Celebrating 15 years of the DIRECTV HD DVR

Earl Bonovich

It was in August of 2006 that the world got its first user review of the modern DIRECTV high definition DVR. If you’re curious, much of that review is still accessible, minus a few photos and some flash video that won’t play anymore. You can find it here. Check it out, I’ll wait. Hard to believe that was 15 years ago.

A little prehistory

DIRECTV had its first HD DVR, the HR10, in 2004. I’m not saying it doesn’t count, but in the history of things, it ended up being a footnote. This handsome little receiver ran TiVo’s software with just enough customization to decode HD programming. It worked well, but didn’t fit in with the plans the company had revealed a year earlier. Every other DIRECTV box ran the same user interface, except for the TiVo. As such, it had to go.

DIRECTV’s first homegrown attempt at a DVR was this R15. It was the first to use DIRECTV’s user interface. Squint a little bit and you can see the future…

There was only one problem: DIRECTV’s engineers rushed the product out before it was ready. Unfortunately this gave the product a bad reputation from the start, especially compared with the outgoing TiVo products.

I snapped this picture at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show. The device was unlabeled and no one much wanted to talk about it. It was only much later that I realized what I was looking at.

When it all came together

The HR20 DVR was revealed in that review I pointed you to, in August of 2006. Although, it too was not completely ready for release. The original software was devoid of many features we take for granted today, like Dolby Digital. More importantly, it was super buggy. I mean SUPER buggy. So buggy that an entire usergroup of hundreds of people came together just to try to make the darn thing work.

Back then, it seemed like every moment was a crapshoot with this device. Pressing any button might work, or might just cause the device to go into a reboot cycle that took 20 minutes or more. It got better, though, and within about 9 months, thanks to that dedicated usergroup, what you had was a decent working device.

My own experience

It just so happens that in late August 2006 I was shopping at my local club store and saw a 37″ television for only $1,400. This was an incredible bargain at the time, and 37″ was a huge TV. I wasn’t planning on upgrading my DIRECTV system at the time, since I had a fairly new standard-definition TiVo. But I made the call, deciding it was time to upgrade

I didn’t ask if I would get the new DVR or the older HR10 TiVo. I was actually rooting for the TiVo, since I knew the user interface. But what came out from the warehouse was a brand new HR20. I was told it was the first one for dozens of miles.

I sweated with that box. I suffered with it. I shook with it. It was as finicky as a baby, probably the worst piece of consumer electronics I’d owned at that point. DIRECTV’s own help system wasn’t helpful back then. I can’t tell you how many times I was tempted to take it back and get the TiVo. But, seeking out others with the same problems gave me some insights. It also gave me some friends who I still have to this day, and set me on a career path as a blogger, which is how I find myself here.

Wow. Fifteen years. Pretty impressive, especially since you can draw a straight line between that original hardware and today’s DIRECTV boxes. Let’s hope we all have matured as much as that old DVR has, right?

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.