What’s the difference between MRV and RVU?

This is a question I get about once a day. DIRECTV’s HR34 DVR uses a new technology called RVU, supposedly, but people who get HR34s can’t tell the difference. It’s easy to get confused.

MRV is the common name for DIRECTV’s Whole Home Service. It stands for “multi room viewing.” In MRV, you have a receiver in each room and at least one DVR. All the programs sit on the DVR so anytime you want to watch something you recorded, it’s really coming from the DVR. The only time you’re using the receiver in the room you’re in… is when you’re watching Live TV.

When you want to watch a program from your playlist, a request is sent to the DVR in another room. There’s some negotiation going on behind the scenes, because the DVR doesn’t want to give up its programs to just anyone. It wants to make sure the request is coming from a legitimate DIRECTV receiver. This is part of DIRECTV’s VideoGuard technology, which has yet to be hacked. VideoGuard makes the content providers feel good, like no one is going to take their programs for free, and makes DIRECTV feel good, because they are going to keep charging $7 or more per month for each room you want DIRECTV service in.

There’s also a bit of negotiation that goes on every so often where the whole system gets an authorization code from the satellite, to make sure all the receivers and DVRs have Whole Home service activated. You can’t just connect two receivers together and expect to get whole home, it doesn’t work like that. DIRECTV charges a monthly fee for the service and they will not activate it for free.

So, assuming all that behind-the-scenes business works right, the DVR starts sending the file to the receiver in the room you’re in. It’s like downloading a file off the internet. The receiver downloads the file and holds on to just enough of it to decode it and put it on your TV. When you fast forward, it downloads a little further along (it doesn’t download faster actually, just further along in the file.)

The key here is that the receiver is still doing a lot of work. It’s popping up the menus, decoding the file, gettting it ready for display, and putting in on your TV. It happens quickly and in most cases it “just works” so you don’t think about it.

RVU is the new technology baked into DIRECTV HR34 receivers. It’s still in the early stages, so DIRECTV also allows the HR34 to work with MRV. In fact, unless you have one of the 2011 or 2012 Samsung Smart TVs, you aren’t using your HR34 for RVU. That’s where the confusion comes from. A lot of people think that because they have an HR34 they have RVU when that isn’t true.

RVU is different. The goal of RVU is that the DVR does a lot more work and sends the video and audio, pretty much ready to go, straight to the TV. Instead of using VideoGuard, the information stream from the DVR to the TV uses industry standard security systems like the ones that you use for electronic banking. This means that DIRECTV should feel more comfortable letting more manufacturers have access to the RVU technology, because they don’t have to worry about VideoGuard being hacked.

With RVU, there isn’t a receiver in front of the TV. If you have an RVU TV like the Samsung, the network cable goes in to the TV and that’s all. There will probably be some sort of converter box that lets older TVs work with the system but it’s not out yet.

When you’re watching an RVU TV, you make requests with your remote and those requests get sent straight to the DVR. The DVR is the one putting menus on screen as well as decoding the audio and video. It puts everything together in a nice, easy-to-use package and sends it to the TV you’re watching in another room. This system isn’t without flaws though, as it seems like DIRECTV is having a rough time making the remote seem fast enough. This is probably because all the requests have to go through a wire to the other room. They’re working on it, though, and they will improve RVU as they have improved other things.

There’s one more important distinction. If you are in a room with a DIRECTV receiver, you can always watch live TV. The DVR in the other room has its tuners, which are used for live TV in that room and for recordings, and you can always use the tuner in your DIRECTV box for live TV. With RVU, all the tuners are in the DVR. That’s why the HR34 has five of them. You can be watching live TV in five rooms OR you can be recording up to five things. Each TV does not have the ability to watch live TV by itself. For most people this won’t make a difference — the most popular setup right now is a DVR in one room and three receivers in other rooms. That’s still only 5 tuners, same as the HR34.

On the other hand, with RVU, every TV has DVR function. With MRV, only the room with the DVR can pause live TV. That’s a big deal.

One more difference is that DIRECTV is moving full-steam ahead with RVU. It’s the future. In a few years, all DIRECTV installs will be RVU. It’s cheaper for them and gives DVR function in every room which most people want.

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 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.