How We (Re)Watch TV: VCRS to DVRs to Media Streaming

BY Allconnect Inc | Sat Dec 03, 2016
How We (Re)Watch TV: VCRS to DVRs to Media Streaming

Remember back when the VCR was our golden ticket to on-demand entertainment? When that magic little device first hit the mass market back in the 1970s, it allowed viewers like us to do something we’d never had the ability to do before – record video content and (re)watch it at our leisure.

But ever since then, video recording and playback technology has been steadily evolving. And now, with DVRs and streaming media players, we can our entertainment evermore our own. But if you’re not enjoying all this video glory – on your own schedule – then you’ll definitely want to get the skinny below.

Dawn of the DVR: Watch What You Want, When You Want

Near the dawn of the new millennium, engineers had improved upon the idea behind the VCR. They created what we now commonly call the DVR (digital video recorder). In contrast to VCRs, DVRs made “time shifting” more convenient. This vastly-improved power gave viewers the added functions of pausing live TV, instant replay, chasing playback (viewing a recording before it has been completed), and skipping over advertisements during playback. And the reason they could do all this came down to one big factor: the encoding and compression of video.

“As the movie and television industries increasingly merge, so does the technology that enables you to enjoy both of them at your leisure.”

Whereas VCRs would only record the broadcasted programming on a 1-to-1 rate, DVRs worked differently. VCRs limited you to watching your recording only once the whole program was recorded and the tape rewound. DVRs, however, would take the analog video and audio content, encode it into a digital format, compress it, and store it on a hard disk. And since DVRs operated more like a computer than a tape reel, viewers now had all these extra abilities at their fingertips.

Then in 2003, when DVRs evolved further to have Dual Tuner functionality, they became even more indispensable. Dual Tuner DVRs work by having two independent tuners within the same receiver. This gives viewers the capability to record one live program while watching a second one simultaneously. Or you have the power to record two programs at the same time, possibly while watching a previously recorded one. And from then on out, video recording capabilities have become an essential part of the modern set-top box. For viewers have come to expect – and demand – increasingly more control over what they want to watch and record.

Digital TV and Enjoying Your Fine-Tuned Viewing

Back in 2009, television made the great switch from an analog to a digital format. And this new technology afforded TV service providers a new opportunity. They had more fine-tuned control over what played when, which enabled viewers to make the most of their entertainment for themselves. And in the case of digital television, the DVR simply stores the digital stream directly to the hard drive, making for more (and better) built-in functionality.

For example, by having TV providers and broadcasters involved with in creation of their DVRs, they can develop and bake-in additional features. These include the ability to use interactive TV on recorded shows, the pre-loading of programs, and directly recording encrypted digital streams. On the downside, this can also force the manufacturer to implement non-skippable advertisements and automatically-expiring recordings.

Nevertheless, the emergence of digital TV DVRs allowed viewers all the amazing features mentioned above, as well as all of the following:

  • the ease of storage
  • advanced search tools and viewing wish lists
  • predictive viewing recommendations
  • programmable future recording (set and scheduled from anywhere in the world)
  • and the ability to watch your recorded shows on multiple devices, no matter where you are (via the provider’s own apps)

And as TV viewers grew to enjoy and demand these features for all of their shows, they started wanting them for their movies as well.

The Swell of Media Streamers

Back in the height of the video rental market, TV providers were losing out on a lot of money by not offering (much) on-demand movie content. So, they started offering Pay-Per-View and Video-On-Demand options that allowed viewers the convenience of enjoying a movie without having to leave the comfort of their homes. And as an added bonus, it also enabled folks to watch and enjoy “live” events from a world away – including boxing matches, wrestling matches, football games, concerts, and even stand-up comedy specials.

And now that the consumer demand is so great for both TV and movie content – as well as for the ability to enjoy both at will – media streamers have become a huge player in this arena. Some of the most popular and best-reviewed media streamers come from brands you already know and trust, such as:

  • Amazon Fire TV / Fire Stick
  • Apple TV
  • Google Chromecast
  • Roku
  • Slingbox
  • TiVo

And this isn’t even mentioning the streaming services (such as Netflix) themselves. (We’ll be covering and comparing these in a separate post soon).

In fact, these are becoming such popular and consumer-demanded items that some TV providers, such as AT&T, are giving away the streaming devices to go along with their streaming services. It’s similar to how cable TV companies such as Cox, Time Warner, Xfinity, and others have been offering free DVRs with their TV packages for years. And as the movie and television industries increasingly merge, so does the technology that enables you to enjoy both of them at your leisure. 

So the next time you’re researching TV providers for your home, be sure to let Allconnect help you find the ones that include DVRs and media streamers as part of their offers. Because fulfilling all your entertainment needs shouldn’t be a time-consuming and labor-intensive project. But you should be able to watch everything you want to watch – again and again.

Shop TV & cable plans

Stay in touch.

Subscribe to the Allconnect Resource Center for industry news, expert shopping tips, home technology guides, reports and more.