Skip to content
Subscriber Only

The Truth About DVRs

Wondering why you can't buy a digital video recorder without also signing up for TiVo or a specific cable service?

Harry Leslie asks: A couple of months ago, I tried to find a [replacement] DVR to purchase but could not find any that were not part of a TiVo package. The clerks at two stores told me that I would have to subscribe to TiVo (TIVO) to use the machines. I can't believe there isn't any demand for DVRs and am wondering why they apparently aren't available. A conspiracy theorist would say that TiVo, Comcast (CMCSA), and others are keeping them off the market to boost their services. Do you know why DVRs don't seem to be available to consumers except through TiVo or other subscription services, such as Comcast's? Or, better yet, do you know where they can be purchased?

It's a sad story. Effective July 1, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission required cable companies to separate the security functions of their set-top boxes from other roles, such as tuning, recording, etc. This change was supposed to free consumers from the tyranny of having to accept whatever set-top box the cable company chose to offer. Instead they would be able to buy a box at retail and connect it to a cable network by getting a device called a CableCARD from the cable operator.