I have had experience with several competing HD DVR recording products. In the interest of helping anyone else out there looking for options, I thought I'd share my experience.
I've had my Sony DHG 250 since 2005. I don't remember what it cost, but it was new full retail and probably $600-$700. It was my first hard drive based HD DVR, and it rocked. I had previous experience with a TiVo Series 2 SD, and by comparison, the TiVo had a more user friendly experience, but the Sony DHG was high def and that more than made up for it. San Diego has been one of the more stable TVGOS markets this whole time, so for the most part I've had a good run with the Sony.
Video sources: 4.5 stars – supports NTSC (still available on many cable feeds), ATSC OTA, clear QAM over cable, and (with CableCARD) encrypted QAM over cable, all with full guide, but does not support switched digital video at all, ever
Futureproofing: 1.5 stars – user can't replace hard drive, dependent on external source for everything; user can replace fans and can recover some kind of a clock by replaying VCR recordings of analog TVGOS information, but can never recover a usable guide or truly accurate clock this way
Expandability: 1 star – basically can't add anything
Usability: 4 stars – on-screen guide makes it easy to schedule recordings, nice programmable skip-forward and skip-backward buttons; but has limited ability to find programs that move or have special air times
Quirkiness: 3 stars – 26,000 posts in this thread, 'nuff said. When it works, great, but expect quirks.
Cost: $600-$700 one time purchase price for a 7 year lifetime, no complaints!
Later I bought a TiVo HD used on Amazon. This is the Series 3 variety, not the new Premiere. The seller had been buying their TiVo service monthly, so it came without a lifetime subscription and I had to add that. I love it. Really, I can't recommend it highly enough. For the “set it and forget it” crowd, nothing beats the TiVo!
Video sources: 4 stars – supports NTSC (but has a known bug with this), ATSC OTA with full guide, clear QAM over cable with no guide, and (with CableCARD) clear/encrypted QAM over cable with full guide; switched digital video supported with tuning adapter
Futureproofing: 2 stars – user can replace hard drive and fans, the two most likely points of failure, but you are dependent on TiVo supplying clock and guide
Expandability: 4 stars – user can self-upgrade to ~2TB internal, with external options available; also can offload recordings to PC over the network
Usability: 5 stars – really the best user experience of any devices I've tried; setup is mindless; can easily find programs in any timeslot, record only new programs or also reruns, avoids recording duplicates; Season Pass rocks
Quirkiness: 5 stars – not quirky at all; I have never worried about TiVo missing a recording
Cost: (my case, YMMV) $70 for used TiVo HD, $120 for 1TB hard drive replaced immediately upon receipt, $399 for lifetime guide subscription = $590... lifetime unknown but at least several years so far
I also tried a DTVPal DVR. Part of the motivation for this was to experiment with digital to analog TVGOS conversion around the time of the digital change over in 2009. As luck would have it, San Diego never had analog TVGOS problems, and this device was never useful for that purpose. As a DVR, it sucks. The clock was horribly unreliable (even with the F208 firmware, I believe the latest). I ended up babysitting it every night to get the right stuff recorded, and around the DST clock change dates, it is inexcusably bad.
Video sources: 1 star – only ATSC OTA
Futureproofing: 3 stars – user can replace hard drive and fans, and in the event of loss of both TVGOS and PSIP data, user can set the clock and operate in VCR mode
Expandability: 2 stars – user can self-upgrade to 1TB internal, but cannot offload recordings
Usability: 2 stars – clumsy guide, difficult clock, actually requires more babysitting than the Sony DHG
Quirkiness: 1 star – I never trusted this thing and within about a couple months, turned it off and there it sits
Cost: $300 one time purchase price for a 2 month lifetime; probably still usable but I gave up
My primary HD DVR for ~5 years now has been an HTPC. I use two HD HomeRuns (4 simultaneous recordings) and SnapStream's BeyondTV 4. The HDHR's by themselves are not really a complete product, and you need something like Windows Media Center, or BeyondTV, or SageTV, or a Linux MythTV setup to really make the whole thing work. With BTV, I get the full HD DVR experience, including programmable jump-forward and skip-backward times, a very good guide, infrared remote (including Harmony support already in their database), and all of the features that make the TiVo so much better than the other competition. This is my favorite HD DVR device, but it's not for everyone. It falls a little short of the “set it and forget it” experience that TiVo has. But when it's working, which is 99% of the time, it's on par with TiVo. Setup is painful, but once it is setup, this easily competes with the best DVR's out there.
Video sources: 2 stars – ATSC OTA with full guide or clear QAM over cable with full guide; no CableCARD or switched digital video support
Futureproofing: 5 stars – user has complete control of hard drives, sizes, external USB hard drives, adding additional tuners, replacing any components that fail; recordings are in industry standard raw MPEG-2 TS format and playable on many other software and hardware players (may I recommend the Diamond HD Media Wonder player, since it is the only (??) player that supports 30 second jump-forward and 10 second skip-backward feature); but depends on SnapStream to continue supplying guide as long as using BeyondTV; user can install other PVR software (eg, Mythbuntu) at little or no additional cost and end dependence on SnapStream; clock is just the PC's clock which is always user-settable and worst-case is usable in VCR mode where recordings are named by the user
Expandability: 5 stars – I have added an additional HD HomeRun (2 more tuners) and several terabytes of external hard drive space since this HTPC was originally setup, and can add unlimited more
Usability: 4 stars – with infrared remote, provides an excellent experience in front of the TV; web browser based configuration of recordings, etc, makes management from your main computer (not the TV) a breeze; -1 star because the occasional problem can take hours to fix with your nerd hat on
Quirkiness: 4 stars – works 99% of the time, but it does fail and require some nerd attention
Cost: $450 for original HTPC, $130 for one HDHR, $70 for BTV license = $650 originally. Since then, I have transplanted it into a new case ($80), replaced the power supply ($60), added one more HDHR ($130) and 3TB of USB hard drive space (~$300), but those add-ons are optional. Lifetime so far is 4+ years and I see no reason it will go out of service until the US changes their TV standards again. Small incremental costs will be incurred to upgrade/replace hardware as it fails, but in no case should I have to replace everything all at once.
Hope that helps anyone!
Edited by pf2008 - 12/11/12 at 8:36pm