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Cloud DVR Comparison: Best Live TV Service For Recording?

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When it comes to choosing the best live TV streaming service, cloud DVR support can be just as important as the price or the number of channels. For some households, it could end up the most important aspect, considering it is directly tied to the ability to watch shows or movies when the viewer wants.

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This guide offers a closer look at the cloud DVR offered by all of the major live TV streaming services. There are many factors that do need to be taken into consideration when comparing DVRs, including how much space is provided, whether there are any other non-space limitations, and whether a subscriber has to pay extra to maximize the recording experience.

Knowing this information before subscribing and factoring it into the decision-making process can help to reveal the true cost of a live TV subscription. Before delving into the specifics of each of the live TV streaming services, it’s important to be aware that these services are always evolving over time. During the past few years, each of the main live TV services have adjusted their DVR on multiple occasions. This can mean that specific benefits and limitations can be added or removed at any point in the future.

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Cloud DVR comparison summary

The table below includes a summary of how the main live TV services stack up against each other on DVR. This is followed by a closer look at the recording experience offered by each of the main live TV streaming services, including any limitations consumers should be aware of.

Cloud DVR comparison: Updated July 2022

ServiceCostStorage
(Hours)
Keep for
(Days)
RestrictionsUpgrade
DirecTV StreamFreeUnlimited9 months30 episodes (per show)X
fuboTVFree1000IndefiniteXX
Hulu Live TVFreeUnlimited9 monthsXX
PhiloFreeUnlimited12 monthsXX
Sling TVFree50IndefiniteNot all channels✔ ($5 for 200 hours)
YouTube TVFreeUnlimited9 monthsXX

What is a Cloud DVR?

Many will already be familiar with DVRs in general, as the option to record on a digital video recorder has been around for a long time. However, in an era where everything is moving to the “cloud,” so has DVR. In principle, a cloud DVR is not any different to the DVR everyone is already familiar with. It’s still digital video recording and users can record their favorite TV shows and movies. That’s not to say there aren’t differences, as there are.

With a physical DVR device, there are physical limitations in place. The most obvious is the storage. Recordings are made to a physical hard drive and how much can be recorded comes down to the limits of the hard drive. With cloud DVR, all recordings are stored in the provider’s data center. Much like emails, or any other form of modern-day data, these recordings are stored elsewhere, and not locally. In theory, this means there’s no limit to how much an individual can record.

DirecTV Stream recording scheduled
Setting a cloud DVR recording

Another limitation of physical DVRs is the number of channels that can record at the same time. DVRs use tuners to record content and most devices usually advertise the number as a selling point. For example, with a dual-tuner DVR, the maximum number of channels that can record at the same time is two. Like with the storage, there are no physical tuners with cloud DVR. Again, in theory, this means cloud DVRs can record an infinite number of channels at the same time.

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Then there’s device support. Typically speaking, physical DVRs are designed for playback on one device and usually the device connected to the physical DVR. There are exceptions to this rule, but the general principle is playback on one device at a time. Cloud DVRs differ in this respect as users can watch recorded content on any device or platform compatible with the service. Once again, in theory, a video can be played back on an unlimited number of devices at the same time.

To sum up, physical DVRs are primarily different to cloud DVRs in terms of how much video can be recorded, how many recordings can be made at the same time, and which devices can play back the recordings. While cloud DVRs have the potential to bypass all of these limitations, that’s all in theory. The reality is far more nuanced as every service decides whether they can, and will, offer a cloud DVR. If they do, they then make the decision as to how much space they’ll offer, how many recordings can be made at the same time, device support, and whether they’ll charge extra for any of this. As it is the companies making these decisions, the results inevitably vary.

DirecTV Stream cloud DVR

DirecTV Stream banner

Previously known as DirecTV Now, AT&T TV Now, and AT&T TV, DirecTV Stream offers multiple live TV plans to choose from with the cheapest costing $69.99 per month. Anyone signing for the service today, and regardless of the plan, get access to an unlimited cloud DVR. This is a massive improvement on before when the service operating under the AT&T TV and DirecTV Now names only offered access to 20 hours of recording space along with the option to upgrade to an unlimited DVR experience for $10 per month. Some existing subscribers that are still on one of the older legacy plans may find they are still restricted to the limited DVR.

DirecTV Stream recording limitations:

even though DirecTV Stream offers an unlimited cloud DVR that doesn’t mean there aren’t some limitations. For example, recordings are only kept for a maximum of nine months. Again, subscribers on a legacy plan may find they are still limited to the previous 90-day limit or even the 30-day limitation before that. After nine months the recordings are automatically deleted and irrespective of whether they have been viewed or not.

Another limitation to be aware of is series recordings. While subscribers can record an entire series, DirecTV Stream only allows a maximum of 30 episodes from the same series to be stored at one time. If more are scheduled to be recorded, the oldest recorded episode will automatically be deleted.

DirecTV Stream DVR summary:

  • Unlimited DVR (some legacy subscribers limited to 20 hours)
  • Recordings are automatically deleted after 9 months (90 days for some legacy subscribers)
  • No limit on the devices you can record from or play recordings on
  • No limit on the number of recordings you can make at the same time
  • Series episodes limited to 30 recorded episodes (10 for some legacy subscribers)

fuboTV cloud DVR

fuboTV Banner

In a previous life, fuboTV was a simple and straightforward sports-focused streaming service, costing $7 per month. A lot has changed since then and now fuboTV is a fully-fledged live TV streaming service with plans starting at $69.99 per month and a channel lineup that competes with the best of them. Even though fuboTV doesn’t currently offer an unlimited cloud DVR, it does provide all subscribers with 1000 hours of recording space. For those that would prefer an unlimited DVR, fuboTV currently doesn’t offer any option to upgrade. On the positive side, fuboTV places less restrictions on recordings once they’ve been made.

fuboTV recording limitations:

Unlike some of the other live TV services, fuboTV doesn’t limit how long recordings can be stored for. Instead, all recordings are kept for as long as the subscriber wants and do have to be manually deleted. Even though fuboTV does offer all subscribers 1000 hours of recording space, that hasn’t always been the case. Previously, the limit was much smaller and some legacy subscribers will find they are still limited to a fewer number of hours.

fuboTV cloud DVR summary:

  • Limited to 1000 hours with no upgrade (some legacy subscribers limited to 250 hours)
  • Recordings are available indefinitely or until manually deleted
  • No general limit on the devices you can record from or play recordings on
  • No limit on the number of recordings that can be made at the same time

Hulu Live TV cloud DVR

Hulu Live TV Banner

Hulu Live TV has gone through a few changes over the years and this includes its DVR. Prior to 2022, all Hulu Live TV subscribers were limited to just 50 hours and had to pay to upgrade the recording space. Even then, the upgraded DVR was still limited in terms of the number of hours. However, Hulu Live TV now offers an unlimited cloud DVR at no additional cost to all new and existing subscribers. As all subscribers now get unlimited recording space, there’s no longer any option to upgrade or downgrade the DVR.

Hulu Live TV limitations:

Even though Hulu offers an unlimited DVR, there are some restrictions. Similar to DirecTV Stream, Hulu Live TV only allows recordings to be stored for 9 months. After this time, they are automatically deleted and irrespective of whether they’ve been watched. In spite of the upgrade to unlimited, this is actually more restrictive than before considering Hulu used to allow recordings to be kept indefinitely.

Another limitation relates to living room devices. Hulu is a single-household service and this means it requires subscribers to select a home network. Once a network has been determined, subscribers may encounter issues accessing the same Hulu account on living room devices (including smart TVs) that are not connected to the same home network. This includes accessing recorded content. Subscribers may also run into issues accessing DVR content if away from home for longer than 30 days without checking in through the home network.

Hulu Live TV cloud DVR summary:

  • Unlimited DVR
  • Recordings are deleted after 9 months
  • Hulu limits the number of living room devices outside the home
  • No limit on the number of recordings you can make at the same time

Philo cloud DVR

Philo Banner

Philo is a more affordable live TV service compared to others but that doesn’t mean it compromises on the recording experience. All Philo subscribers get access to an unlimited cloud DVR at no additional cost. Technically, Philo’s DVR is not quite the same as the DVR offered by the other services and the reason for this is that the DVR is not actually a DVR at all. Instead, Philo automatically records and makes available (for a limited time) everything that’s being shown live. As a result, Philo subscribers simply save the videos they want to watch later rather than record them. Although this approach is slightly different, the end result is still the same.

Philo recording limitations:

Generally speaking, Philo’s DVR experience comes with very few limitations. The main one to be aware of is that all recordings are only stored for up to one year. Subscribers that are still on a legacy plan, and still locked in at a cheaper monthly price, will find their recordings are automatically deleted after just 30 days.

Philo cloud DVR summary:

  • Unlimited cloud DVR
  • Recordings are automatically deleted after one year (30 days for some legacy subscribers)
  • No limit on the devices you can record from or play recordings on
  • No limit on the number of recordings made at the same time

Sling TV cloud DVR

Sling TV Banner

Sling TV is one of the oldest live TV streaming services around and it also happens to be one of the cheaper options with plans starting at just $35 per month. When it comes to cloud DVR, however, the cheaper price does result in a more limited experience. No only doesn’t Sling TV provide subscribers with an unlimited cloud DVR, but it also doesn’t offer an option to upgrade to unlimited. Instead, all Sling TV subscribers are provided with 50 hours of recording space. While there is the option to upgrade the DVR for an additional $5 per month, the upgrade only increases the recording space to 200 hours.

Sling TV recording limitations:

The main Sling TV cloud DVR limitation is the storage space and this does mean that the service will automatically delete older episodes and movies to make way for newer ones. In addition, Sling TV’s DVR is not available on all channels. For example, subscribers cannot record ACC Network Extra, ESPN 3, SEC Network+ and Local Now.

On a positive note, Sling TV does provide a Protect option that can be enabled for individual recordings and stops them from being automatically deleted. In addition Sling TV doesn’t place any limits on how long recordings can be stored for. Instead, recordings are stored indefinitely or until the subscriber manually deletes them.

Sling TV cloud DVR summary:

  • Limited to 50 hours
  • Can be upgraded to 200 hours for $5
  • Recordings are available indefinitely or until the user deletes them
  • Older recordings are automatically deleted when the storage is full to make way for newer ones.
  • No limit on the devices you can record from or play recordings on
  • No limit on the number of recordings at the same time, but not all channels can be recorded

YouTube TV cloud DVR

YouTube TV Banner

A YouTube TV subscription costs $64.99 per month and YouTube TV has always been a very pro-DVR service. As a result, it always has offered one of the best recording experiences around. For example not only does YouTube TV offer an unlimited cloud DVR, but each profile sharing a subscription gets access to a personalized DVR. While YouTube TV is generous with its cloud DVR, that doesn’t mean it’s totally free of limitations.

YouTube TV recording limitations:

While there are no storage limitations in place, the one major restriction is that YouTube TV recordings can only be stored for up to 9 months. After which they are automatically deleted by the service. Another important limitation to be aware of is subscribers are unable to manually delete recordings. As YouTube TV provides an unlimited DVR, the service sees little value in offering the option to actually delete recordings and this can result in recording libraries becoming cluttered and messy.

YouTube TV cloud DVR summary:

  • Unlimited cloud DVR
  • Recordings are automatically deleted after 9 months
  • No limit on the devices you can record from or play recordings on
  • No limit on the number of recordings you can make at the same time
  • Subscribers cannot manually delete recordings

Updated July 2022

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John Finn

By John Finn

John started Streaming Better to help consumers navigate the live TV streaming and subscription service landscape. John has been writing about technology and TV-related services and devices since 2014 and believes the best streaming approach is to bounce between services as needed. Contact John via email at john@streamingbetter.com or on Twitter

3 replies on “Cloud DVR Comparison: Best Live TV Service For Recording?”

I’ve been a go big subscriber since the service launched back in 2016. One thing missing from the guide above is Go Big subscribers are still on the 20 hours of dvr storage which is complete bs. There is not an add on option to pay for the 500 hours of dvr storage. I feel they want us to leave or switch to plus or max because to be honest there losing money with the go big subcribers. Im actually at my limit i need more dvr storage asap. 20 hours can be taken up if you record all the cbs abc and nbc late night shows that come on weekly.

One other important feature to consider if you update the DVR comparison is the ability to manage your DVR content. Two factors to consider: 1) the ability to record new episodes only and not re-runs. If a DVR can not distinguish between the two, then your DVR content becomes bogged down with rerun content that you need to weed thru. 2) the ability to delete individual episodes after you watch them or decide you don’t want to keep them. This is especially important if you can not block reruns from recording. Both of these factors are significant in keeping DVR content manageable. For instance, I enjoyed my free trial week for YouTube TV but the DVR experience was a deal breaker on both of the factors I listed above.

I just got Youtube tv hooked up. First time streaming. Why is it that it takes 24 hours before I can watch a baseball, basketball, etc. game on the DVR? If I watch it live and pause, so I can fast forward through ads, that works. But the whole point of recording to the DVR is so I can watch the games later in the day…..not the next day. Do any other streaming services have faster uploads so I can watch an hour or two later? I haven’t seen anything about this on line in ANY articles I have read.

Thanks,
Sheila

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