Sam Ingalls
Last Updated June 3, 2021 6:08 am

A digital video recorder – commonly referred to as just DVR – is a digital machine capable of recording and storing videos for later access and watching by consumers. While DVRs have moved towards cloud storage, earlier editions stored content on an internal hard drive.

DVRs enable consumers, businesses, and organizations to record content like a favorite television show, press conference, or video surveillance. The successor to videocassette recorder (VCR) technology, the DVR eased consumers’ ability to record and watch content at their leisure and was a significant increase in content storage compared to a videotape.

At the height of DVR usage, TiVo was a leading provider with 4.36 million subscribers in 2006. As streaming platforms arose in the years after, consumers shifted away from recording traditional broadcasts in favor of content readily available via streaming service.

A picture of a digital video recorder and remote to control the device.

DVR features

  • Record television content to watch during consumer’s personal schedule
  • Video player features like play, pause, rewind, and fast-forward
  • Configuring recording for an entire series of one or multiple shows
  • Simultaneous recording and watching on two different channels
  • Space control by deleting content to make room for additional recordings

How is a DVR used?

A DVR is capable of recording, storing, and playing back content for consumers. Initially, DVRs were a separate physical unit from the TV monitor, cable box, or additional machines. As digital solutions ramped up in the 2000s, DVRs moved from being offered as separate units to being embedded in the consumer’s cable box or integrated service plan. With their remote, consumers can use a DVR to find scheduled content and record for later watching.

Skipping Commercials

Skipping commercials was never easier than with the development of the digital video recorder. While a consumer could manually fast forward through their VCR tape, DVR introduced automatic 30-second and 60-second skip options. With more control, watchers could maximize their time, skip the waiting game, and pick up where they left off.

DVR vs. Streaming Services

While a DVR can record a custom list of content available anytime, many consumers moved towards streaming services in the 2010s for a similar reason. Both enabled consumers to cut cables and save money on cable or satellite services.

Streaming services offer high-quality content but lag compared to DVR in providing real-time access to broadcast content like local programming. While a user can access content as soon as the recording starts, most streaming services do not offer recently live content. For DVR and streaming, viewers can play, pause, and more on their own time.

Use cases

DVR for Consumers

Since 2005, the dance competition television series Dancing with the Stars has been a hit for ABC. Airing at 8pm EST, preoccupied viewers chose between watching live or missing it entirely. With DVR, the individual or group could schedule the recording or the entire season and watch at the most convenient times.

With the ability to record multiple shows or an entire series, viewers could watch multiple episodes in a row. In retrospect, this was a stepping stone to the binge-watching culture presented by streaming services.

DVR for Business and Security

Organizations require physical security of their assets, offices, and more. Video security – also known as closed-circuit television (CCTV) – has long been a primary method for protection and recording incidents. Like VCR before, DVR offers businesses and security personnel visibility into their physical security at any time. DVR features like searching by event, time, date, and camera to optimize personnel’s ability to review past footage.

Before DVR

Television came into global view during the first half of the 20th century and became even more accessible as the decades progressed. The 1970s produced the first step towards watching shows after they had aired: the videocassette recorder (VCR).

VCRs were a top product and enabled the recording and storing of content for almost three decades. The launch of DVRs in 1999 made recording more content less expensive with higher video quality and consumer options for playing.