Digital video recorder

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. It has also become the main way for CCTV companies to record their surveillance, as it provides far longer recording times than the previously used VCRs.


In 1985, while working at Honeywell’s Physical Sciences Center, David Rafner first described a drive-based DVR designed for home TV recording, time-slipping, and skipping commercials. 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.

Hard disk-based DVRs

The two early consumer DVRs, ReplayTV and TiVo, were launched at the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 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, it was TiVo that went on to much greater commercial success. The devices have steadily developed complementary abilities, such as recording onto DVDs, commercial skip, sharing of recordings over the Internet, and programming and remote control facilities using PDAs, networked PCs, and Web browsers. The label PVR has almost fallen completely into disuse in the trade news media in favor of the more popular DVR descriptor. The name PVR never really caught on, although its use has not entirely vanished.

This makes the "time shifting" feature (traditionally done by a VCR) much more convenient, and also allows 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 advertising. Most DVRs use the MPEG format for compressing the digitized video signals.

DVRs tied to a video service: At the 1999 CES show Dish Network demonstrated the hardware that would later have DVR capability with the assistance of Microsoft software. The 7100 satellite receiver (later rebranded as the DISHPlayer). 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 UK, DVRs are often referred to as plus boxes (such as BSKYB's sky + and Virgin Media's V+ which integrates an HD Capability). British Sky Broadcasting markets a popular combined EPG and DVR as Sky+. South African based Africa Satellite TV beamer Multichoice recently launched their PVR 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 and Humax.

Many satellite and cable companies are incorporating DVR functions into their set-top box, such as with DirecTiVo, DISHPlayer/DishDVR, Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8xxx from Time Warner, 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+. Also LG Group offers a television with DVR functions built in.

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 (Durban, 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.


Software and hardware is available which can turn personal computers running Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS 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.

Other Mac DVR products include myTV.PVR from Hauppauge/EskapeLabs and ConvertX PVR from Plextor. 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, Got All Media , MediaPortal, and Orb (web-based remote interface). DScaler also has DVR support in the works.

There are also several proprietary applications available including AVS TV Box , CyberLink PowerCinema, SageTV, SnapStream Beyond TV, ChrisTV , Showshifter, 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. and Canada), InterVideo WinDVR, Recordit Plus and the R5000-HD.

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

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), so that the signal can be delivered to the receiver (TV or computer/PVR with a TV tuner).

Analog television

Analog television in NTSC, PAL or SECAM formats, analog cable, or regular VHS tapes use a signal that is fed directly to the electron beam within the television set. There are a number of details on how this is done, but in essence each line in each frame corresponds to a specific fraction of time within the signal.

To record an analog signal a few steps are required. A 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, or WMF, usually in software. Some TV tuner cards like the DVR-250/350 or the TiVo chip deliver an MPEG-2 or other compressed stream directly to the computer, performing both the frame grabbing and compression in hardware. This greatly reduces the load on the CPU allowing an overall cheaper implementation.

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 television

Digital television contains audio/visual signals that are broadcast over the air in a digital rather than analog format. Recording digital TV is generally a straightforward capture of the binary MPEG-2 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). The MythTV DVR supports both international DVB signals and American ATSC signals while the TiVo Series 3 supports only the ATSC signals. In the U.S., the 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.

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.

Satellite or digital cable

Recording satellite or digital cable signals on a digital video recorder is more complex than recording analog signals or broadcast digital signals. This is so because the MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 stream is usually encrypted to prevent people from viewing the content without paying for it (usually via subscription).

The satellite or cable set-top box does two things. First, it decrypts the signal. Second, it decodes the MPEG stream into an analog, DVI, or HDMI 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.

An alternative is that some satellite or (more commonly) cable set-top boxes have a FireWire port that can be connected to a computer. The recorded MPEG stream can be relayed to the computer via this FireWire port; though it can be done live, this is more commonly used for transferring shows from a set-top box with built-in DVR. (For instructions on doing this on a popular set-top box with DVR, please see the Wikibook entry How to use a Motorola DVR; some of the ideas there may apply to other set-top boxes as well.)


Many DVD-based DVRs are equipped with two DVD drives or an additional internal hard drive. This arrangement can be used to copy content from a source DVD, which is disallowed in the U.S. 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

Some DVD-based DVRs incorporate a Firewire connector which can be used to capture digital video from a MiniDV or Digital 8 camcorder, possibly recording a simple DVD as the camcorder is played back. Some editing of the resulting DVD is usually possible, such as adding chapter points.

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.

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 detection 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

It is possible when providing DVR service to gather real time data on user's viewing habits.


Digital video recorders cannot record from a high definition digital audio/video source such as HDMI or DVI, due to restrictions imposed by High Definition Content protection (hdcp)

Concerns with DVR

Advertisers, however, are not always fond of the DVR service. This is due to the frequent fast-forwarding that customers tend to do with their recorded programs. A poll from 2006 states that 59% of DVR users fast forward through their commercials to get back to the program sooner. This number is rapidly growing as more people become aware of how to get full use out of their DVR devices.

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.

Patent 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.

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


External links

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