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How can I record digital TV?

A collection of remote controls

Recording digital TV is easier than recording analogue TV onto videocassette ever was. No need to look up dates and times and input the details – you just pick the show you want to record and press the ‘record’ button. And there are several options open to you as we explain here.

Wendy M Grossman | 9th September 2010

Most of the set-top boxes supplied to you with your digital TV connection – whether it’s satellite, terrestrial or cable - include recording facilities, usually called PVR (for personal video recorder) or DVR (for digital video recorder).

TV service providers and retailers typically provide enough detail about the specifications for each set-top box for you to make an informed decision. The easy one to understand is the number of hours of recordings the hard drive inside the box can store. You should also check whether you can watch something else while a programme is being recorded.

But you can only sample the most important element – the interface by which you operate the box/recorder – by actually seeing the box.

Push the button

The key to DVRs/PVRs that makes them so much more user-friendly than VCRs is the electronic programme data, which is delivered to (or collected by) the set-top box via a phone, cable or internet connection.

Instead of looking up dates and times and having to enter them painfully into an interface, you look at the schedule, pick the programme you want to record, and push a button.

You may, however, have desires that these devices do not cater for, such as recording to DVD or watching internet channels/sites on your television. In this case you'll want to explore your options further.

Other options

DVD recorders are now quite cheap and easy to set up, although they probably won't interact with your electronic programme guide. There are also a number of hybrid devices, such as Popcorn Hour, that combine internet, hard drive and DVD recording.

Even an old VCR can record digital TV under some circumstances. The set-top box must be able to output a TV channel that can be carried over a coaxial RF or SCART cable, and it must be a box your VCR can be tuned to. However, many set-top boxes cannot do this.

You may also be able to hook your VCR to a digital television if it has a built-in tuner and a scart output jack. However, you will not be able to record pay-to-view TV channels this way, and the VCR will not interact with electronic programme data.

Wendy M Grossman

Wendy M Grossman

Wendy M Grossman is a freelance technology writer and author living in London and is founder of The Skeptic magazine.