Now that DVRs have really hit critical mass, just about everyone and their brother makes one. But for the most part, people don't get to choose which one they use. Sure, you can select a provider just based on the DVR, but seriously, who does that? When it comes to reviewing such a device, we tend to focus on it in comparison to a TiVo or Windows Media Center, because in reality we think that is the decision that most are faced with. The following review is based on that perspective and is intended for someone with FiOS TV that is trying to find the best DVR solution.

FiOS HD DVR Review

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The Good
  • One click recording.
  • Can set default series settings -- first runs only, etc.
  • Keep until space is needed -- a must have feature that some DVRs don't.
  • You can see what is going to record by looking at the guide -- something TiVo is missing.
  • Conflict resolution popup is a nice touch.
  • Widgets with things like weather and traffic are cool and useful.
  • Channel up button works as the page up in the guide, which helps eliminate some keys on the remote.
  • Skip button skips days in the guide.
  • Can configure the amount of time to skip and replay, 10, 30, etc.
  • Can turn off video when viewing guide or menus -- but not easily.
  • Three views for guide, full screen, half or mini -- very nice
  • Ability to buy channels you don't subscribe to from within the guide.
  • Channels change fast for a HD DVR.
  • Disk size status page is useful -- another one TiVo doesn't do.
  • Online scheduling.

The Bad
  • No way to tell what will be deleted to make room for new recordings.
  • No history page to see why a show failed to record.
  • Guide won't wrap around, so if you are at channel 1 you can't wrap around to 1000.
  • When selecting a channel to add to favorites, it doesn't automatically go to the next channel, so you have to constantly hit down, select, etc.
  • Video preview in guide seems tacked on.
  • HD is not a category when searching.
  • No "keyword" record setting, like TiVo and Windows Media Center.
  • Remote has buttons that don't do anything like PIP and input.
  • Home Media feature requires software to be installed and is Windows only.

The Ugly
  • 4x3 guide, but support says you can use your TV's stretch mode, ha!
  • NO resolution pass-through, so everything is scaled to one resolution.
  • Channels you don't get, can't be removed from the guide and show up in search results.
  • Can't use multi-room streaming features to other DVRs, only to regular STBs. But you can watch HD in any room with the latest update (1.6).
  • 160GB HDD -- 18 hours of HD, really Verizon?
  • No external storage option -- eSATA, USB, etc.

Wrap-up

Overall, the FiOS DVR is one of our favorites when compared to the DVRs of other providers, but it really doesn't stand a chance against a HD TiVo or the latest version of Windows Media Center. That being said, there are a few reasons to go with it, with the biggest being the lack of upfront costs, and a close second being the extension selection of HD VOD. But we don't think this is enough to make us settle on a DVR missing so many important features.

The most annoying thing is that while the UI is pretty slick, it is really lame to use a 4x3 guide on a 16x9 HDTV. But this isn't the only thing missing visually, as there are also no cool animated transitions, thumbnails for recordings or movie box art (on recorded TV) like we've come to love on Windows Media Center. But so far we've only mentioned our superficial complaints; it's the core functionality of the device that is most lacking. The most glaring is the lack of resolution pass-through -- something Windows Media Center also cannot do. Sure, it's possible that this DVR has a better video scaler then some TVs, but wirh no native output option, there is almost no way to use it with an external scaler or HDTV with top-of-the-line components.

Of course, all of this could be overlooked, but the worst can't. Like many other providers, the FiOS DVR only has a 160GB hard disk. We can't even imagine only being able to record 18 hours of HD, but when you think of trying to record everything for an entire house, you can see how this would be nearly impossible. Sure, you could just rent more than one DVR, but the multi-room functionality only works with regular STBs, and not between DVRs. So if you want to have access to the same programming in every room, you're limited to two tuners and 18 hours of programming for an entire house -- pretty lame. huh?

So there you have it, the FiOS DVR is a perfectly acceptable DVR, but ultimately it doesn't compare to either of the solutions that TiVo or Microsoft offers. Of course, the good news is that it doesn't have a lofty price to match the competition either, and when compared to other carriers' offerings, it still manages to hold its own.

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