What Is the Difference Between DVR & DVD Recorders?

By Aaron Parson

DVD recorders write to standard format DVD discs.
i Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images

Digital video recorders and DVD recorders both provide a modern replacement for the VCR. By recording digitally, DVRs and DVD recorders provide a higher image quality than VHS tapes. On many systems of each type, users can also import the videos to a computer for editing or uploading to the Web. Though DVRs and DVD recorders have many similar features, some differences stand out between the two.


Digital video recorders write recorded video to an internal hard drive. The amount of video the DVR can store depends on the size of this hard drive. Because a DVR uses this built-in storage, DVRs do not provide the portability of a VHS or DVD. Some models, however, connect to a home network to allow transfer to a computer. DVD recorders store data on recordable discs, usually DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW, though some accept the DVD-RAM as well. Users can play any of these discs in a compatible DVD player or computer.


DVRs connect through the television signal and provide an onscreen guide for watching and recording TV. These guides can automatically find shows to record by name or time. DVD recorders work more like traditional VCRs with programmable recording times. Though they lack the interactivity of DVRs, DVD recorders also support non-TV inputs to record from cameras or video game consoles. DVD recorders also double as DVD players.


DVRs and DVD recorders come in a wide variety of models and costs. One major price difference exists however, as DVRs regularly require a monthly subscription, while DVD recorders do not. DVR providers charge this subscription, whether your DVR comes from your cable or satellite provider, or a third party. Some cable and satellite companies provide DVR hardware built in to their set-top boxes, negating the purchase price, but still charge more per month than for a non-DVR box.

Time Shifting

A major draw for DVRs, time shifting allows viewers to pause live TV and fast forward past ads. Older DVD recorders, functioning similarly to VCRs, did not offer this feature, only supporting either recording or playing at a time. Many new DVD recorders now support time shifting as well, though doing so requires using rewritable DVD-RW, DVD+RW or DVD-RAM discs in place of standard DVD-R or DVD+R media.


Picking whether to buy a DVR or DVD recorder depends on your needs. DVD recorders, despite the need to buy recordable discs, remain cheaper in the long run due to DVR subscription fees. DVDs also provide a much easier way to bring recorded video to other machines. DVRs, however, offer an intricate guide system and a large recording memory that never needs replacing. Both technologies offer a high-quality recording service, so the choice comes down to your individual preferences.