Oh if only. But you know, it’s not going to happen. DIRECTV and other providers are not going to let you make pristine digital copies of the stuff on your DVR. They’re too afraid that you would put it up on (legal or illegal) file sharing sites after you took all the commercials out of it. Never mind that this happens already all the time, they’re not about to make it easier.
Even if you were to open your DVR (don’t) and connect the hard drive to your computer, you’d find the files are in an unplayable format. They’re encrypted and tied to your specific receiver in a way that, so far, hasn’t been hacked. This kind of encryption is what gives content providers the confidence they need to let you record stuff in the first place.
So the problem is, if you can’t store it permanently, and it’s not the sort of thing you’d be able to find on streaming, what are your options? You can actually do video capture, although you have to make some hard decisions. You can stream it in SD quality with a very inexpensive device or you can try to find something that will let you capture HD over a component output. The HDMI port is going to be useless for this purpose, because HD Content Protection (HDCP) won’t allow it. Capture devices that handle component are pretty rare as well. This basically leaves you with pointing your smartphone at the TV screen and shooting a movie. Obviously that’s not the first choice, but it may be your only choice.
Right now, this sort of technology is still too new for the law to know what to do. In theory you have the right to make copies of stuff for your fair use but if you do, you could also send them out to the rest of the world. So we have things like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows music and video to be encrypted in most cases. You could redistribute the encrypted file but you can’t decrypt it. The DMCA is an old law that was written long before most of today’s technology came into being and it desperately needs rewriting. However, it seems pretty unlikely with today’s logjam in Congress, so it’s what we’re stuck with.
The good news, and it’s probably the only good news here, is that more and more content is becoming available for streaming all the time. If the content provider has a streamed copy available, that will give you some peace of mind. It still won’t help you preserve the video of that time your 6-year-old was on local TV, but it’s something.