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DVD Recorders Shopping Guide

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DVD%20recorderWant to record lots of TV shows and archive your home movies? No problem.

DVD recorders let you conveniently record crystal-clear picture and great sound onto long-lasting DVDs. You can record TV shows and home movies to DVD, as well as play rented or store-bought commercial DVDs. Today's models offer user-friendly capbilities that make DVD recording easier than ever. Below, we've broken down some key features so you can zero in on which ones to look for. [Shop for DVD recorders.]

DVD recorders and HDTVs

Most DVD recorders have the capability to receive digital programming, both standard-definition and high-definition. You can watch unscrambled digital cable channels, or connect an antenna to receive free over-the-air digital broadcasts. Naturally, you can also record standard-definition shows from any of those sources. Things get a little tricky when it comes to high-definition though.

Because DVDs are only capable of capturing standard-definition content, you won't be able to record high-def content in high-def. Instead, the DVD recorder always immediately "downconverts" any incoming high-def signal to standard-definition resolution.

One question we hear a lot from customers is, "What if I just want to watch high-definition? Can I use the recorder's built-in high-def tuner and pass that signal straight to my TV?" Unfortunately, no. As we mentioned earlier, the signal is always downconverted so that it's compatible with your recordable DVDs. However, if your recorder is connected to an HDTV, it can "upconvert" the signal back to a higher resolution before passing it on to your television. So it may not be true high-def, but you'll still get a very crisp, detailed picture.

Recording home movies

If you want an easy way to dub your home movies to DVD, look for DVD recorders with these features:

  • Built-in VCR — DVD recorders with a built-in VCR offer quick and simple internal dubbing of your home-recorded VHS tapes. There are no extra components to hook up, and many have handy one-touch dubbing capabilities.
  • Camcorder inputs — Many recorders have easy-access front-panel inputs for digital and analog camcorders or a separate VCR.
    • DVD recorders for camcorders are a great option if you have a hard drive or flash memory camcorder. These models include a USB port for quick and easy archiving of your home movies. Again, just keep in mind that if you have a high-def cam, your footage will be downconverted to standard-def to fit on any DVD you record.
    • For a Mini DV camcorder, look for a model with digital camcorder inputs (IEEE 1394, also known as DV or i.LINK®).
    • To hook up an external VCR, or an 8mm or Hi8 camcorder, check out a recorder with front-panel audio/video inputs.

Connecting your DVD recorder

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An HDMI connection will let you enjoy higher resolution video from your DVD discs, and detailed surround sound, all in one cable. (Audio Quest Chocolate shown above)

The types of connections you need will depend on what you want to do with your DVD recorder, as well as which inputs you have currently have available on your TV or receiver. It's always important to make the highest-quality connection possible, which is generally always HDMI. DVD recorders with HDMI outputs allow you to watch upconverted, near-HD quality DVD footage on your HDTV. The next best option for video is component video, with either an optical digital or coaxial digital audio connection to add sound. You can also use an RF input to get audio and video signals from your antenna, cable, or satellite to you DVD recorder.

For more information about hooking up your DVD recorder, check out our article on choosing audio and video cables.

Copy protection

As exciting as it is to record your own DVDs, don't get too carried away — you still 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.

What kinds of discs should you use?

The kinds of discs you use will depend on what you want to record. Is it something that you want to keep permanently? Or will you want to watch it a couple of times, then record over it with new shows?

Write-once (permanent) discs Rewriteable (erasable) discs
DVD-R
DVD+R
DVD-R DL (dual-layer)
DVD+R DL (dual-layer)
DVD-RW
DVD+RW
DVD-RAM
Use for things you want to keep forever, such as a favorite TV series, or home movies. Use for things you want to watch once or twice, like a nightly news show, and then record over with new material.

Most recent DVD players and recorders will play and record multiple formats, so 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. You may also find that older DVD players might not be able to play all of your home-made DVDs, even if they are supposed to be compatible with that particular format. In this case, lots of folks simply replace their older player with a new player/recorder.

Something else to keep in mind is recording quality. 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.

Lower recording quality Higher recording quality
Pros You can fit more material on the disc Picture and sound will be closer to that of the original
Cons The picture and sound won't be as good as the original You can't fit as much material on the disc
Good for Programs with little action (e.g. a news show) or ones you're only going to watch once Anything you want to keep, or programs with lots of action (e.g. a sci-fi movie or soccer game)

DVD recorders and hard drives/DVRs

Combo DVD recorder/DVR (digital video recorder) units used to be popular a few years ago, but these days they're generally separate components. That's because a lot of folks have a DVR built into their cable or satellite box. But even though there aren't a lot of combo units around today, you can still connect a DVD recorder to a separate DVR to record TV shows captured on your DVR's hard drive — simply connect your DVD recorder to the DVR's audio/video output.

DVD recorder/VCR combos

DVD recorder/VCR combo decks are the perfect solution for archiving your collection of VHS home movies and TV programs, too. With the touch of a button, valuable VHS recordings can be saved to durable DVDs. Many also come with a digital camcorder input (IEEE 1394) so you can archive material from older digital camcorders as well.

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