Justin Bernhaut

What You Should Care About

Electronic program guide (EPG): A digital video recorder (DVR) by itself isn't much smarter than a VCR. The magic is in its connection to an EPG, which lets you tell the player what you want it to find and record for you―say, every episode of Desperate Housewives or any movie with Al Pacino in it.

Recording HDTV: Any DVR records standard TV but not HDTV programming, which is scrambled. The easiest, most economical route: Rent a combination cable box and DVR from your cable provider, which will install and upgrade it.

What You Can Overlook

Storage capacity: Most DVRs have plenty of hard-drive space for recording standard-definition programs (80 hours is typical). HDTV requires much more space, but because you're generally limited to whatever box-DVR combo your cable provider is offering, there's no point in fretting over this.