AVS Special Member
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: Ellicott City, MD
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If you have DirecTV then I would hihly recommend going with the DirecTivo models. If you have cable or OTA antenna connections as well then you need to go with a standalone type of DVR. DirecTivos have dual tuners and can record two DTV channels at once while allowing you to watch a third show that was previously recorded to the hard drive. It's like having three VCRs in one box. They are the only DTV recording devices that will allow you to record Dolby Digital soundtracks broadcast on HBO, Showtime, PPV channels and several others. DTivos record the digital transmission directly from the satellite so you see the exact signal that was originally broadcast when you play it back. Standalone models suffer from signal degradation due to the additional digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital conversions that take place.
DTV will sell you one directly for about $50-100 or you can pick one up at your local Circuit City or Best Buy. There is a $4.99/month DVR service fee but it's a flat fee for as many DTivos as you want to add to your account. There is also a $4.99/month mirroring fee that you would pay just like any other DTV receiver added to your account. You will also have to commit to a 12-month extension on your DTV contract that begins the day you activate the receiver. The agreement is not added on to any existing agreement but just extends your current agreement to at least 12 months from the date of activation. If you activated your acount on Monday and added the DTivo on Tuesday then your original agreement would extend for 12 months from the original activation date (i.e., Monday) and the extended agreement would last until 12 months from the date of the DTivo activation (i.e., Tuesday), making the overall commitment period of 12 months and one day.
If you have your heart set on a standalone model and don't want to pay any fees whatsoever then look for a series 1 Tivo that has software version 1.3 or older. This will allow you to use the Tivo as a manual VCR without having to pay any subscription fees. You will get nag messages about subscribing and you will have to set up every recording manually because you will not have access to any of the Tivo's special features (i.e., program guide, season passes, etc.) without paying a monthly fee.
I would recommend looking for an older Panasonic Showstopper or ReplayTV 2000 or 3000 series model. These models were marketed before SonicBlue took over the company and started charging monthly fees for the guide service. They are grandfathered into the original agreement that does not require a monthly fee for the guide data.