Where's the DVR?

Where's the DVR? Come to think of it, where isn't the DVR?

Amazing but true, many TiVo and ReplayTV owners out there just see the devices as neat, little living-room boxes that record their television programs, and they simply don't care about the technology inside. Thanks to steady improvements in digital-video-recorder technology, consumers don't have to care if they don't want to. Not to be like that weirdo in the mask and spoil the magic trick, but there's a simple hard disk drive inside—in many cases, the same exact brand and model you have inside your PC. However, while computer-based "video capture" applications seem to have plateaued in terms of features and convenience (at least for now), the more user-friendly dedicated DVR hardware has undergone some interesting transformations, in and out of the home theater.

Samsung SIR-S4120R DirecTV Receiver/Digital Video Recorder with TiVo
Late to the game, Samsung has finally released their first DVR, an impressive DirecTV receiver with integrated TiVo recording, a 100-hour (120-gigabyte) hard drive, and an exceptionally sleek, slim form factor for a combination unit. After the initial run of 20,000 units was built in Mexico, the SIR-S4120R is now made in Korea, the Samsung motherland.

Connections are ample, if not stunning: one S-video out, twin sets of composite video/analog stereo outs, one digital optical audio out for any Dolby Digital signal that might accompany a movie, and a pair of USB 1.1 ports. All of the analog cabling is included—RCA, S-video, telephone, even a handy splitter for your phone line to accommodate the TiVo dial-up. The $4.99 monthly TiVo service fee applies but is automatically waived for subscribers to DirecTV's top-end Total Choice Premiere package.

Chief among the SIR-S4120R's features are its vast recording capacity—unique in the still-elite world of "DirecTiVos," as some fans refer to them—and the two DirecTV tuners that allow you to watch/record or record/record two different programs at the same time. Why would I ever want to do that? Well now, this is the most access I've ever had to DirecTV here at Rancho Chiarella. I hope I don't come off like one of those gushing "actual customer letters" read by Laurence, Danny, or Andy in the commercials, but I'm still reeling from the sheer quantity of channels available, many of which I'd never personally seen before. It's a thrill I haven't experienced since my first cable forays a quarter-century ago. My only not-really-a-complaint is in reference to the time it takes to surf them all.

Best of all, this abundant selection is a perfect complement to the super-sized hard drive and the pair of tuners. I invariably find myself drawn to VH1 Classic, recording on impulse a music video that I haven't seen since college, confident in the knowledge that I can still record any other program that strikes my or my wife's fancy. Deciding what to watch has become a happy challenge, but double the streams (two separate DirecTV feeds are required for full benefit) makes our choice half as difficult. Perceptible signal hiccups are rare, and the digital compression is modest and even forgivable in the DVD age.

The unobtrusive silver box offers more on its front panel than at first meets the eye, with a door to hide the access card and a subtle up/down/left/right disc surrounded by guide, DirecTV, live TV, info, and select buttons. There are also indicator lights for power and record, plus a standby button. (The unit never completely shuts off, but the soft, omnipresent fan noise isn't a real problem.) These on-unit buttons provide a generous measure of control, should the remote ever go missing, but this particular unified, ergonomic remote is colorful and remarkably uncluttered, a breeze to set up, and a real pleasure to use. The DirecTV and TiVo screens are standard fare, which (for those folks who are unfamiliar with these popular technologies) are largely icon-driven, distinctly stylized, and yet always clear and concise.

As far as the SIR-S4120R's timing is concerned, if Samsung's strategy was to hang back, observe, and apply what they learned in order to create an ideal television-watching companion, then I can only say that they've succeeded wonderfully.


• Plenty of space for all of your shows
• Two tuners and a great remote for stress-free TV

SIR-S4120R DirecTV Receiver/DVR with TiVo $499
Samsung Electronics America