The history of DIRECTV DVRs part 1: Prehistory

It all began fourteen years ago. The DVR was an incredibly new concept at the time and DIRECTV was one of the first pay-TV providers to offer one. While DIRECTV’s DVRs are smooth, slick and powerful today, that wasn’t always the case. In this three-part series we’ll look at DIRECTV’s DVR efforts throughout the 2000s and 2010s until the present day and we’ll see the twists and turns along the way.

Before 2003, DIRECTV did not offer their own hardware. Most DIRECTV hardware was made by Thomson (now Technicolor) and marketed under the RCA brand. So, it was not surprising that the first DVR had some of the same RCA technology.

UltimateTV
The image above is one of the few on the internet showing the RCA/Microsoft UltimateTV DVR. At that time, Microsoft was also partnering with Thomson for internet-enabled boxes under the WebTV brand, and it made sense for Thomson to bring Microsoft and DIRECTV together. The UltimateTV DVR had two tuners for picture-in-picture all the way back in 2000 and gave 35 hours of recording capacity, plus the ability to surf the internet and get e-mail on your TV. This little box was known for being bulletproof and it was clearly far, far ahead of its time. People hung on to them for as long as possible and it was only the coming of HDTV that got people to move on.


2002-2006: The TiVo years
When DIRECTV wanted to really plunge into DVRs, they partnered with the leader: TiVo. The Sony SAT-T60 (above) was one of the first DIRECTV TiVo DVRs. Several other manufacturers joined in as well: Philips, Hughes, and eventually even DIRECTV started marketing their own branded DVR with TiVo.


This is the Hughes HDVR2, later known as the DIRECTV SDDVR40. It was designed when Hughes still owned DIRECTV, and when DIRECTV was spun off, it became a DIRECTV-branded receiver. It was one of the first TiVo DVRs to have dual tuners on the day it was released (other DIRECTV TiVos had this capability disabled at launch.)


The most significant DVR of the time was the DIRECTV R10. It offered 80-hour capacity and dual tuners with unique hardware that was designed to be hackproof. It also turned out to be one of the most reliable DIRECTV DVRs.


You’d be forgiven for thinking this was the HDVR2, but it was DIRECTV’s first HD DVR (and its last TiVo DVR until 2011), the HR10. The only visual difference was a resolution indicator on the front. This HD DVR clocked in at a cool $1,000 when new, and its 250GB hard drive gave you over 200 hours of SD or 25-30 hours of HD.


2005: Humble beginnings

Starting in 2003, DIRECTV brought all its product design in-house. Hardware still came from partners like Thomson, Hughes, Philips and Pace, but starting in 2003 the user interface on all receivers was exactly the same. This was a great benefit to customers but unfortunately it was a setback for the DVR program.

The DVR above was the DIRECTV R15, the first DVR with DIRECTV’s new software. The hardware itself was proprietary, unlike the TiVo DVRs, and many people felt at the time that the R15 was a real step back from the high standard set by the TiVos. It was not popular at launch and DIRECTV continued to offer the TiVo DVR well into 2006. The R15 evolved, however, and eventually became a solid workhorse, giving customers with SD service a high level of quality and polish.


The last DIRECTV standard definition DVR was the R16, which was smaller and sleeker than the R15 with support for DIRECTV’s SWM technology. It soldiered on until 2014 when DIRECTV finally stopped offering SD service to new residential subscribers.

In our next installment, we’ll discuss the HR20-series DIRECTV HD DVRs which helped DIRECTV dominate the pay-TV market in the late 2000s.