DTVPal DVR: lots of jollies per dollar

Although recording TV for later viewing has been around a long time now, digital technology has made it truly outstanding:

  • Unlike old VCR or DVD-based recordings, newer digital recorders play back in quality equal to the original broadcast.
  • You don’t have to worry about changing tapes or disks.
  • The digital TV transition has resulted in some good movie content being available on subchannels.

For some time, to get these benefits you had to come up with the dollars for a TiVo — an excellent solution, but somewhat expensive. There is now a much less expensive solution I can recommend: the DTVPal DVR (catchy name, huh?)

When you connect a DTVPal DVR to an external antenna and your TV, after a short setup routine you’re in business. You can browse content and choose what to record. Your recordings are stored in a list (by folders if you’d like).

Here are some of the things I’ve been doing with my DVR:

  • Recording and viewing classic movies, such as “The Magnificent Seven” from MyNetwork TV
  • Recording and viewing newer fare, such as “The Polar Express” from ABC
  • Catching football games at my convenience

A little more on this last point: On Sunday afternoon I like to ride bikes with my son — but NFL games start at 1 p.m. I start them recording on the DVR, go ride the bike, and then catch the game in the second half. But by starting at the beginning of the recording and fast-forwarding through commercials in the first half, I can catch up with the fourth quarter live. It works great with that DVR’s 30-second skip feature, going from play to play.

Finally, the warnings:

  • This DVR is not as smooth as a TiVo, even though it’s way better than your old VCR. If you have the money or lack patience, TiVo is a better bet.
  • This DVR records over-the-air content only, and not cable.
  • This DVR was released buggy, but gets automatic updates over the Internet. The currently updated version is fairly smooth, in my experience.

For the current $299 price, though, this DVR delivers a lot of jollies per dollar. And there’s a great discussion group over at AVSForum to help you work through the bugs. (The first post in that thread is super.)