How to Choose a DVD Recorder

Are you looking for a DVD recorder? A hyphen and an extra "d" are the difference between permanent (DVD recorders) and temporary (DVRs), so it's good to know the difference between the two. A DVD recorder can burn digital versatile discs (DVDs) that you can store or share with friends. A DVR is basically a hard drive that attaches to your TV and saves programs. When the hard drive is full, you need to start deleting things, and you can't take it with you unless you plan to disconnect the unit from your TV.

On the cutting edge are models that allow for both DVD recording to disc (so you can take it with you), and allow for DVR hard drive functionality so you'll only deal with discs when you choose. These dual function models cost more money, and, if you want a service like TiVo, you'll need to pay a monthly access charge of around $13. If you're choosing between the options, ask yourself if you want to keep the things you record for years to come, or if you only need them for a little while (see also DVRs). If you want to keep things, you'll want the DVD recording to disc; if you are more clutter-free, go with the DVR hard drive functionality.

DVD Recorder Combos
DVD recorders can be bought as stand-alone units that just have a recorder, or as combination units that include a VHS player or a DVR. These combination units allow you to burn DVDs directly from the DVR or VHS player. If you have a lot of home movies or favorite VHS tapes that haven't been released on DVD, get a VHS and DVD recorder combo and you'll be able to transfer your video collection to DVD yourself.

DVD recorders with DVR offer some advanced features, such as the ability to pause live programming or to watch the beginning of a program while you're recording the end. These DVD recorders also cut down on the cost of blank DVDs by allowing you to save the program first to the DVR and then decide if you want to keep it.

Make sure your DVD recorder has a built-in ATSC tuner that can receive digital programming. All DVD recorders sold in the United States are required to have a digital tuner. As a bonus, if your current TV supports HDTV but lacks a digital tuner, you'll be able to use the DVD recorder to receive high-definition television.

DVD Media
There are different types of recordable DVDs, and not all formats work with all DVD recorders. The owner's manual should offer some proven brands of DVDs that will work with your DVD recorder. The best way to find out this info is read the specs carefully, or if necessary, visit the manufacturer's Web site and download the owner's manual to find this information.

All DVD recorders can burn at different resolutions. This affects the picture and sound quality and also limits the amount of material that can be stored on a DVD. The longer the recording time, the lower the quality of the recording will be. You may be able to fit six hours of programming on a DVD, but it won't look or sound as good as two hours on the same DVD. Dual-layer DVD recorders allow you to store more on a single disc without sacrificing quality, because the disc has two recordable surfaces instead of one.

DVD recorders at a minimum support DVD-R, which allows you to record a DVD once, and DVD-RW, which allows you to rerecord a disc numerous times. A new option is DVD-RAM, which enables functions similar to those of a DVR, such as pausing and rewinding while you record. DVD-RAM discs are only compatible with other DVD-RAM players, so they might not be the best choice if you want to share your recordings or use them in other non compatible players in your home.

DVD Recorder Advantages
DVD recorders offer some advantages over VHS. Fast-forwarding, rewinding and slow-motion are much crisper and most models offer these functions with sound. Commercials in television programs can be chaptered out and skipped. The DVD recorder can add chapters to the DVD, allowing you to instantly navigate to a favorite moment. Some DVD recorders will even allow you to edit the DVD once it's recorded.

DVDs may not be the only thing a DVD recorder can play. Many models support CD-Rs in finalized or MP3 format, VCDs, DVD-Audio and Super Audio CDs, letting you use your DVD recorder as a jukebox or TV slideshow generator. Regular DVD movies work with all DVD recorders.

The suite of one-touch recording features, such as TiVo and VCR+, is available on DVD recorders. Some models also support interactive programming guides. Not all of these features are available on all DVD recorders, and some do require monthly service charges.

Progressive Scan vs. Upconversion
Although DVDs have picture and sound that's superior to VHS, they are not high-definition, as they are recorded in the 480i format used on standard broadcast TV. Progressive-scan and upconverting DVD recorders can take the 480i image and translate it to an HDTV format.

Progressive scan players are less costly, and convert the 480i image to a 480p image that displays each frame of video for a sharper picture. For the average consumer, this is enough, but videophiles may want to go the extra step and invest in an upconverting DVD recorder, which translates the source to a higher-quality 780p or 1080i image.

HDTV and DVD Recorders
While new DVD recorders support digital and HDTV signals, the DVDs cannot record in high-definition format. DVD recorders capable of burning high-definition discs are available, either as Blu-ray or HD-DVD recorders.

This new technology is expensive, and a word of warning to early adopters is in order. The entertainment industry has not yet decided which of the two competing formats it will support, but past history suggests that only one will survive. The best advice is to wait for a consensus on high-definition DVD and choose a current-generation DVD recorder. As prices for high-definition DVD recorders drop in the coming years, you may wind up spending less in the long run for both DVD recorders than you would for a single high-definition DVD recorder today.

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