/capture card like the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250. That PC tuner card will record two different OTA channels simultaneously, just like the TiVo, but it also has a composite/s-video breakout cable for analog capture.

Windows 7 Home Premium includes good DVR software as part of Windows Media Center. You may not want a PC in your living room, but you can use a networked Xbox360 as an extender elsewhere in your home. The Xbox360 can display a program guide, liveTV, schedule recordings, and play recordings using the PC (with tuners) elsewhere in your home. If you have a Xbox360 or were thinking about buying one for the kids, that may be a viable option. Here's a video demo.

If you use a Mac, there are tuner/capture cards for that platform as well (EyeTV), although as far as I know, the Mac has nothing comparable to Microsoft's DVR extender functionality.

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Is there an economical device that would convert the analog output of my VCR to a digital signal that the Tivo could record?

You could set your VCR to output as channel 2/3/4 through the coax output, and then do one of the following: (a) use a diplexor to combine that signal with the feed from the antenna, or (b) connect that output directly to the cable input on the TiVo. That would allow you to view and record the VCR's output by tuning to channel 2/3/4 on the TiVo.

VCR's generally don't produce their best output through coax. I think you would get a better picture from your VCR with a device (or capture card) that can directly record the composite output.
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post #7 of 17 Old 11-28-2009, 10:57 PM - Thread Starter
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Yes.

There is another option to consider.

If you have a Windows 7 PC, you could purchase of a tuner/capture card like the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-2250.

As I see it, the primary drawback to a tuner/capture card would be the need to run one or more cables from my computer to my TV or AV Receiver in order to view content on my HDTV. If I go with the Tivo, I'd also buy the Tivo wireless adapter. I dislike the need to have an internet (or phone) connection, but I like the idea of being able to stream video and mp3 files from my computer to my entertainment system wirelessly via Tivo (something I had not previously considered).

Thanks again.
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post #8 of 17 Old 11-28-2009, 11:04 PM
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As I see it, the primary drawback to a tuner/capture card would be the need to run one or more cables from my computer to my TV or AV Receiver in order to view content on my HDTV.

If you have (or plan to buy) the Xbox360, there would be no need to do that. You could have the PC in your basement, with the Xbox360 connected to your TV and AV receiver.

Obviously, a PC is more complicated to setup and maintain then a "toaster" like the TiVo.

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If I go with the Tivo, I'd also buy the Tivo wireless adapter. I dislike the need to have an internet (or phone) connection, but I like the idea of being able to stream video and mp3 files from my computer to my entertainment system wirelessly via Tivo (something I had not previously considered).

The TiVo is an excellent DVR, but I wouldn't plan on using it as a music playback device. That's not well implemented -- while you listen to music, you can't do anything else; you can't, for example, play Christmas music while watching TV or a recording.
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post #9 of 17 Old 11-29-2009, 01:33 AM - Thread Starter
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If you have (or plan to buy) the Xbox360, there would be no need to do that. You could have the PC in your basement, with the Xbox360 connected to your TV and AV receiver.

Obviously, a PC is more complicated to setup and maintain then a "toaster" like the TiVo.

The TiVo is an excellent DVR, but I wouldn't plan on using it as a music playback device. That's not well implemented -- while you listen to music, you can't do anything else; you can't, for example, play Christmas music while watching TV or a recording.

I have no plan to get an Xbox. I already spend too much time staring at video screens without becoming addicted to video games! [Which is also why I've avoided cable TV.]

I would be pleased if TiVo could allow me to play the mp3 files stored on my PC hard drive through my stereo system via Tivo's wireless network connection. I do not want to watch television and play mp3 music at the same time. I may like to listen to mp3 files while TiVo is recording tv shows, however; I assume this is possible?

I just read something (in an Amazon customer review) about Tivo HD that concerns me. The review said that Tivo video files are encrypted and "Tivo desktop software" is required not only to download the files but also to play them. I was hoping to download video files to my PC in a standard mpg (or avi) format that would allow me to edit them, copy them to a DVD (data disk), and play them on my stand-alone DVD player (that plays mpg and avi/DivX files burned to a data DVD). Are you sure the Tivo can download standard format MPG files that can be edited and played with non-proprietary software?
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post #10 of 17 Old 11-29-2009, 02:03 AM
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I would be pleased if TiVo could allow me to play the mp3 files stored on my PC hard drive through my stereo system via Tivo's wireless network connection. I do not want to watch television and play mp3 music at the same time. I may like to listen to mp3 files while TiVo is recording tv shows, however; I assume this is possible?

Yes, it will do that.

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I just read something (in an Amazon customer review) about Tivo HD that concerns me. The review said that Tivo video files are encrypted and "Tivo desktop software" is required not only to download the files but also to play them. I was hoping to download video files to my PC in a standard mpg (or avi) format that would allow me to edit them, copy them to a DVD (data disk), and play them on my stand-alone DVD player (that plays mpg and avi/DivX files burned to a data DVD). Are you sure the Tivo can download standard format MPG files that can be edited and played with non-proprietary software?

When you download a recording through your web browser (screenshot) or TiVo Desktop (screenshot), you get a .TiVo file; this is a MPG within an encrypted wrapper. This wrapper is meant to deter casual piracy, but it also includes metadata with all the program information for the recording; that way, if/when you transfer the recording back to the TiVo at a later point, it has all of the original program information.

The TiVo Desktop software (free) installs a Windows' Directshow filter that decodes this encryption. You enter the Media Access Key (a unique code for your TiVo) in the TiVo Desktop software and that allows Windows programs to bypass the encryption and play/edit/manipulate the MPG inside the wrapper. Once TiVo Desktop is installed, most programs (incl. Nero, Roxi, Ulead, etc) can open, edit, and burn the .TiVo files without you having to do anything. As far as they are concerned, it's just a MPG.

If you don't want to install the TiVo Desktop software, you can use a different program that will remove the TiVo wrapper as part of the download process. Kmttg is one such program (screenshot); it downloads and removes the TiVo wrapper -- leaving just a MPG -- in one step. Kmttg also integrates with VideoRedo to automatically remove commercials, if you have it (screenshot).
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post #11 of 17 Old 11-29-2009, 04:20 AM - Thread Starter
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Yes, it will do that.

The TiVo Desktop software (free) installs a Windows' Directshow filter that decodes this encryption. You enter the Media Access Key (a unique code for your TiVo) in the TiVo Desktop software and that allows Windows programs to bypass the encryption and play/edit/manipulate the MPG inside the wrapper.

You are very knowledgeable! It appears I could convert those VHS tapes to .MPG files using Tivo HD. If a purpose of the "encryption" is to deter piracy (as I suspected), I am surprised the Tivo software allows programs like VideoRedo and Nero to process the files. If I use VideoRedo to edit a .TiVo file, will the edited file be saved as *.mpg or *.TiVo? If the Kmttg program to required to produce *mpg files, I would still install the TiVo Desktop software for the purpose of streaming mp3 and video files from my computer to the Tivo.

Thanks again.
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post #12 of 17 Old 11-29-2009, 10:02 AM
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If a purpose of the "encryption" is to deter piracy (as I suspected), I am surprised the Tivo software allows programs like VideoRedo and Nero to process the files.

I think the metadata (with program information) is a big reason too.

When TiVo Desktop's server is running, you see the contents of your PC's TiVo download folder at the bottom of the recorded list; you can select a recording on your PC and transfer it back to the TiVo (albeit, slowly). The free version of TiVo Desktop will transfer both MPG and .TiVo files back to the DVR, but only the .TiVo files are displayed with episode info, episode description, recorded date, etc, both before and after they are transferred.

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If I use VideoRedo to edit a .TiVo file, will the edited file be saved as *.mpg or *.TiVo?

MPG.

You can open any .TiVo file in VideoRedo, click "Save as..." and select MPG. It takes anywhere from 30 secs to several minutes to save a one-hour recording as MPG (depending on hard drive throughput).

VideoRedo isn't free and it's an extra step to launch that application and open the .TiVo file. Kmttg is free and does it as part of the download process, so that's one less step. On the other hand, you may not want to remove the wrapper if you plan to send the recording back to TiVo at a later date.
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post #13 of 17 Old 11-29-2009, 12:53 PM - Thread Starter
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Gracias amigo. I suppose it boils down to whether I want to leap into the internet age of intergrated entertainment systems (TiVo) or just get a new and improved VCR (Magnavox 2160). Do I really want a box that never stops sucking energy, monitoring my viewing habits, and feeding me unwanted advertising? I'm starting to think I do!
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post #14 of 17 Old 11-29-2009, 01:15 PM
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Some of the international Pioneer HDD/DVD recorders have a "jukebox" feature, where you can transfer your CD collection onto them.

They have NTSC tuners, but not ATSC. You could use a standard definition, Zinwell 970A ATSC tuner ($40.00 on Amazon), which has event timers, and synchronize the timers on the two units (there'd really be no other way for the box to change channels for unattended recording - the Pio doesn't have an IR blaster).

I believe it's the Pioneer 660 model which is still available, usually on places like ebay (Pio stopped manufacturing recorders altogether a few months back). It's a Canadian model that can be used here (I'm not sure whether that specific model has the jukebox feature or not, though). They're "open box", but really have just had their boxes opened (for some reason - just to check them out, I think), and are really brand new otherwise.

Just an "outside the box" kind of thought. You can check the DVD Recorders forum for info on the Pio's, and the CECB sub-forum for info on the Zinwell, if you're interested.
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post #15 of 17 Old 11-29-2009, 01:53 PM
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Originally Posted by mjs90201 View Post

Gracias amigo. I suppose it boils down to whether I want to leap into the internet age of intergrated entertainment systems (TiVo) or just get a new and improved VCR (Magnavox 2160). Do I really want a box that never stops sucking energy, monitoring my viewing habits, and feeding me unwanted advertising? I'm starting to think I do!

Be aware that TiVo is expected to offer an updated model in early 2010. I wouldn't expect much change in core functionality, but it may incorporate a newer, faster DVR CPU to support an improved HD UI and faster network transfers. The newest DVR CPUs also implement power management functions to allow EnergyStar compliance. We should learn more at CES in January.

That's something to think about before spending $340+ on a lifetime subscription.
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post #16 of 17 Old 11-29-2009, 05:04 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Rammitinski View Post

Some of the international Pioneer HDD/DVD recorders have a "jukebox" feature, where you can transfer your CD collection onto them.

They have NTSC tuners, but not ATSC. You could use a standard definition, Zinwell 970A ATSC tuner ($40.00 on Amazon), which has event timers, and synchronize the timers on the two units (there'd really be no other way for the box to change channels for unattended recording - the Pio doesn't have an IR blaster).

I believe it's the Pioneer 660 model which is still available, usually on places like ebay (Pio stopped manufacturing recorders altogether a few months back). It's a Canadian model that can be used here (I'm not sure whether that specific model has the jukebox feature or not, though). They're "open box", but really have just had their boxes opened (for some reason - just to check them out, I think), and are really brand new otherwise.

Just an "outside the box" kind of thought. You can check the DVD Recorders forum for info on the Pio's, and the CECB sub-forum for info on the Zinwell, if you're interested.

Interesting idea but... There is a Pioneer 660 on eBay going for over $600 shipped. Seems like a lot to pay for a discontinued product that is not quite what I'm looking for.
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post #17 of 17 Old 11-29-2009, 05:06 PM - Thread Starter
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Be aware that TiVo is expected to offer an updated model in early 2010. I wouldn't expect much change in core functionality, but it may incorporate a newer, faster DVR CPU to support an improved HD UI and faster network transfers. The newest DVR CPUs also implement power management functions to allow EnergyStar compliance. We should learn more at CES in January.

That's something to think about before spending $340+ on a lifetime subscription.

Improvements like power management seem worth waiting for (especially since I think worsening economic conditions in 2010 may bring deeper discounts in discretionary items like consumer electronics...but that's a topic for another forum!). Perhaps I'll get the Magnavox to tide me over and maximize the quality of my VHS to digital conversions. By the time the new TiVo arrives, might a competitor have added similar home networking capabilities to their DVR to better compete? Competition is good.
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