DVR to Computer

How To DVR to Computer: Record or Transfer Shows and Movies From a DVR to a Computer [2020 Edition]

Written by   (author of Obvious Conclusions)
DVR to Computer

DVR to Computer

In this how to DVR to computer post, we show you how to transfer shows and movies from your DVR to your computer. If you want to transfer your recorded DVR entertainment to your computer, this post is for you.

For those who are tech savvy and in a hurry, here is the quick 3-step solution on how to copy video from your DVR to your computer:

  1. Check the outputs on the back of your DVR:  HDMI, FireWire, Component?
  2. Buy and setup the appropriate video capture device in your computer to match these outputs.
  3. Play the video on your DVR & record it on your computer.

Now, let’s delve into the details so that we understand what is going on under the hood as we try to move information from the DVR to the computer.



Transfer DVR To Computer: Summary of the Challenge

In the past years, many of us have either purchased a DVR or had one bundled with our cable or satellite TV packages. These DVR devices have been amazing, allowing us to watch our favorite programs–and pause and rewind them–whenever we want! The whole DVR craze started with TiVo (check out the latest Tivo devices). In fact, like Google, TiVo has become a verb: “Did you TiVo that program?”

Though we now have options such as NetFlix and Amazon Prime (which both allow downloads to our local devices), we still always want to do more with what we have.

And so people began wondering, “Can I transfer my DVR shows and movies to my computer?” People may want to do this for various reasons. Many may want to clear up space on their DVR. Others may want to put all of their DVR recordings onto their laptops so that they can watch them wherever they like. Or, if you have recorded DVR shows on your computer, you may wish to upload them and share your favorite programs with friends.

Well, you are in luck. DVRs work a lot like your computer. At its most basic, a DVR is simply recording your television programs and movies onto a hard drive, which is exactly what your computer has inside of it. Thus, at its essence, when we look at transferring information from a DVR to a computer, we are simply copying a file from our DVR to our computer.

However, its not something that we can just easily pick up and move. It’s digital–so we need to connect our DVR to our computer and somehow transfer these TV and movie files from the DVR to the computer.

And this is what we are going to show you how to do today. So, if you are ready, let’s get started as we show you how to do this. So, the next time that you are asked, “How To Record A Show From DVR To A Computer?, you will be ready to provide the answer.

DVR to Computer: The Big Picture

Since a DVR has a hard drive, and a computer has a hard drive, we could ideally just connect the DVR and computer together with a USB or HDMI cable (just as we would with an external USB hard drive) and copy the shows and movies from the hard drive in our DVR to the hard drive in our computer as you see depicted in photo below:

copy from DVR to computer

If we could do this, we could be watching the DVR recorded shows on our computer instantly. But it is never an ideal world, is it?

There are a plethora of reasons that this direct DVR to PC copy process is not doable.  Here are the top 3:

  1. The DVR files are encrypted.  These companies do not want you to be able to easily copy DVR files to your PC and, essentially, remove them from the equation and decrease their chances of being able to make money off of you.
  2. Many DVRs do not have the USB/Firewire/HDMI connection to allow this process to take place. Even if the DVR has this type of connection, many manufacturers have disabled it.
  3. The file systems and video files used by the DVR manufacturers are usually in a Linux format, and often proprietary, making this direct copy extraordinarily difficult and incompatible with Windows and Mac environments.

So, what are we left with?

Well, you will read that some people actually take the hard drive out of the DVR and hook it up to their PC directly. This is possible but only if you are extremely technical and somewhat of a Linux operating system devotee. I do not recommend this as it will surely void any warranties you may have and, if you are leasing the equipment, you will probably end up paying them a large amount for violating some sort of agreement.

TiVo To Go: The One Exception

As the originators of the DVR concept, TiVo has upped their game and made transferring DVR contents to your computer extremely easy with the ability to download your TiVo content to your devices for offline play.

TiVo to Go allows you to use a product called the TiVo desktop to easily copy DVR programs to your computer. The way it works is this: Both your TiVo and your computer attach to your home wireless network. This TiVo desktop software then connects to your TiVo and allows you to choose what programs that you want to view on your PC. And, voila!, it’s that easy to watch your DVR contents on your computer.

TiVo is no dummy either. They have kept this solution proprietary so that you cannot simply share all of the programs. They are in a special TiVo format that allows them to maintain control. However, it is a highly recommended solution for TiVo users.

Transfer from DVR to Computer: The Solution for the Rest of Us

Since we cannot simply copy files from the DVR to the computer, we need another way to accomplish this. This method should be used by nearly everyone who wants to know how to record a show from a DVR to a computer.

In this method, we will be connecting a video capture device to our computer. The video capture device connects to our DVR as well as our PC and acts as an intermediary between the two.

Let’s talk about how we accomplish this. The first thing that we will discuss is your DVR, which presumably you already have. If not, here is a list of the most popular DVRs.

Connecting Your DVR to Your Computer: DVR Output Ports

We need to know what kind of outputs exist on our DVR. As an example, lets take a look at the back of the Motorola DCH6416, a model that often is shipped for Comcast customers:

connect dvr to pc

In the above diagram, we see all of the “potential” ports that we can use to connect to our computer.

As we take a look at these ports, we see the HDMI connection, a port that we have become accustomed to seeing for many of our audio/video connections.  Here is a list of HDMI to HDMI cables from which to choose.

Another input/output to consider is FireWire. As with HDMI, Firewire carries both video AND audio. Since we only have to make one connection, this is an easy way to go about it. Plus, many computers come pre-equipped with FireWire, meaning that you do not have to buy a video capture card. If this looks good to you, here is a list of inexpensive FireWire cables to make the connection.

Your next choice, if the first two are not available, would be the “component video connection” combined with the “audio outs”. This is a good choice because most video capture cards have these inputs available. Here are the cables that you need to make this happen.

What’s important to realize is that this will not be a copy of the DVR file (these are all encrypted).  You will actually need to play the source material and it will be recorded into your computer.

Connecting Your DVR to Your Computer: Video Capture Card Input Ports

Now that we have looked at the DVR output ports, we need to know what we can connect that to on our computer. As I said, you will want to check if your computer already has a FireWire port. If so, you can use that without having to buy a video capture card.

If you do not have a FireWire port, you will probably need to buy a video capture card and this will have to have “inputs” to match up with the DVR “outputs”.

Let’s take a look at some of your options. Here is a Firewire PCI card which you could buy to support a FireWire connection.

Here is a video capture card from Hauppauge called the Hauppauge ImpactVCB-e PCI Express Video Capture Board 1381 which supports the component video and audio outs mentioned above and found on nearly all DVRs. You could also go for the under $10 option which connects via USB and would work for both laptop and desktops–this supports both the standard audio and video out.  This is a nice, inexpensive way for you to try out recording your DVR to your PC and see if it is something that you will be doing frequently.

For an all-encompassing solution, you may want to try this DIGITNOW capture device which has all the various input/outputs that you may need.

These are all good options mentioned above. You simply need to make sure that you buy a video capture card that has inputs to match your DVR outputs. Also, you will see that many “video capture cards” are also TV Tuners and will operate as DVR’s on their own. In which case, you could just use your computer as your DVR and record things directly to it without having to transfer from your current DVR to your computer.

What Software You Need to Copy from Your DVR to Your PC

When you buy the products mentioned above, you will typically receive software that will allow you to capture and edit the video (like removing commercials) and converting your video to MPEG or AVI. If you have a built-in FireWire port and will not receive free software, here is a list of the 24 Best Free Video Editing Software Programs in 2020 that you may want to consider.

How to Make It All Work

Ok, now that you have all of the hardware in place, you are ready to record from your DVR to your computer.

I will provide the overview steps as each of you will be using different software to accomplish this. First, start up the video software that came with your video capture card or the video software that you have selected. Then, hit play on your DVR. You will then see the contents of your DVR playing in the window of this software. Finally, you simply hit record to transfer the DVR video to your PC.

You will now have the video file on your computer. It may be in the “.ts” format. If you want to convert it to a standard video file, you will use a video conversion program to convert from “.ts” to “.mpg” or “.avi” or whatever format you prefer.

Specific Vendor Solutions for Your Scenario

Since the solution presented above is the “general” one, I would like to provide answers for specific situations. Here is a list of solutions for the most popular cable and dish providers.

Comcast/XFinity DVR to Computer Solution

Comcast/XFinity do not expressly support downloading programs from their DVR to a PC.  However, as we read on this page, many people are making this happen using the techniques explained in this article.

DirecTV DVR to Computer Solution

Like all these cable companies, they do not provide any means of downloading DVR contents to your computers.  You can read more in this DirectTV forum which, in the end, provides the exact instructions as above.

Dish Network DVR to Computer Solution

Here are interesting instructions on how to record all of your DISH data to an external hard drive directly.

Charter Spectrum Cable DVR to Computer Solution

Like many companies, Spectrum continues to change what make and model number of DVR that they provide for their customers. Thus, you will need to check what DVR that you have been given through Charter Spectrum cable. It is likely that you have the model produced by Scientific Atlanta. Again, simply check what the best connection on the back of this is (HDMI, Firewire, S-Video, or RCA) and then buy a video capture card that has the same type of connection.

Alternatively, you can record directly to a hard drive with Spectrum like you can with DISH.

DVR to Computer: Summary

I hope that you have found this article on copying movies and shows from your DVR to your computer instructive. I have tried to present the solution in the clearest way possible.

In summary, we should be able to easily copy files directly from our DVR to our computer. We should be able to but we normally cannot because, frankly, the cable/satellite companies don’t want you doing this.

Since we cannot do a direct copy, we need to take another approach to copy from our DVR to our PC. This approach is to install a video capture card in our PC. This capture card acts as an intermediary between the DVR and the computer. It allows us to record information from the DVR to the computer very easily. When we load up the software that came with the video capture card, then hit play on the DVR, we can then simply “record” the DVR contents to our PC.

This is the way that we can record shows and movies from a DVR to a computer if we are non-TiVo users.

Finally, if your goal is to get TV shows on your PC, you may want to get a video capture card that it also a DVR. This is a very easy solution and then you will not have to transfer information from your DVR to your computer because your DVR IS the computer. For example, this Hauppauge 1191 WinTV-HVR-955Q USB TV Tuner does all that at a great price.

Enjoy the show!

Note: Those who enjoyed this post also were interested in connect laptop to TV and How Do I Save YouTube Videos On My Computer.

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Richard Cummings

Richard Cummings is a writer, traveler, and web content developer. He creates fun, informative how to articles for this site and exercises his creative writing prerogative at ARichIdea.com.

Get your copy of his latest book entitled Obvious Conclusions, stories of a Midwestern emigrant influenced and corrupted by many years living in San Francisco and abroad. It just received its first outstanding review "...reminiscent of David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs" on Amazon UK.
Richard Cummings
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Richard CummingsHow To DVR to Computer: Record or Transfer Shows and Movies From a DVR to a Computer [2020 Edition]

Comments 1

  1. Dr Naim Boutros

    Hi, l know its written 4 years ago but its most informative article. I have a DVD/ HD recorders with lots of home videos on them. I guess that what you say about DVR should apply to my gadgets does it . Any new tips on this please would be most appreciated

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