Do all stand alone DVRs need a subscription to work?

This seemed like the closest forum section for this, sorry if in the wrong section, but the so far the DTV switch has been difficult.

I am helping my parents figure out DVRs, we have currently switched over to 2 analog to digital converter boxes, so we can continue using our analog TV & record shows with a VCR.

would like to know about DVRs, as VCR tapes are building up in the house. Do all standalone unit DVRs require a monthly subscription to work? can we get one & just hook up our converter box & tube TV to it to record our shows? this is what we would like to do, use just like our VCRs. Can anyone suggest certain models?

we are on a budget, & my mom does not like the idea of having to pay for TV as we are struggling with all other household expenses, so it would be nice to hang onto free broadcast TV, we dont get alot of channels but have been happy with it so far, now it feels like the digital transition has been funded or supported by cable companies to try to force people like my parents to get cable, by taking away the fairly reliable analog signal, even if it was not much.


There are a handful of DVRs available that don’t require a subscription, most of which are DVD recorders or DVD+HDD recorders. As the most common subscription providers in the US are TiVo and Replay TV, the best way to start off looking is to make sure the TiVo and Replay TV logos are not on the product. Basically, the TiVo subscription based products show up a TV guide where you can select what shows or series to record and the PVR automatically schedules itself. With a non-subscription PVR, you set up timers in much the same way as with a VCR.

When choosing a digital video recorder, you have a choice of DVD and HDD+DVD recording. HDD-only recorders that are not subscription based are hard to come by. I’ll give a quick summary here of the advantages and drawbacks of each:

DVD - With a DVD+RW or DVD-RW, you can use the recorder in much the same way as your VCR, i.e. just pop in a blank disc, wait 1 to 2 minutes to initialise, select the channel and press ‘Record’ or set up a timer. When you record further shows, these are appended on to the end. However, “taping over” a recording is a little more complicated unless you erase the disc. The big advantage with rewritable DVDs over VHS tapes is that you can store about 10 DVDs in paper sleaves in the space of 1 VHS tape.

HDD - Most HDD recorders are very straight forward to use. You can either select the channel and press record or set up a timer, just like your VCR. When it comes to playback, they show the recorded programmes in a list, either sorted by date & time or by program title. The big advantage here is that you don’t need to have a VHS tape or blank DVD handy to make a recording. However, the drawback is that once the HDD fills up, you must delete old recordings. Most HDD based recorders also let you “pause” live TV. Unfortunately at this time, pretty much every HDD-only recorder I’ve come across on US websites are subscription based (either ReplayTV or TiVo).

HDD+DVD - These combine the features of the separate boxes. For example, you can transfer recordings from HDD to DVD later on to free up space or to keep these recordings. While these tend to be subscription free, the drawback with these recorders is that they are quite expensive to buy and most models I came across under $300 have poor user ratings.

This Philips HDD+DVD recorder on NewEgg gives an example of a non-subscription PVR. It appears to have built-in Digital TV reception also, however, at $350, it’s quite expensive.

Plain DVD recorders start at around $120, e.g. this Toshiba DR410 is $115 on Amazon. It requires the TV converter to record from DTT, so it may be a problem if you need to schedule recordings from two separate channels. The DR560 is similar, but has a built-in digital TV tuner and is priced at $155 on Amazon.

I would suggest buying an HD Tivo with Lifetime subscription. With lifetime, you wont have to pay montly fees ever on that box. Though its 300 for lifetime last time I checked, maybe even more now. So you could check on ebay and get one with lifetime for only 200 dollars or so.