Columbia ISA
Audio – Video

DVD Recorder Buying Guide







DVD Recorders Buying Guide

DVD recorders can do all the things your VCR does, and more. Just as VCRs play pre-recorded movies and record on blank tapes, DVD recorders play DVD movies and record on blank DVD discs. 

The advantages of recording video to DVD versus videotape are similar to the advantages of recording music to CD instead of audio cassette. You don't have to fast-forward or rewind to find a blank section of tape, or worry about unintentionally recording over another segment. The DVD recorder keeps track of the size and location of any available space on the disc. 

Because optical discs are much more durable than magnetic tapes, DVD recorders are ideal for archiving programs recorded on other media, or for transferring camcorder footage. Disc-based recording eliminates worries about old or worn tapes getting stuck in your VCR or degrading over time. And although the technology in DVD recorders is very advanced, they actually have fewer moving parts than a VCR.

DVD recorders provide anywhere from one to six hours of recording time on a regular 4.7GB single-sided blank DVD. There are differences depending on which recordable DVD format you use, but you can generally expect to record 1-2 hours of studio-quality video, or up to 6 hours at VHS quality. You can playback any DVD you record on the same machine.
You won't be able to record copy-protected material. Both the media (VHS tape or DVD) and your DVD recorder have built-in forms of copy protection that will prevent you from recording protected material.

Types of DVD recorders

  • Stand-alone DVD Recorder
  • DVD Recorder with built-in hard disk drive
  • Home Theater Recorder: DVD-R and stereo all in one, with surround-sound speakers, radio, and CD player
  • Combo DVD Recorder and VCR


Recordable-DVD formats

When it comes to a recordable DVD, there are a few different formats to choose from. Currently, most single-sided recordable DVDs will store 4.7GB (120 minutes) and double-sided recordable DVDs will store 9.4 (240 minutes).

Write-once (Permanent) discs

  • DVD-R
  • DVD+R

Rewriteable (erasable) discs

  • DVD-RW
  • DVD+RW

There are some technical differences among these formats, but the most important consideration is compatibility. Will the disc record in my DVD recorder? Will it play back in other DVD players?

Most recent-model DVD players and recorders will play and record multiple formats, so that finding compatible discs is not difficult. But very few will accept all of the current disc formats. Be aware of the formats you want to record in, and shop accordingly. Overall, the most compatible format is DVD-R; DVD-RAM is the least compatible.

A write-once DVD is perfect for archiving home videos, or for storing other material you want to keep. Rewriteable DVDs are great for recording TV shows or movies that you know you'll want to watch a couple of times, but not keep forever. 

Connecting your DVD Recorder

Starting with audio connections, since DVD recorders also function as DVD players, just about all-current DVD recorders come with an optical digital output. Many also have a coaxial digital output. These allow you to send Dolby Digital signals to your A/V receiver, so you can take advantage of the surround sound encoded on your DVDs.

As for video connections, most DVD recorders include composite and S-video jacks, and some have component video inputs. If you have an HD-capable TV with DVI or HDMI inputs, look for a DVD recorder/player with DVI or HDMI outputs. For convenient dubbing from a camcorder, look for a DVD recorder with a set of front-panel inputs. To make the cleanest possible transfers from your digital camcorder tapes, some DVD recorders include an i.LINK® digital A/V jack.


DVD Recorder Glossary


Archive: To burn or record to DVD from the Recorder's hard drive. When you burn something onto a DVD, it will play back just as good in 20 years as it does now - providing the disk hasn't been damaged.

CD: Compact Disc. CDs and CD Players were introduced in the early 1980s. DVDs are designed to store more than 7 times as much data as CD.

Digital: Whereas 'analog' formats (VHS tapes, records, cassette tapes, etc.) used magnetic signals to store information that will fade and degrade over time, digital media (such as DVDs and CDs) use 1s and 0s to store information. As long as the player can read these numbers off the disc (meaning that the disc hasn't been damaged) then it will play back like new for a long, long time.

Dual-Layer DVD: A recordable DVD which has 8.5GB storage capacity using a single side but two layers. DVD recorders must be dual-layer capable in order to record/play these discs.

DVD: Digital Video Disc. DVDs are a method for recording, playing back, and storing video information. They are superior to VHS tapes because they store information digitally (instead of using analog signals), which allows for much higher-quality, longer-lasting playback. Also DVDs have the ability to let you skip around by selecting scenes / chapters in a movie rather than having to fast forward like you do with a VHS tape.

DVD-R or DVD+R: A digital videodisc you can record on one time. Storage capacity is 4.7GB single side single layer. Note: Some machines record/play only -R, some only +R, but some will do both.

DVD-RW or DVD+RW: A digital videodisc you can record over many times.

EPG: Electronic Programming Guide. Information about the schedule of TV shows comes via GemStar, owners of TV Guide, and includes, starting times, length, episode titles, actors, and ratings information.

Finalization: After you're finished recording on a disc, you may need to finalize it before you can play it on other DVD machines. Your recorder will mark areas on the disc so it can be read successfully upon playback.

GemStar: the Company that owns TV Guide and provides onscreen menu content.

Hard Drive: A Hard Drive is a non-removable storage device inside your DVD Recorder. It has a recording capacity of 40 to 120 hours or more, depending on the model you choose. The Hard Drive allows you to save your TV shows or audio CDs there without fussing with blank DVDs or CDs. You can copy (archive) what's on your Hard Drive to DVDs or CDs whenever you'd like.

i.LINK: Sony version of IEEE-1394 for connecting devices for the transfer of digital video and audio. Digital camcorders for example, can be connected to a DVD recorder with a i.LINK cable to record audio/video to DVD.

Menu: An onscreen menu of everything recorded on either the DVD or the hard drive (DVD Recorder with Hard Drive Integrated). Also allows you to select functions such as play, delete etc. from the screen using the remote.

Playlist: A listing of songs stored on your hard drive.

Time-shifting: Lets you pause Live TV, activating the hard drive to record. When you're ready to resume watching, it starts playing from where you left off. Similar to Instant Recording of live TV on a VCR, but you don't have to wait for the recording to finish to start watching from the beginning.

TiVo: A service you activate for a setup fee and pay a monthly subscription charge for, in order to record TV shows to a hard drive. Shows can be pre-determined for recording based on your personal preferences. 

USB Port: Universal Serial Bus. Like Firewire, transfers digital data from device to device.

VBI data: Vertical Blanking Interval, meaning that part of the TV signal is left blank on purpose. This blank space is now being used for such things as Closed Captioning and other text information. A DVD Recorder with Electronic Programming Guide uses this information to create the onscreen menu.

DVD recorders manufacturers:
Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, JVC, Samsung, Humax and Pioneer.

DVD recorders can record any of the following:

  • analog TV via over-the-air broadcasts, cable, or satellite TV

  • standard definition digital television (SDTV), same quality as DVD-Video (480i)

  • analog camcorder video (8mm, Hi-8, VHS, and VHS-C formats)

  • digital camcorder video (miniDV, DVD, HDD and Digital-8 formats)

DVD recorders which can record high definition television (HDTV) signals have also been released. 

DVD Recorder Features

NTSC (Analog) and ATSC (Digital) TV Tuner. To pull in TV channels, you need a built-in TV tuner.  Just like your VCR, this allows you to program recordings for different channels.  The tuner receives TV channels via antenna or cable.  If you have a satellite system, you should be able to use the DVD recorder just like you’re using a VCR today. In Feb. 2009, broadcast TV stations will convert to all digital signals. Make sure the DVD recorder you buy comes with a built-in ATSC tuner to pick up digital TV signals sent over the air.

Electronic Program Guide (EPG).  Sometimes, it is called an Interface Program Guide (IPG).  Many DVD recorders make use of the Gemstar-TV Guide’s VCR Plus+® Gold system, which has been available for VHS VCRs for a number of years.  Some are using the newer GUIDE Plus+® and GUIDE Plus+® Gold systems.  The EPG puts up a graphical display of the TV programs on various channels for different times, up to eight days in advance.  You can interactively sort by various categories to quickly locate the show you want.  Once you find the show that you want to record, push one button and voilà, the DVD recorder is programmed to record that show for you.  These EPGs are free and the EPG data/ signal should be be available through most cable TV providers.

All DVD recorders can play back pre-recorded DVD-Video in addition to their respective recordable DVD format(s).  In fact, a DVD recorder would replace your primary DVD-Video player in your primary viewing environment (home theater).  While you are upgrading to a DVD recorder, look for these features when it comes to playback functionality:

  • Progressive scan with 2:3 pulldown: for stunning picture quality with a Digital TV or HDTV

  • Component video output: for the best picture quality

  • Optical or coaxial digital audio outputs: for home theater surround sound

  • Ease of use and a well-designed remote control

Progressive Scan. If you have a Digital TV capable of displaying 480 lines of progressive scan video (480p), or if you're planning to buy one in the not-too-distant future, look for this feature.  It converts the interlaced scan signal inherent in DVD-Video to progressive scan.  The result is a brighter image, with no visible scan lines and fewer motion artifacts (stair-step edges on moving objects).  Some high-end DVD recorders will employ a Faroudja deinterlacer, for the best possible progressive scan performance.

Variable Bit-Rate (MPEG-2) Recording. Instead of recording the video with a constant MPEG-2 video bit rate, a variable bit rate approach is used to reduce the amount of data in the compressed video stream.  An on-board video processor analyzes the complexity of the picture in real-time and adjusts the video bit rate used in MPEG-2 compression.  Simple scenes would use a lower bit rate, while more complex scenes would take advantage of higher bit rates.  The result is slightly longer recording time, since less data is used, with the same or even slightly improved picture quality.

Video Pre-Processing Circuitry. Some DVD recorders incorporate video pre-processing circuitry aimed at improving the picture quality the incoming source material.  For example, 3-D comb filters and some sort of time–based corrector are commonly used.  Others use a noise reduction filter or a video noise equalizer that balances and equalizes the picture.  Depending on the type of circuitry and manufacturer, these may or may not have user adjustments.  While this circuitry will not make a poor picture perfect, it can bring new life to degraded pictures on an old VHS tape, for example.

Simultaneous Record and Play. If the read and write data rates of the recordable DVD disc are fast enough, DVD recorders can literally record one program, and playback the same or another program at the same time.  What this means is that you can let your DVD recorder start recording your TV program at 8 PM while you tuck your children in for the night, and come back at 8:20 PM and start watching the recorded TV program off of your recordable DVD disc, while your DVD recorder is still recording the rest of the show.  Panasonic calls this feature “Time Slip”.  Another advantage of simultaneous record and play capability is that you can play back your recorded TV program, while your DVD recorder makes another recording of a show currently being broadcast.  This capability is far beyond what any tape-based VCRs can do. 

Linear Editing Features. Linear editing is the traditional method of editing video when using linear formats such as video tape. You have to find the source segment that you want, record it to the new medium, then locate the next source segment, record it to the new medium, repeat until you’re done.  This is very time consuming especially when your source medium is a tape-based format.

Simple Non-Linear Editing Features. Non-linear editing is the ability to cut and paste video segments in any order that you wish.  This is a powerful video editing technique that saves a lot a time over linear editing methods and creates professional-looking results.  For advanced non-linear editing, you need to edit on a computer-based DVD authoring package. 

Titling Functions. If you plan to transfer your home video from VHS to recordable DVD discs, a titling function would allow you add some basic titles to your video footage.

Menu Creation Feature. Taking it one step further, some DVD recorders allow you to create simple menus such “Chapter Selection”, for quick direct access to your favorite scenes.

Cable Box Interface. If you have a cable set-top box for pay-per-view programming or digital cable, or a satellite TV set-top box, you will need this feature so that your DVD recorder can change the channel on your cable/satellite set-top box and record the desired TV programs.

Hard Disk Drive. Some DVD recorders incorporate a built-in hard disk drive, allowing the DVD recorder to make recordings without a recordable DVD disc.  When you want to archive the recorded program, you can insert a recordable DVD disc and the program can be transferred from the hard disk to the recordable DVD disc, for off-machine archiving.  Another use of a hard disk drive is that it can continue recording a program even when the recordable DVD disc runs out of space.  Lastly, a built-in hard disk can also allow the machine to multi-task with simultaneous record and play functionality.

Connectivity: Inputs and Outputs

Consider the following types of connectivity, to ensure that your DVD recorder has the most flexibility to meet your needs for video recording.

IEEE 1394 “Firewire” interface (also known as “i.LINK” or “DV input”). This digital connection allows for pristine digital transfer of video and audio from a digital camcorder (e.g., miniDV, DVD, Digital-8).  This interface should be located on the front panel of the DVD recorder for easy access.  For output to a digital TV, this connection should be used whenever possible. Generally, the IEEE 1394 interface comes with either a 4-pin or 6-pin jack.  Usually a 4-pin jack is used with DVD recorders and digital camcorders.  Computers may use either or both the 4-pin and 6-pin jacks.  Make sure you have the Firewire cable with the right jacks at both ends.

Component video inputs and outputs. If a digital video connection cannot be established with the IEEE 1394 connection, then component video offers the best video transfer in the analog domain.

S-Video and composite video inputs and outputs. If you have an analog camcorder (e.g., 8mm, Hi-8, VHS, VHS-C), use the S-Video connection if there is one.  As a last resort, you can use the composite video connection.  The S-Video and composite video inputs should also be located on the recorder’s front panel for easy access.

DVI or HDMI. If you have a HDTV, you'll want these digital connections.

Digital audio outputs. For DVD-Video playback in 5.1-channel surround sound, DVD recorders include either an optical or coaxial digital audio output, for connection with a Dolby Digital or DTS-capable home theater receiver.

Analog audio outputs. If you don't have a home theater receiver, simply use the analog audio outputs to connect them to your TV set.

See over 50 Hookup Diagrams.

Which Recordable DVD Format?

So which of the six recordable DVD formats (DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, DVD-RAM, Dual-layer) should you choose?  If you agree with the idea that recordable DVD discs should be backwards compatible with existing DVD-Video players and computer DVD-ROM drives, then the write-once DVD-R format seems to offer the best chances of backwards compatibility, though not quite 100%.  One industry source says DVD-R backwards compatibility is better than 90%.

None of the rewritable formats (DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-RAM) offer that level of backwards compatibility. The rewritable DVD-RAM disc is only compatible with Panasonic DVD-Video players made in 2001 or later, plus a few other brands’ models.  Therefore, if you plan to share your DVD recordings with family and friends, it is best to use the write-once DVD-R format.

For daily recording and time shifting of TV shows, your best bet is to use one of the rewritable DVD formats.  This allows you to record, erase, and record over again on the same disc.  If sharing of recorded TV programs is a desire, then try DVD-RW or DVD+RW.  If you don’t need to share TV programs with others, then any of the rewritable formats will do.  Even DVD-RAM is a viable option.

Many DVD recorders use a single recordable DVD format. That is, they record to one of the following formats:

  • DVD-R/RW format, with its write-once DVD-R and rewritable DVD-RW variants

  • DVD+R/RW format, with its write-once DVD+R and rewritable DVD+RW variants

  • rewritable DVD-RAM format*
    *Some DVD-RAM recorders can record to DVD-R, offering a write-once format option with backwards compatibility with existing DVD-Video players and DVD-ROM drives. 

But many dual-format DVD recorders are available.
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