DVRs are one of the best things to happen to TV. After all, who has time to catch every single program right when it airs? When choosing a DVR, one of the main challenges is figuring out how much storage you need. In this article, we’ll walk through all the details to help you determine how much storage space you need to store all your favorite movies, sports games, and shows.
How is DVR storage measured?
DVR storage is typically measured by gigabytes or terabytes—for example, 500 GB or 1 TB. However, there’s another, more relevant way to consider storage: how many hours of content you can store.
DVRs are frequently advertised as storing a certain number of hours of content—say, 500 hours of standard definition (SD) and 300 hours of high definition (HD). This gives a much more useful benchmark than 500 GB and also reflects the fact that some DVRs are more efficient at storing content, so those 500 GB might go further on a DIRECTV Genie than a DISH Hopper or YouTube TV’s cloud DVR (for example).
What is the difference between HD and SD recording hours?
HD is high definition (720p or 1080p), and SD is standard definition (480p). This means that HD is much higher quality than SD. In turn, HD files are much larger and take more space on a hard drive or cloud DVR.
In practice, that means you’ll be able to store less HD footage on a given DVR compared to SD. Typically, the number of HD hours you can store is slightly more than half what you can store for SD—so you might see 500 hours of SD and 300 hours of HD on a given DVR. However, these ratios can vary.
Now, most people are going to want to record in HD—SD just looks terrible on most modern TVs. This info is still good to know, though, in case a DVR advertises only SD storage capacity or you need to conserve space.
How do you determine the amount of DVR space you need?
If you currently have a DVR, you could just decide whether its storage is sufficient. If you’ve never given it much thought, though, consider how many hours of content you might want to keep stored. Generally, more is better, but at some point it becomes overkill for most people. For example, 500 hours is just under three weeks of continuous viewing—that’s probably way more than enough for most people, unless you’re a digital packrat.
Content you can record with 500 hours of DVR storage
|Number of recordings
|Law & Order
|All 22 seasons (456 episodes)
*Quantity based on average episode, game, or movie length
If your provider offers different tiers of DVR storage, this can give you the opportunity to save a little on your TV bill. The exceptions would be for people who live in large households or those who want to save content for extended periods of time—if this describes your situation, you may benefit from the larger storage amounts.
Other important DVR features
Most DVRs are capable of recording a certain number of programs simultaneously. This number can vary widely, from as little as two or three, all the way up to 24(!). Recording 16 shows at once might seem silly and unnecessary, but more simultaneous recordings are almost always better, simply because it prevents scheduling conflicts. Nothing is worse than thinking that must-see show is recording and finding out it couldn’t because your roommate scheduled House Hunters Season 337 to record at the same time.
This is another overlooked factor in choosing a DVR. There are two sides to this: first, the recording resolution. A DVR that records only in SD isn’t going to cut it on a 4K TV.
Second, consider the playback quality. Some DVRs may compress files to fit more content on the same size hard drive, and some cloud DVRs can experience playback issues that lower the quality of your content. (Xfinity had some issues with this in 2022.)(1)
The ability to lock recordings to prevent them from being deleted can be extremely handy. This is sometimes called “protecting”—the language varies from provider to provider. However, it’s a nice feature to watch for to help you save important shows from being accidentally removed.
With streaming being so ubiquitous these days, you should consider the apps a DVR has preloaded. These can save you money and the small hassle of needing a separate streaming device. Common apps you might find on a DVR include Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and YouTube.
Note that this isn’t to record from these services—it’s simply to stream them on your TV. These are on-demand services, so you won’t need a DVR for them. The providers that offer live streaming plans typically have their own cloud DVRs.
Which TV providers have the most DVR storage?
The local DVRs with the most storage capacity are the DISH Hopper 3 and the Cox Contour Record 24, boasting 500 HD hours and up to 1,000 HD hours, respectively. Both also offer tons of simultaneous recordings—16 for the Hopper 3 and 24 for the Contour.
For streaming providers and cloud DVRs, YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV offer an unlimited cloud DVR option, although both providers’ DVRs will automatically erase content after nine months. Unfortunately, unlike local DVRs, these don’t offer the option to lock content permanently.
DIRECTV STREAM also has an unlimited cloud DVR storage option, but it limits you to 30 episodes of any one TV show. We’re not quite sure why, but we’d guess something to do with media partnerships.
Get ready to record
Whether you’re looking for a basic DVR to record the big game every week or you need all the storage, there’s a DVR option out there for you. Even better, the best DVRs tend to come attached to the best TV services—a true win-win.
Dave Schafer is a freelance writer with a passion for making technical concepts easy for anyone to understand. He’s been covering the world of gadgets, tech, and the internet for over 8 years, with a particular focus on TV and internet service providers. When he’s not writing, Dave can be found playing guitar or camping with his family and golden retriever, Rosie.
Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.