Posts Face Off: VCR vs DVR

Face Off: VCR vs DVR

I know that this entry is bit strange given what is normally on this site, but bear with me...

In one corner we have the VCR (Video Cassette Recorder) and in the other we have the DVR (Digital Video Recorder).  Both attempt to solve similar problems.  Both have their strengths and their weaknesses.  So let's dive in and see if we can find a winner.

The VCR has been around for a while now, long enough to gain it's very own long standing joke.  Over the years, the VCR has made incremental improvements in usability and functionality.  There was the advancement with the four head recording and we even have an high definition capable one if you so desire.  Storage media is extremely cheap and you pretty much can store as much as you want; though categorizing, indexing and searching the content is a bit of a chore.  Some VCR devices (and/or TV/remotes) contain the ability to record using a guide.  I've never utilized these, but rather just setup a schedule to record or recorded while watching.  Recording to cassette also offers the ability to loan a friend what you've recorded.  Duplicating your cassettes is also relatively easy; though time consuming.  For the most part, learning how to use one VCR allows you to use any other VCR on the market.  You stick in a cassette, press record to save a show.  You press play to watch the show.  Want to watch/record another show, select a different cassette.  Due to its limited functionality, the VCR to use is, by design, simple.

The DVR has entered into our lives only a few years ago.  With products such as TiVo, not only can you schedule a recording by time and/or a guide.  It can even "learn" what you like and suggest (automatically record) things for you to watch.  The quality is pretty good, every bit as good as a VCR, and searching through what has been recorded is pretty simple.  For most things, the DVR passes the Wife Approved test.  Of course, TiVo isn't the only DVR in town.  At one point, there was only one other, however these days there are more DVR devices than one could probably count (discoverability).  Every DVR has a different UI with multiple on screen displays... to the point that it's possible to actually get lost as to where you are.  Additionally, because of the manufacturers desire to make a profit and the consumers desire not to spend any real money, these devices utilize extremely low performing CPUs for their display interaction; yielding a sluggish interaction experience.  Most, if not all, DVR devices allow for easy recording and easy access to what has been recorded.  Finding something to record is pretty straight forward as well.  Now for the problem, because of their design, DVR devices have a limited amount of storage. Some larger than others, however, still they are limited.  Additionally, most of these devices don't allow for any way to archive what you've recorded nor do they allow you to share what you've recorded with a friend.  DVR devices to solve one of the major problems with the VCR, but introduce other limitations in the process.

This is not to say that there isn't a DVR device that can help to solve the problems introduced with going digital; there is as a matter of fact.  Utilizing a Vista Media Center PC (VMC) solves a few of the problems that I mention.  VMC can do all that a DVR can do, providing you with ease of recording and finding recorded content.  However, since it is a PC, it has the CPU power necessary to provide an extremely interactive, visually attractive and responsive UI.  As for storage, again, since it's a PC with access to a network, you can store the recordings across multiple storage locations (more computers, USB drives, etc.) and you can also save the content using DVD+/-R media for offline storage.  Since you can save the content to DVD, you can loan what you've recorded to a friend.  All of this doesn't come with out a cost though (punn intended) as a Vista Media Center will cost more than most other DVR devices.  Additionally, you may not be able to take advantage of your content providers advanced features.  (This looks to change, but it's not available today in some cases.)

As you can see, each of the three that I mention has their respective strengths and weeknesses.  None of them is an outright winner for every circumstance.  For price and ease of use, for limited storage, a DVR is great.  It's a nice middle ground.

I actually own several of these and utilize them just about every day.  I have a Direct/TiVo in the bedroom,  a DirecTV HD box in the living room along with a pretty powerful Vista Media Center PC.  I have two VCRs in my office and another one in the closet for when someone brings over a VHS cassette that I can quickly hook up any TV.  The one I prefer to use, hands down, is Vista Media Center PC.  However, it's not able to record any of the DirecTV HD channels; I'm only able to record ATSC and DirecTV standard definition shows on it.  Since most of the HD shows I watch are available ATSC, I watch those on VMC.  Additionally, I can watch any of that content on any other computer in the house.

So what is this post about?  Well, let me try to explain.  You see, I keep seeing x vs y every time I turn around.  Windows vs Linux.  Windows vs OSX, VB vs C++, VB vs Delphi, VB vs C#, Agile vs somethingorother and the list goes on.  If there was a clear winner in any of these, there wouldn't be any debate.  There is something about each of the items that appeals to a group of users.  Understanding that is key.  Once that is understood, then maybe real discussions can exist as to the benefits of doing one thing one way vs another can take place and progress can be made.

(Please keep this post in mind for the next post that will be coming soon...)

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.