Here’s a look at some alternatives to using a VCR to record TV programs. The common name for these units is PVR (personal video recorder). To help you decide which is best for you … here are a few things to look into:

Is there a good TV listing service for your area for the product and for your broadcast method, off the air, cablevision digital cable or satellite.
What is the recording quality and how much time can be recorded on the unit.
Are the outputs of the unit compatible with your TV … i.e. RCA output, S-Video, DVI or digital outputs for my stereo?
Is there a remote for this unit that will meet your needs?

Here is a rundown on some of the systems.

A basic PVR only does one function but does it well with ease of use as a priority. TIVO is the most well known basic PVR and they got there by licensing the service to other vendors in the field … mainly Sony and Philips. The interface is simple and it remembers your watching and recording habits. One drawback is the monthly subscription fee $12.95 (or you can pay for a lifetime – $299.00). So far the service is only available in the U.S. market.

Then there are many others have joined in on the success and added this function into satellite receivers and even DVD players. You can also connect multiple units together with the $99.00 home media option.

ReplayTV is another option with a more modest subscription fee of $11.88 per year after the 3 year initial subscription is up. These operate the same way as TIVO … you can record, pause and skip commercials. There are also network enabled units so you can watch shows that were recorded on other units.

Gemstar … TV Guide’s interactive program guide … is marketed as TV Guide On Screen in North America, G-Guide in Japan and Guide Plus+ in Europe. Some of the PVR’s use this listing service which is a no fee system. This is the same company that licensed the VCR+ programming interface for your VCR. The advantage of using boxes which use this programming is that it is no fee system. These systems are being licensed by a lot of consumer products from Panasonic, Sharp and Samsung.

For a computer based PVR you can buy a new computer running Microsoft Windows XP Media Centre 2004 which is an upgrade on the original version which is OEM’s on only certain machines. The programming guide system on this is a free system and Microsoft has improved on the original system. There are many companies that make these systems, some that add on functionality to a regular pc or others that have made a custom box that integrates into your home entertainment room such as the Touch Systems or the ZT group system. These machines are using computer cases made by Shuttle that are small compact and very quiet. Some of the different systems are at Microsoft’s site. Another good site for information on these is the green button (refers to the MCE remote).

Or … you could hook up a computer to your TV and with a TV tuner card from ATI or Hauppauge … make your own PVR using a 3rd party software product such as Snapstream. And integrate them into a small form factor case as from Shuttle.

With ATI’s All-IN-WONDER and TV Wonder cards you are able to use the TV-ON-DEMAND and the Gemstar GUIDEPLUS + programming guide for free … and it works in the USA and Canada. Plus you can get a great remote that uses RF (radio frequency) so it will work a long distance from your computer. I have used this system on a computer that I have connected to my TV and I really like the setup. Plus the Guide layout listings are top notch.

The Hauppauge PVR products come with a TV tuner card as well as a remote and use of The Electronic Program Guides – in the U.S., in Europe and iEPG in Japan. These are Internet based free program guides which work with WinTV-PVR to help schedule your TV recordings.

Lastly … you can buy a system comprised of a small PC connected to the TV as an entertainment system. The product from integrates this into one nice looking package.

I’m sure there are plenty of other options out there that I haven’t mentioned here … but one thing is certain … we’re only at the beginning of this trend and PVR’s are here to stay.