How to Copy Shows From a DVR to a Computer

by Michelle CarvoUpdated September 18, 2017

If you’re upgrading from a current DVR device to a new model or are simply running out of space on your existing device, then you may want to copy shows from your DVR to a computer. Although many DVRs come with a USB port built in, shows cannot be copied from a DVR to a computer since the files are encrypted to help prevent piracy. There are a few other options for copying your shows from a DVR to a computer, however.

Third Party Capture Device

A third party video capture device allows you to transfer audio and video from a media device to your computer. These devices are commonly used to transfer audio and video from a VCR or camcorder but may also be used to copy recorded shows from your DVR to your computer.

To use a capture device to copy shows, plug the device into your computer and then plug an HDMI or component cable from your DVR box to the device. From there, use either the video capture device’s included software to record the played back show on your DVR, or use another video capture software. Note that you will need to play back each show you wish to copy in order to capture it on your computer, so this may take many hours to do.

Video Capture Card

A less expensive alternative to a third party capture device is a video capture card. This is typically installed on your computer either through the PCI-e slot or via USB port. The video capture card performs in essentially the same way as the third party capture device in that you must plug either an HDMI or a component cable from your DVR to your video capture card’s HDMI or component input. From there, play back each show you want to copy and use the card’s included software or an alternative software to capture the played-back video.

VCR Or DVD Recorder

An even less expensive, yet older, option to copy shows from a DVR to a computer is to use either a VCR or DVD recorder. These two options are typically cheaper than a third party capture device or card, but also usually result in a lower quality video transfer due to compression. Both also require an added step of either using a VCR-to-computer transfer device or copying the DVD’s recorded show files to your computer. The VCR or DVD recorder method is similar to the capture card or device in that you must play back each show you want to copy and use the VCR or DVD recorder to record what is being played back.


Do not share copied shows with others. The reason why shows cannot be easily copied from the DVR to your computer is because of piracy concerns by cable networks and your cable provider. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that VCRs could legally be used to record and play back shows and that these do not violate copyright laws unless the copied material is redistributed. This same rule applies to shows you capture from your DVR. Any shows you copy using a capture device can legally be played back by you but are illegal to give to others.


About the Author

Michelle Carvo has been writing professionally since 2006, contributing to a variety of websites. She is also a technical writer with extensive experience in Android/iPhone development and PC repair. Carvo holds a Bachelor of Science in computer information systems from the University of Michigan-Flint and works as an IT project manager.

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