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Can I buy a DVR and use it without a service?

This discussion thread has 26 messages.

I am just getting into this, so I don't fully know how any of this equipment works. I have been trying to ferret out my options for recording TV (and hopefully HD) while avoiding paying for a subscription. There is lots of information on building PVRs and on software for PCs. My question is, can I avoid the build-the-hardware side of the equation and buy a commercial DVR and use it without a service? Should it work out of the box? Do I need to (and will I be able to) add a software package (SageTV and BeyondTV) to make it work?

I'm guessing the easiest solution is just to get a lifetime subscription to Tivo, but I am worried about being reliant on a company that could go out of business. And I bet I could do this for less money and tailor it to what I want.

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i would suggest a capture card for regular def TV, but im not sure about high def

Watch Prison Break!
D*sh has a pvr/dvr but you have to suscribe to there programing.
Direct and Tivo parted ways a few months back (sept.?) direct now has their own pvr, again you need to suscribe.
Tivo is a stand alone unit, but you guessed it, YOU NEED TO SUSCRIBE.
Cable tv ?
d*SH has a $5.00 monthly fee, Tivo is around 9-14 dollars a month, I don't know about Direct.

Hope this helps.
I found a product that is an HD receiver and DVR (LG 3410A) that doesn't require cable or satelite sercive, but it only has one ATSC tuner so you can't watch one show while recording another (and any other combo that requires two feeds). Also, it didn't fare so well in the user reviews I found online.

Does anyone know of any other products out there that are similar? It also seems that the LG model has been discontinued (though it is still available all over the place). I'm surprised there is no market for this.

What about buying a DISH box (or any other subscription company's product), clearing the hard drive and installing SageTV, BeyondTV or MythTV software? Is there any feasibility to that? It seems like those boxes should be optimized for the purpose. But I don't know the road blocks I will run into. I'm not much for the nitty gritty technical details of this stuff.
Sony has a HDTV DVR that uses the TV Guide on screen system, which is free. They don't have them listed on their site as I've read rumors they are not making them any longer. Don't have any idea why as they work flawlessly and do a great job. They have two models, the DHG-HDD250 and DHG-HDD500. The 250 has a 250 gig hard drive and the 500 has a 500 gig. With the 250 you can record around 30 hours of HDTV and 200 hours of standard TV. The 500 is double this. Anyway, it is for OTA (over the air/antenna) and cable using a Cablecard. You can hook a satellite like Direct TV to it but it won't have the satellite channels in the guide, only OTA and cable. You can still record/watch Direct TV by putting the unit on channel 4 but there will not be a channel list in the guide.

I record HDTV off my roof top antenna on it regularly and the quality of the recordings is just as good as live, on a 42" screen Sony. You can pause, rewind and fastforward live TV. I have nothing but high praise for this unit. You have to leave it off overnight or around 24 hours in some cases to download the guide info. Once setup you need to make sure it's off when not in use or overnight so it can keep the guide up to date.

Shop around for the best price. I found a best of $561.00 and change online, to my door, in the US. I went to Bestbuy and found they had it for $499.99. They only had the display left and I wanted it. So they gave me $75.00 off of that. Then they couldn't find all the cables for it. The assistant manager said we can't find them so why don't I give you a $200.00 gift card and you can buy a better HDMI cable or whatever you want with it. So I got a Monster HDMI cable and had money left on the card. Can't beat that.

Anyway, do a search on Google about it. You'll find nothing but good reviews, or at least I did.

Thanks Mike. Sounds like you got an excellent deal!

As it turns out, I reached the same conclusion on products with my online research. It seems Sony or LG are the only options and it appears neither company is still manufacturing. So I bought the HDD250 from Amazon. Should be here in the next day or two. Now I need to research antennas. I have a particular station that is broadcast from a direction that has a tall apartment building in between, so I'll have to see what works.

One question about the Sony. Generally I was seeing that, since there is only one tuner, you can't record one program while watching another. However, I saw one review by an owner that said contrary to what everyone was saying, you can indeed do this. Unfortunately, that is all it said -- it didn't say how. I browsed through the online owners manual and couldn't find anything related to this. I thought it might have to do with getting one show in HD (ATSC tuner) and the other in SD (NTSC tuner). If so, do you know how to do that?

Once I get the device I'll post my findings for everyone else.
Hey feefree.

I hope you like the Sony as much as I do. To me, it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. As you've read, you can't watch one program and record another, at least through the built in tuner. What I have is a Sony HDTV TV. It has several inputs of course. I have the DVR hooked to the HDMI input. If I want to record a program and watch something else, I simply watch another input on the TV.

Now, if you only have a HDTV ready TV which needs the DVR's tuner in order to receive HDTV programing, then you would only have the option of watching a standard TV program with the TV's inputs. I have Direct TV and a roof top antenna. I have my satellite hooked up to the TV and the DVR both. I come into the DVR from the satellite receiver and then to TV and DVR using the cable coax input on the DVR. If I want to record a satellite program, I tune the DVR to channel 4. I can then watch what I want to on any other input on the TV but as you have read, not on the DVR. The DVR will only record on the channel it's on. I use a coax splitter on the antenna cable to split the signal to the TV and DVR.

I use it a lot just watching TV and not recording. While watching, I can pause, rewind or fast forward (after rewinding or pausing) the program. It's a fantastic feature. How many times have you been watching something and they say or do something and you miss it? Now all you have to do is rewind it and not miss a thing.

The TV Guide system is great resource too. When you first power up the unit, it will scan your antenna or cablecard for all the channels you can receive, but you will need to turn the unit off overnight at least for the guide info to work. The only thing I didn't like was having to turn off the channels it left on so they wouldn't show up in the Guide. It won't leave all of the needless channels on but enough to where you will won't them off so when you use the guide you aren't scrolling through useless channels. You will also won't to change the order of the channels. I don't know why it puts them in a screwy order, such as maybe having channel 9 before 3. It's a fairly simple process to fix though.

So to make a long story short, if you have inputs on your TV to hook other stuff up to, you will be good to go. Do yourself a favor and upgrade the HDMI cable (if you have an HDMI input on the TV) they include with the unit. I bought a Monster cable. Well worth the expense when trying to preserve every last ounce of picture quality, as this is the reason we all want HDTV in the first place. If you've ever used TIVO you might not like the Guide. I've read it doesn't have as many features. I've never used TIVO so the Guide is very nice for me. One thing is for sure, it's free and TIVO isn't.

Good luck and if you have any questions, just ask. I'll be glad to help where I can.

Well, I'm still working through a few technical difficulties, but I think it is going to all sort itself out.

The biggest concern right now is that ABC came in great when I first set up on Tuesday, but yesterday it just stopped coming in at all ("No Signal"). I hadn't moved or adjusted any of the equipment, so I was at a complete loss to explain it. Well, I tried moving the antenna around a bunch and tried various different things, then I actually got it back this morning (by putting the antenna on the floor, of all things). I am still making slight adjustments to the antenna as it sometimes breaks up, but I think I have it pretty much solved temporarily, at least until after the Super Bowl. At some point I will invest in a good outdoor antenna to put in my attic, but right now, my old rabbit ears from Radio Shack is working.

The TV Guide isn't going yet. It worked as soon as I did the Auto Setup, but hadn't downloaded the programming yet (of course). The next night I tried to access it and nothing happened, except that I couldn't change the channel anymore. If I turned off the device, then turned it on, the remote worked again, except the same thing would happen every time I hit the TV Guide button. I called Sony tech support this morning and they said it is probably because it is still in the process of downloading the programming. I am a little skeptical, given that it has been 4 days now, but I'm going to wait until after the game tomorrow before trying it out any farther. If it still isn't working at that point, I may reset the unit, give it a day or so and see if that fixes it.

So far I am impressed with the picture quality and was pleasantly surprised at first that ABC came in so well given that the analog signal (used prior to getting the HD receiver) was such a poor signal.

Mike, you mentioned replacing the HMDI cable that Sony ships. Is that because it isn't high quality? (I have to use the HMDI to DVI adaptor.)
To me it sounds like some of your problems may be in your antenna. Just a guess on my part though. In order for the guide to download data you must have the unit off at least overnight, every night. You also must have the SD channels present in your channel list. There is one SD channel it uses to do this. I have all my SD channels listed but never watch any of them for this purpose but only watch HD channels. I haven't tried to figure out which channel it uses.

Talking with the folks at Bestbuy they said the cables that come with any electronic equipment is, in their terms, throwaway. It's a fact the new Monster cable I bought is three times bigger in diameter and it cost $149.00. If cost has anything to do with it, it would have to be better. :) I would think the picture quality is in direct relation to cable quality.

From reading reviews online before buying, I came to the conclusion there is no rhyme or reason to how long it took for the guide to start working correctly. Some, like me, said it worked after being off overnight. Others said it took three for four days. I have also read where one person said it takes a week for everything to work properly. I can only assume this has something to do with where you are in the spectrum of things so to speak. I imagine it has everything to do with the broadcasting station.

Anyway, give it a chance to do it's thing even if it's a week or so. If after this long it's still not working right I would get a better antenna before giving up on it. I bet money if you do get it working right you will absolutely love this thing.

Oh, I haven't had the problem of it not changing channels. I did notice after recording a program the first time and going to the recordings list, highlighting the program and hitting play, it would do nothing. This is the way Sony has it wrote in the manual. I finally, after pressing different buttons, figured out that after highlighting, I needed to press the Select button in order to play a recording. I'm not sure if this is a glitch or just the way it is supposed to be. Whatever works I guess, as long as it works.

Keep me informed on how everything works out.

Well, I would like to urge anyone who purchases one of these to just have a little patience. It took three days to get the TV Guide to gather all its information. Up until it did, a number of functions didn't work, such as playing back recordings. Once it did, everything worked fine.

Now I am really happy with the system. I need to buy a good antenna because I am now using a cheap radioshack indoor UHF antenna. It works fairly well, but I think an antenna in the attic would be even better (I have one channel that can pixelate or freeze for a second or two every once in a while).

I haven't had it long enough to test recording scheduled shows (consistency and quality), but everything else is working as well or better than I expected.
Sounds good. Glad you like it. I really like mine. The picture quality of a recorded HDTV program off the antenna is fantastic.

Anyway, the reason I replied to this post again is to correct something I said in an earlier post of mine. I said it would record satellite TV on channel 4. Well, I was wrong. This unit will only record OTA and cable. I made this statement on an incorrect assumption of mine, which I seem to do sometimes. The reason behind my assumption was simple. I had my Direct TV receiver hooked up to the cable coaxial input on the DVR. I could then tune the DVR to channel 4 and watch satellite. Since I had not tried to record satellite, I only assumed it would also record. I tried to record satellite the other day and in essence it recorded OTA channel 4, which I can't receive. I tried everything I could think of to make this work to no avail.

So to sum this up. This unit will only record OTA (antenna) and cable, not satellite TV, but this is stated by Sony, clearly. I read somewhere on the net in my search to make it work that TV Guide is working on a new guide that will indeed work with satellite. I don't believe it will work with older units though, only the newly incorporated units. I guess it's a wait and see type of deal. Anyway, I still love this unit. To me, it was worth the price just to be able to record HDTV and not have to pay a fee for it.

I've been looking for folks talking about this very subject so I think I've come to the right place.

I'm a non-cable subscriber wanting to pull in the major networks in HD over the air. And I'd like a DVR without having to pay for a service for it. So I bought the Sony DHG-HDD250 at Best Buy a few days ago for $500 (not even close to the deal you got swervin!). After 24 hours the listings were populated, defintely quicker than the 3 days I've heard from some. For the most part it's pretty neat to have most of the functionality of TIVO without paying for the service (minus the TIVO benefit of "learning" what I like to watch).

The LG LST-3410A is on sale at Circuit City for just over $400 and it's just about the same as the Sony except that it only has 120 hours space as opposed to 250 hours. I may go and get that one and try them out side by side before deciding on one or the other. Both have a non-subscription programming service.

As others have mentioned, I also wonder why there aren't more options like the Sony and the LG models (and both of those are discontinued). Hopefully, even with all tv's having build-in tuners in the future, there will still be options for non-cable tv subscribers to have a DVR without paying for a TIVO-like service.

I did, however, see that TIVO is running a sale on their Series 2's and for $370 you can have the box with the lifetime agreement ($70 for the box and $300 for the lifetime agreement). So it would actually be a cheaper option than the Sony or the LG but it's not an "HD" DVR and it only has 80 hours of space.

But to stay on the thread's topic, I really like the DVR idea. And I really like not having cable tv and I really like the idea of having a DVR without having to pay for a service for it. Unfortunately, this thread was obviously started because of the lack of options for folks like me and the best options that seem to be out there are discontinued models! What other options are there? Are there "more basic" DVR's where the only thing you can do is say "record channel 3 from 9 to 10pm" and that's it?


Since it's not the main purpose of this thread, I'll add my comments on the Sony DHG-HDD250 here at the bottom of my post if anyone's interested.

First, do all of your channels show up in the listing guide? I have a lot of my stations not showing up in there. For example, PBS analog shows up but PBS HD does not and the two stations lineups are very different in our area. I've tried to add them but they aren't even in the larger (300+ station) listing that seems to have every station from here to Tim Buk Tu.

Second, when I'm in the listings, is it supposed to actually change the station as you scroll down the list? It would be nicer if I could peruse the list without the station constantly changing.

Lastly, during playback it would be nice if you could "drag" the playback to any point in the program quicker than simply fast-forwarding at the highest speed.

I did notice one time that everything froze up (as someone said previously) and I had to unplug the unit to fix it. Even if I turned it off using the power button, when I turned it back on it was still frozen.
This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 16 Feb 2006 @ 12:08
Since I didn't want to pay for Tivo and wanted to record HDTV OTA, I decided to go with the Sony. Have not regretted in any way either. I love it. Records as good of quality as watching it live. I'm sort of bummed out about not being able to record Direct TV but I solved that with a cheap LiteOn DVD recorder. I investigated all the options of non Tivo HDTV recording and this is all I found. I have no idea why they discontinued them though. We have to remember we are dealing with Sony. :)

As to your problem of the little preview box changing while scrolling through the listings, this can be changed. It is an option to do it either way you like. Simply press the TV Guide button then highlight Listings up top. Press on Menu and change from unlocked to locked in the video area on the left.

To the dragging to a later point instead of fast forwarding, just use the next button at the bottom of the remote. You can change the amount of advance it uses. Press on Menu, Preferences, Recording, Advance Time. You have options of 2, 5, 15, 30, 60 and 300 seconds. I've got mine set to 60 seconds to help with commercials.

@ swervin
If you don't mine saying, what lite-on dvd recorder did you buy and does it have a hd?
Thanks for the pointers on using the Sony DHG-HDD250 DVR! Both fixes worked perfectly and make using the DVR more enjoyable. I think I will still try the LG LST-3410A from Circuit City for comparison.

What do you think about the DVR not showing all the stations in the program listing? Actually, of the 14 digital stations that I pull in, only 2 of them show up in the listing (note: I've already tried and failed to find them in the larger list where you add them from). Is it the fault of the DVR or the fault of the station not broadcasting the information correctly? So ultimately, if I want to record a show on one of the missing digital channels I have to know previously what time the show is on, then tune to the station, press record, and set the recording up manually. And of course, the title of the show is "Unknown" so I have to play it to remember what it was. And like I was saying before, on channels where the digital tv lineup is different than the analog, I can't even use the analog listing to see what time the shows are on. My PBS HD is a perfect example of this (since it's lineup is very different than it's analog counterpart) so I have to use the old fashion newspaper tv guide to see the lineup.

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 17 Feb 2006 @ 7:34

I bought the LiteOn LVW-1107HC1, which I think is the same unit as the 1105C. From what I have read the 1107HC1 is a Bestbuy exclusive. So far I'm very happy with it. They had them on sale last week, through the 11th, for 99.99. I had some of the gift card from my DVR purchase left and ended up getting it for 69.00. It's a very simple DVD recorder with no hard drive. I just wanted something so I could record onto DVD.


only thing I can think of would be maybe the antenna or broadcast station. I'm guessing if your antenna didn't pick up weak signals very good, it might be hard to get the guide info also. I have read everything I could find on this unit. I seen a lot of folks complaining about this before. I'm pretty sure a lot of the trouble is the broadcasting station maybe not being up to date or something.

As a side note, I have some digital stations I can pick up on my Sony TV but the guide doesn't list them. A few of them are PBS channels. It's very possible TV Guide themselves are not doing something right. This is a fairly new free service and I think they are working on improving it down the road. I've even read they will probably get it to work with satellite in the near future but it will most likely work on new units only. Bummer for sure.
Thanks for the info, swervin
sorry, didn't mean to horn in. thanks again
You can buy a unit from Toshiba :

It comes with Tivo Basic, which means you do not have to pay the $12.00 per month fee. It costs more up front, but you get a DVD player to watch movies and a burner to make hard copies of what you have "taped".
gwkimball Suspended due non-functional email address
I got a ReplayTV a while ago, didn't install it right away. When I got to it (more than 30 days), it would not control my satellite box (locked up the echostar). So after a lot of time trying to debug -- the phone service was not helpful as I quickly knew much more about the problem than they did - I gave up and got a Dish dvr (the prices are really pretty reasonable. $31 for basic, $6 for listing service, $15 for about 15 channels of HD).
BUT ReplayTV would not take the unit back - I told them that it was design-defective, but over 30 days, no dice. Now I find out I can't even use the damn thing as a stand alone dvr - it does not work without the listing service. I have not called yet and asked if it can reprogrammed (I'm sure it can), but what a bunch of a**holes. They have the nerve to sell you something for $300, refuse to make it work, refuse to take it back, and will likely refuse to tell me how to use it by itself. Unreal! This is the worst buying experience I have ever had.
Does anyone know how to get it to work just for OTA and as a storage unit for video material?

I'm still fuming. Do not give these boneheads your business. I've had Dish for years, don't have single complaint. You can get a free new-account DVR from them -- do that.
i have a subscription scientific atlanta 8000 sd pvr and pay 12.95 a month for this. But if i buy the HDD250 will i be able to record programs from a regular digital terminal? i have an HDTV aswell with an hd reciever. if i hook the HDD250 in its place, will i still recieve hd programming? im a newbie to this so any help would be appreciated
I have my Sony HDD250 hooked up to my OTA rooftop antenna. I have always been able to receive HDTV with the antenna with my Sony TV. The HDD250 is the best thing I have bought electronic in a very long time. I love being able to time shift my busy life. The only reason I bought it in the first place was to be able to record HDTV. Since getting my HDTV I can't stand to watch anything in standard def any longer. I am totally spoiled. Of course all programming is not HD now but about all primetime is. Also a great amount of sports and other stuff is.

If you have a great many hours to spend reading posts about the 250 or 500 check out this link. It will have questions and answers to just about anything you can think of. I read it every day to see what's going on.

On a side note and knock on wood, I've had absolutely zero trouble with mine and would but it again in a New York minute.

I have been really happy with my Sony HDD250. One problem I have been having (and haven't been able to figure out how to fix), though is with the screen mode. I have a 4:3 HD TV and every time I turn on the TV and receiver, the screen comes up squished (as if it thinks it is a 16:9 TV and the programming is in 4:3). If I hit the SCREEN MODE button twice, it switches to EXPANDED and the image is fine. But as soon as I change channels, it reverts to the squished view.

I have gone into the Preferences and repeatedly set the High Def to High Def setting to EXPANDED. But it reverts itself to Standard when I change the channel or turn it off then back on.

Any thoughts as to why this is happening and how to get it to stick?

does it have two tuners or one because i want to record more than 1 show at a time.

Intel C2D E8400|Asus P5Q Pro|Diamond Radeon HD 4850|WD 640GB SATA 2| Pioner DVR-215BK|2GB Corsair PC 6400| Corsair HX-520|Antec Three Hundred
The Sony HDD250 and 500 have only 1 receiver. I was looking for a 2 receiver product when I was searching a few months back. I had no luck finding one where I could get a free programming guide and only OTA (no cable or satelite service). Maybe there is one out there, but I couldn't find it.

have you tried menu > preferences > screen > screen mode > High Def to Standard Def > Side Crop. According to the manual on page 76, side crop removes the bars on top and bottom and fills the screen of a 4:3 output. It also removes some of the video on each side as would be expected.

I forgot to add that the Expanded screen mode is only temporary, once again according to the manual.

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 01 May 2006 @ 17:12
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