The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #15: The DVR

When the Digital Video Recorder was introduced to the world in 1999, most of us would record TV shows for later viewing on VCR tapes. The term “tape it” was part of every person’s vocabulary. Yet even at that time, I think most of us had an innate belief that the experience of recording TV shows could have been better. Besides the relatively grainy quality of the recorded programs, the limited recording time and sequential nature of the VCR (which means that we had to watch shows in the order of recording or suffer through extended fast-forward or rewind sessions) made recording more than a few shows at a time frustrating and cumbersome. In addition, if we were watching live TV and missed something, we were basically out of luck.

The first generations of DVRs were not overly successful in the mainstream market. It took a fair amount of technical skill to configure the early TiVo models. They were primarily a toy for tech hobbyists. But once cable and satellite operators started to incorporate dual-tuner DVR technology into their receivers around the year 2003, the world quickly caught on. The ability to record many shows easily without fumbling with tapes, store a large number of episodes, access any stored episode almost instantly, and quickly skip commercials made the DVR one of the most popular tech devices of the last 15 years. However, perhaps the most important innovation that the DVR brought us was the ability to pause and rewind live TV. Most of us today could barely live without being able to pause our TV when we need to step away from the screen or quickly skip back on a TV show or sporting event. In fact, many teenagers today grew up never having experienced life without a DVR and the concept of not being able to pause or rewind live TV is completely alien to them.

The effect of the DVR on society also paved the way for streaming video services such as Netflix and Hulu. Once we became accustomed to recording our TV shows for later viewing and keeping a library of episodes handy, we started to lose patience with the old model of broadcast TV. We began pushing for on-demand video and with faster Internet speeds becoming more common, streaming video services started gaining traction. Ironically the emergence of streaming video services has started to downgrade the importance of the DVR in our lives, but as long as there is broadcast TV, there will be demand for DVRs.

How did the DVR impact your life? And do you still use one as much today or has streaming video taken over most of your on-demand video watching? Comment below!