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TiVo Buying Guide - Which TiVo Do you Need?

TiVo / DVR Buying Guide
Copyright (c) 2001-2013. WeaKnees.com. All Rights Reserved.

If you are new to TiVo, or even if you are not, choosing the right unit is really quite straightforward. There are a few basic choices and these guidelines should help you purchase the correct unit.

This guide will help you answer the following questions (among others):

Which TiVo is right for me? What are the differences between the various TiVo models?

Once I decide what model I want, how many hours should I get?

Choosing the Right Model: Current Models vs. Older Models

The chart below shows current TiVo models

Model Description



Built-in DIRECTV

Built-in DVD Recorder/ Player

No. of Recording Quality Options


Number of Tuners

TiVo Basic Available

TiVo Premiere and TiVo Premiere XL TCD746320
TiVo No No 1 (HD)
4 (SD)
Yes 2 No
TiVo Premiere 4 TCD750500 TiVo No No 1 (HD)
1 (SD)
Yes 4 No
TiVo Premiere Elite TCD758250 TiVo No No 1 (HD)
1 (SD)
Yes 4 No

The chart below shows TiVo Series 2 and Series 3 models, some of which are still available from weaKnees (from time to time), but are no longer manufactured. Many of these units come from weaKnees with TiVo Lifetime Service already paid. Others have DIRECTV built in and are only available from weaKnees. We have not listed the Series 1 model TiVos, but those can be great units in the right situation. Diving, swim, golf and other coaches love Series 1 TiVo units and use them to play back athletic practices. We keep a supply of Series1 TiVos for that purpose, so contact us.

Model Description



Built-in DIRECTV

Built-in DVD Recorder/ Player

No. of Recording Quality Options

Home Media Feature (networking) Available

Dual Tuners

TiVo Basic Available

Standalone Series2 TiVo (Standard Definition--SD)










Standalone Series2 TiVo (SD) TCD649080
TiVo No No 4 Yes Yes* No

Standalone Series2 TiVo (SD)









Standalone Series2 TiVo (SD)









Standalone Series2 TiVo (SD)























DIRECTV DVR with TiVo (High Definition--HD) HR10-250 DIRECTV Yes No 1 No Yes No
Standalone Series3 TiVo (HD) TCD648250 TiVo No No

1 (HD)
4 (SD)

Yes Yes No
Standalone TiVo HD and TiVo HD XL TCD652160
TiVo No No

1 (HD)
4 (SD)

Yes Yes No
TiVo Premiere and TiVo Premiere XL
TiVo No No 1 (HD)
4 (SD)
Yes Yes No

*Does not support recording from two digital cable or satellite channels at once. Supports recording from cable and satellite sources only; does not support recording from over-the-air antenna.


Choosing the Right Model: Content Source

The initial questions that must be answered when choosing a DVR generally, or TiVo specifically are: (a) would you like (or want to spend the money to have) your DVR record in High Definition (HD) and/or Standard Definition (SD), and (b) are you planning to connect the DVR to cable, satellite and/or an off-air antenna? For assistance, see the chart below.





Off-Air Antenna Only DIRECTV and Off-Air

Cable and Off-Air

HD and SD



SD Only

See Comparison Guide, below.

All off-air signals are digital (HD), so a TiVo-compatible digital converter box is required along with a compatible TiVo:



All off-air signals are digital (HD), so a TiVo-compatible digital converter box is required along with a compatible TiVo:


DVR Features and Availability



TiVo DVRs1 for Cable/Antenna


Number of Tuners

The ability to record one (or more) channel while watching another channel. The ability to record two (or more) shows at the same time, on different channels.

All standard definition TiVo DVRs for cable, with the exception of the TCD649080/TCD649180 have only a single tuner.

All High Definition TiVo DVRs for cable (TCD648250, TCD652160, TCD658000, TCD746320 and TCD748000) offer dual tuners. The TCD758250--the TiVo Premiere Elite--is a four-tuner DVR.

The TCD649080/180 (Dual-Tuner) do not support recording from two digital cable or satellite channels at once. You can, however, record one digital station and one analog (non-scrambled) channel or two analog (non-scrambled) channels. You cannot record off-air signals with the TCD649080/180.

The TCD648250 (Series3), TCD652160/658000 (TiVo HD) and TCD746320/TCD748000 (TiVo Premiere/XL) will record two off air stations or two cable stations. To record two HD stations or two digital stations, you would need a CableCARD (or two cards, in the case of the TCD648250), available from your cable company.

The TiVo Premiere 4 (TCD750500) and Premiere XL4 (TCD758250) record 4 digital cable stations at once and require a single CableCARD from your cable company.

ALL DIRECTV DVRs offer this feature.

The standard definition DIRECTV TiVo DVRs will record two shows at once provided there are two lines from the satellite connected to the back of the DVR.

The DIRECTV THR22 HD DVR will also record two shows at once and can do so with either two lines from a non-SWM system, or one line from a SWM.

DIRECTV's own line of DVRs--the HR20, HR21, HR22, HR23 and HR24--all can record two shows simultaneously with either two lines from a non-SWM system, or one line from a SWM.

The DIRECTV Home Media Center HR34/HR44 DVR has the ability to record 5 channels simultaneously, provided it is connected to a SWM network.

Picture Quality

The degradation, if any, of the picture quality when connecting a cable box/satellite box to a TiVo.

This is a factor only if you are using a standard definition TiVo with cable or antenna.

Series 2 Standalone TiVos: No matter what the input source (whether digital cable, analog cable, digital satellite or over-the-air antenna), the TiVo will receive an analog signal and then convert that signal into digital. When converting from analog to digital, you will have the ability to tell the TiVo how much to compress the picture. With standalone TiVos, there are FOUR recording options, and each one offers a progressively better picture. Although the highest recording quality generally looks pretty close to the picture quality you'll see without a TiVo, there will be some (although in most cases not a noticeable) difference between the TiVo's quality and the quality without the TiVo.

Series 3/4 Standalone TiVo, TiVo HD and TiVo Premiere: These units, like the DIRECTV DVRs, will record a digital signal provided that it is being fed a digital signal (via an off air antenna feeding HD, or via a signal from your cable company).

This is a factor only if you use a standard definition, standalone TiVo with a separate DIRECTV receiver. If you are using any DIRECTV DVR (which has the DVR functionality and a DIRECTV access card in one unit), then this is not a factor, as the unit records the digital DIRECTV signal directly to the DVR's hard drive.

The same is true for the entire line of DIRECTV DVRs, with or without the TiVo operating system.

We are often asked whether the picture quality on two different DIRECTV DVRs (eg. the HR24 vs the HR34/HR44 or the HR21 Pro vs the HR24) are different. As a general rule, the answer is no. DIRECTV sends its signal through the air digitally (as a series of 0s and 1s). That digital signal is written to the hard drive and then is digitally transmitted to your TV (if you use HDMI). For the vast majority of users, picture quality should not be a factor when deciding between two different DVR models from DIRECTV.

In addition, all new DIRECTV DVR models now can process 1080p and 3D signals.


Ability to program a DVR from the web or a mobile device. Ability to download/stream Internet content to your DVR. Ability to share content between/among DVRs in your home. Ability to watch content from a home computer on your DVR.

The TiVo Premiere Series 4 line of DVRs (TiVo Premiere, TiVo Premiere XL and TiVo Premiere Elite) have the broadest networking features. These units will allow you to stream content from Netflix, Amazon (but not free Amazon Prime content), Hulu, Hulu Plus, You Tube, Blockbuster On Demand and many other sources.

The older Series3 TiVo DVRs (Original Series3 TCD648250/TCD648250B, TiVoHD TCD652160, and TiVoHD XL TCD658000) can stream most of the same content as the TiVo Premiere line, but cannot get Hulu Plus.

In addition, subject to copyright restrictions, Series 3 and Series 4 TiVo DVRs allow you to move digital files from your TiVo to a PC or Mac using the free TiVo Desktop software. By upgrading to the TiVo Desktop Plus software, you can convert the files into formats that can be loaded onto mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, etc.).

Finally, TiVo's iPad, iPhone and Android App will work on all HD TiVos that are networked, but it will not work on any standard definition (Series1 / Series2) TiVo.

Series2 units can also be networked and, like the HD TiVos, will get program guide data via the Internet. The Series2 units cannot get Netflix or Hulu, but can get Amazon and Blockbuster On Demand (in standard definition, of course). Series2 units, along with the HD TiVos, can access streaming music services and your own music (and photo) library from a PC/Mac.

See our TiVo Network help pages for information on needed components.

DIRECTV's HD DVRs (HR20, HR21, HR22, HR23, HR24, HR34/HR44, HR21 Pro) can all be connected to the Internet and can get some content that way, but not nearly the same content as the HD TiVo. For example, DIRECTV has large On Demand library and the DIRECTV HD DVRs (HR20, HR21, HR22, HR23, HR24, HR34/HR44, HR21 Pro) all have access to that content when connected to the Internet, but these DVRs cannot access the third-party content streaming companies' content (such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon).

The THR22 TiVo DVR cannot access the online content from DIRECTV even when connected to the Internet.

All HD DVRs from DIRECTV can be networked using a hard-wire Ethernet cable from a router or through a SWM network. Connecting your DVRs through a SWM network is definitely the preferable way of networking, because it allows you to take advantage of DIRECTV's Whole Home DVR service.

The standard definition TiVo DVRs with DIRECTV (Directivo units) have no networking capability out of the box, although there is a software product called PTVNet for standard definition DIRECTV TiVos that will open up networking ports on standard def DIRECTV DVRs.

Archiving content to PCs

Ability to move recordings from your TiVo to a PC or Mac, in order to watch, edit and/or burn to DVD

A feature available with all Series 2 and HD standalone units, "TiVo to Go," permits standalone units to move content from the TiVo to a PC. For more information, please visit TiVo's website.

The ability to move content is always subject to copyright restrictions put in place by the content provider. Some shows may be coded to prevent transfers to a PC.

Moving digital files from a DIRECTV DVR to a PC is not currently possible. However, DIRECTV DVR users can record programming in real time using a video capture card connected to a PC.

Saving programs to DVD

Ability to archive shows from a TiVo to a DVD, without a PC

Saving to DVD is possible with the standalone TiVos with built-in DVD recorders. Alternatively, standalone DVD recorders can be connected to standalone TiVos for DVD archiving (in real time). For more information, see http://www.weaknees.com/burner_faq.php.

There are no HD units that also have DVD burners, nor do we expect any to be produced.

DIRECTV DVRs do not come with built-in DVD recorders, but it is possible to connect a standalone recorder to a DIRECTV DVR to record shows in real time (just as you would tape a program to VCR from a TiVo).

Cost of Service

Once you purchase the hardware, how much the actual TiVo / DVR service will cost

Owners of standalone TiVos without the TiVo Basic option must purchase the TiVo service from TiVo. The fees vary depending on the model of receiver and whether the service is monthly or product lifetime service. TiVo Premiere, TiVo Premiere 4, TiVo Premiere XL and TiVo Premiere Elite/XL4 monthly service costs more than service for earlier-generation DVRs. If you have multiple TiVos in your home, each one must have service, but there is a discount for service on standalone TiVo DVRs after the first.

DIRECTV DVR owners must subscribe to the DVR service from DIRECTV. The DVR service costs $7 per month and covers all TiVos and/or DVRs on the same DIRECTV account. The DIRECTV HD TiVo THR22 ALSO incurs a $5/mo charge for the TiVo service, which covers all THR22s in your house.

Phone Line

Need to have the TiVo connected to a phone line

Standalone units must be connected to either a phone line or a broadband computer network to function. All television guide data comes from the phone line or broadband connection.

The TiVo Premiere line does not have a phone jack and requires a network or a USB to modem adapter. The TiVo Premiere 4 and TiVo Premiere XL4 require a broadband connection and cannot take a phone line. The USB to modem adapter does not work with these 4-tuner TiVo units.

DIRECTV DVRs without TiVo can be connected via broadband or phone. While it is strongly recommended that they be connected in some way (phone or network), it is not required.

The THR22 HD TiVo can also be connected with either phone or through a broadband network.

Standard definition DIRECTV TiVo DVRs must be connected to a phone line when set up initially, and should be connected thereafter. Technically, if these units are not connected to a phone line after initial setup, they will function, but nag screens will pop up reminding the user to dial in. Units that do not dial in will not get software updates. All television guide data comes from the satellite.

Changing Channels

Means by which the TiVo communicates with the cable box/satellite box

Standalone Series 2 TiVos that are connected to a cable box generally use an infrared "blaster" cable, which sends the remote control frequencies to the cable box. Using these cables generally results in a slight (1-2 second) delay when changing channels. Some cable boxes can use a direct serial cable connection, which is much faster. For more information, see our FAQ entry here: http://www.weaknees.com/stb.php. If you have a standalone TiVo and DIRECTV, then only certain DIRECTV receivers are compatible with the serial connection.

HD Standalone TiVos cannot use a cable box at all. They must use CableCARDs for encrypted cable shows.

DIRECTV DVRs contain the satellite receiver and TiVo in one box. Changing channels requires no additional cabling. It is fast and easy.

Compatibility with cable boxes and satellite boxes

TiVo's ability to control a specific cable box or satellite box

Almost all cable boxes and satellite boxes are compatible with TiVo. However, some are not. For a complete listing, see the FAQ entry here.

Again, no HD TiVos can use a cable box - see above.

Because the DVR and DIRECTV receiver are in one box, compatibility is not an issue.

Compatibility with cable/satellite systems

TiVo's ability to work with your satellite/cable provider

Standalone TiVos work with cable providers throughout the US, some US territories and Canada. Standalone Series 2 TiVos are also compatible with DIRECTV and DISH Network, although you should refer to the link above for compatibility with specific boxes.

HD TiVos work with cable, Verizon FiOS and off-air antenna only. HD TiVos do not work with U-Verse.

DIRECTV DVRs work only with DIRECTV. However, DIRECTV's HD DVRs will also receive signals from an off-air antenna, although most require an additional piece of equipment, the AM21.

Compatibility with high definition

TiVo's ability to record and display high definition signals

Standalone Series 2 TiVos do not work with high definition.

The standalone Series 3 TiVo, TiVo HD and TiVo Premiere line of TiVos do work with high definition.

DIRECTV has a line of DVRs that receive, record and display HD. That line started with the HR20, through the HR24. All of the HR20-HR24 DVRs have two tuners. The HR34/HR44 has 5. These DVRs lack the TiVo operating system and use DIRECTV's own internally-developed OS.

The THR22 is DIRECTV's HD TiVo.

The older HR10-250 HD TiVo no longer receives HD signals from the satellite, but still can pull in HD from an off-air tuner.

NOTES from Chart Above

1. For cable systems, we consider only at DVRs made by TiVo. DVRs provided by cable companies vary tremendously from city to city (and cable company to cable company), so it's impossible to analyze those features. As a general rule, our customers tend to dislike generic cable company DVRs and prefer the feature-rich TiVo-brand.
2. For DIRECTV, we consider both the line of HD DVRs from DIRECTV (HR2X, HR3X, etc.) as well as DIRECTV DVRs with TiVo.

Buying Advice: Which TiVo should you Buy?

This is a tough question, depending in large part on the answer to the questions above (DIRECTV vs cable? Standard vs High Definition?). Here is a summary of your options:

  Standard Definition High Definition
Cable Your main choices are: Dual-tuner TiVo without a DVD recorder, or a Humax TiVo with a DVD recorder (see http://www.weaknees.com/burner_faq.php). We also have a supply of refurbished Series 1 and Series2 units with pre-paid product lifetime TiVo service. In a nutshell, all units are eligible for lifetime service. The burner units do a great job burning DVDs for viewing elsewhere (laptop, other TV, sending to friends). However, they do not have dual tuners.

The TiVo Premiere and TiVo Premiere XL units have dual-tuners and work with cable, FiOS and off-air antenna signals. The XL is THX certified and comes with a learning, backlit remote. Given the premium charged for the XL, we typically recommend the standard Premiere with a drive upgrade if you are looking for a two-tuner unit.

The TiVo Premiere Elite is a terrific unit that records up to 4 shows simultaneously. It works with digital cable only.


Just about any standard definition DIRECTV DVR will work equally well. WeaKnees has units in stock. If you do not have a high definition TV, then these standard def TiVos are a great choice.

The other option is to get an HD DVR from DIRECTV, which will also play back in standard definition. However, if you activate an HD DVR, DIRECTV will require you to pay for the HD service. If you get an HD TiVo (THR22), you'll also have to pay $5/mo for the TiVo service--a charge that is not incurred with the standard definition DIRECTV TiVo DVRs.

We find the standard definition DIRECTV TiVos still to be a compelling choice for customers who do not expect to move to HD in the near future.

DIRECTV has a line of DVRs that receive, record and display HD. That line started with the HR20, through the HR24. All of the HR20-HR24 DVRs have two tuners. The HR34/HR44 has 5. These DVRs lack the TiVo operating system and use DIRECTV's own internally-developed OS.

The THR22 is DIRECTV's HD TiVo.

The older HR10-250 HD TiVo no longer receives HD signals from the satellite, but still can pull in HD from an off-air tuner.

We recommend the DIRECTV HD DVR (non-TiVo) for customers who want cutting-edge DIRECTV technology and do not mind living without the TiVo operating system. The 5-tuner HR34/HR44 is a terrific choice, but requires a SWM system.

For those who truly love the TiVo operating system and its unique features (Wishlists, Suggestions, Swivel Search, Kids Zone, etc.), we recommend the THR22.

Buying Advice: How much capacity do you need?

We really don't have much useful advice here, as capacity is hugely dependent on your own viewing habits. Here are some things to consider:

  • How many people will be recording shows on your TiVo?
  • Will you be recording a good deal of high-action shows (sports, cartoons), which tend to take up more space?
  • If you will be purchasing a standalone TiVo, will you be connecting it to a large-screen television (if so, you will likely need to record programming at a higher recording quality, which will take up more recording space)?
  • Do you expect to use your TiVo to store movies, childrens' programming or other shows (if so, you might prefer more recording capacity)?

If purchasing a standalone non-HD TiVo, keep in mind that all capacity quotes (for example, 40 hours, 80 hours, 180 hours) are at Basic quality, which is the lowest recording quality. At the highest quality (Best quality), you will get about 1/3-1/4 as many hours.

If purchasing a DIRECTV DVR, your actual hours will depend on what you are recording, but you should expect to yield about 75%-90% of the total hours quoted. Where we quote a range of HD hours (eg. 280HD-480HD hours, you should expect about 80% of the high-end of the range.

When choosing capacity, keep in mind that if you purchase a unit that WeaKnees has upgraded, it is fairly cumbersome to add hours down to those units down the road. Thus, you might prefer to err on the side of more capacity.


Please feel free to email us with any questions.


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