Interested in buying a DVD recorder? If so,
read these important FAQs first.
It is safe to say that the era of the VCR is
slowly drawing to a close (although VCRs will be around for quite
some time) and the era of the DVD is now solidly entrenched,
especially now that recordable DVD is available. As DVD recorders
become more popular and affordable, my email box is filled with
many questions on what they are, how they work, and what they can
be used for. In order to address the most common questions
regarding DVD recorders, here are some general FAQs that should
make your DVD recorder buying decision easier.
is a DVD recorder and how is it different from a DVD burner?
A DVD recorder is a standalone unit that resembles and
functions very much like a VCR. All DVD recorders can record from
any analog video source (some can also record from Digital
camcorders via firewire). Like a VCR, DVD recorders all have AV
inputs as well as onboard TV tuner for recording TV shows.
A DVD burner refers to a unit that is either an external
add-on or internal DVD drive (like a CDR/RW drive) that can record
video, but can also read and write computer data and store it on a
blank DVD disc. On the other hand, standalone DVD recorders have
no ability to read or write computer data. However, in order to
record video and audio onto a PC-DVD burner the user must input
the video to the computer's hard drive using Firewire, USB, or
S-Video through a video card and then copy the resultant files
from the hard drive onto a blank DVD disk, whereas a standalone
DVD recorder can record from video sources in real time, direct to
a blank DVD.
2. Can I copy videos and DVDs on my DVD
Just as you can't copy commercially made
video tapes to another VCR due to Macrovision anti-copy encoding,
the same applies to making copies to DVD. DVD recorders cannot
bypass the anti-copy signal on commercial video tapes or DVDs.
However, just as with VCRs, there are video stabilizers available
that will minimize the effect of anti-copy encoding, however, they
are not 100% successful. Such devices are available at most major
consumer electronics retailers.
However, you can copy any
homemade videos, such as camcorder videos and videos made from TV
shows (an even laserdiscs). Also, remember that a DVD recorder
also has a built-tuner for recording TV programming directly.
In addition, some DVD recorders also have digital video inputs
(IEEE-1394, Firewire, i-Link) that allow users of digital
camcorders to digitally transfer their audio and video direct to
DVD in real time.
3. Can I play DVDs made on my DVD
recorder in other DVD players?
There is no 100%
guarantee that any DVD you make your DVD recorder will play in all
DVD players. Whether or not you can play a DVD you have made using
your DVD recorder on most current DVD players (manufactured within
the last three years) will depend mostly on the format used in
recording the DVD.
Without getting into the technical
aspects of each format (for more info check related links at the
end of this article) the relevance of each format to the average
consumer goes something like this:
DVD-R: The most
universal of recordable DVD formats that is used by computer DVD
writers as well as most DVD recorders. DVD-R is a write-once
format, much like CD-R and discs made in this format can be played
in most current DVD players.
DVD-RW: Recordable and
rewritable format (like CD-RW) promoted by Pioneer, Sharp, and
Sony. Discs are playable in most DVD players, provided it is
recorded in the straight video mode and finalized.
Recordable and rewritable format promoted primarily by Philips,
with a host of partners, including Yamaha, HP, Ricoh, Thomson
(RCA), Mitsubishi, APEX, and Sony. Claims to offer a greater
degree of compatibility with current DVD technology than DVD-RW.
DVD+R: A record-once format introduced recently by Philips
and adopted by the other DVD+RW proponents, that is said to be
easier to use than DVD-R, while still playable in most current DVD
DVD-RAM: Recordable and rewritable format
promoted by Panasonic, Toshiba, Samsung, and Hitachi, which is not
compatible with current DVD technology and is not compatible with
most DVD-ROM computer drives. One of the unique features of
DVD-RAM, however, is its ability (with its random access and quick
writing speed) to allow the user to watch the beginning of a
recording while the DVD recorder is still recording the end of the
program. This is great if a phone call interrupts your viewing or
if you come home late from work and miss the beginning that
important TV episode or televised sporting event.
4. Is there a DVD recorder that can record in
There is no DVD recorder (or DVD burner,
for that matter) that can record in all of the above recordable
DVD formats, however, SONY (at the time of this post) has
introduced a PC-DVD burner that can record in DVD-R/-RW/+R/+RW and
has also released a standalone DVD recorder that can record in the
It may seem confusing to have to
decide between all of the DVD recording formats. You are asking
yourself: "Which one will become obsolete the quickest?". The real
answer to this is: "None of them". As long as the recorded DVD
plays in your DVD player, or your friend's and/or relative's DVD
player(s) that is all that really matters. The only format to stay
away from, in terms of compatibility with other players, is
For more resources on DVD recorder playback
compatibility, check out resources under "Elsewhere On The Web" in
the linkbox at the upper right side of this article.
How does the video quality of a DVD recorder compare to a VHS VCR
or a standard DVD player?
DVD recorders can record
video in resolutions ranging from DVD quality to VHS quality
depending on the recording speed used, somewhat analogous to the
different recording speeds on a VCR. Although there is some
variation from manufacturer to manufacturer, DVD recorders
typically can record in one hour, two hour, four hour, and six
hour speeds. The one hour speed will be very close, if not the
same, as DVD quality, while the four and six hour speeds will be
more like VHS SP and EP respectively.
One factor to
ultimately consider however, is that, even at the one hour speed,
the quality of the source material determines the quality of the
recording. If you are copying an old home video that was recorded
at VHS-EP using the one hour DVD recorder speed, you won't get DVD
quality; you can't make something bad look better, however it
won't be any worse when using the one hour speed. By the same
token, if you take a miniDV camcorder video that was recorded at
500 lines of resolution and dub it to the DVD recorder using the
four or six hour speed, you will only get VHS quality. The rule of
thumb is to always use the best source material and
fastest/shortest recording speed possible.
6. Is there
such a thing as a VHS VCR/DVD or Hard Disk/DVD recorder combo?
VHS/DVD recorder combos are on the way from several
makers, including Sansui and GoVideo (both of which may be
available by the end of 2003). Panasonic has tentative plans to
introduce one into the Japanese market in late 2003. If well
received, you may see a similar unit on U.S. and European store
shelves in 2004. However, if you already have a working VCR and
you buy a DVD recorder, all you would have to do to copy from the
VCR to DVD is to hookup the VCR to the AV inputs of the DVD
recorder (which works much like a VCR) and simply copy your video
There are, however, several DVD recorders from a
few manufacturers that include both a hard drive and a DVD
recorder in the same unit. This type of system allows the user to
copy raw footage or record a series a programs to the hard drive
and then edit or copy smaller segments or the entire contents of
the hard drive to a blank DVD. Also, another benefit of this type
of unit is that if the DVD runs out of space during recording, the
excess video is automatically recorded onto the hard disk, which,
once again, can be copied onto another blank DVD at a later, more
7. Can a DVD recorder record in Dolby
Digital or DTS surround sound?
Consumer grade DVD
recorders all have the ability to play back all Dolby Digital and
DTS source material, when used with an AV receiver. However, DVD
recorders only have analog stereo audio inputs for recording
audio, which is then encoded into two-channel Dolby Digital. The
output of the recorded audio can be accessed either through the
analog stereo outputs or the digital audio outputs of the DVD
recorder. Although, DVD recorders cannot record in 5.1 channel
Dolby Digital or DTS audio, when used with an AV receiver equipped
with Dolby Prologic II and/or DTS neo:6 processors, the two
channel audio recording can be reprocessed into a 5.1 or 6.1
channel soundfield, albiet not as accurate as an original 5.1 or
6.1 channel soundtrack source.
The reason for this is
two-fold: Since you can't record (or shouldn't be able to) or copy
DVDs and there is little 5.1 or 6.1 channel audio available from
other sources to record, there is not much need for this function.
However, the second factor is probably more political than
technical: even if you are successful at making a copy of a DVD
video, you are prevented from making a copy of the multi-channel
soundtrack, thus preventing you from making an "exact" copy of a
DVD on a DVD recorder that could be "passed off" as the orginal.
If the status of digital audio recording changes for DVD
Recorders, I will post an update on this question.
Can I record HDTV on a DVD recorder?
recorders cannot record in HDTV standards, due to limitations of
both the laser wavelength used and in the limited space of current
DVDs for the storage capacity needs of HDTV signals. However,
HD-DVD recording is not far off as the Blu-ray group (Hitachi, LG
Electronics, Matsushita Electric Industrial, Pioneer, Royal
Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sharp, Sony and Thomson)
have finally settled on standards and begun licensing procedures
for the new Blu-ray HD-DVD format.
Products using this
technology may appear in Japan in late 2003 and in the U.S. and
Europe sometime in 2004. The remaining questions are:
Affordability for the consumer, the availability of both blank and
pre-recorded software, and whether you will "allowed" or able to
record programs broadcast in HDTV due to proposed anti-copy
encoding schemes. However, JVC has just introduced the first
consumer-grade HD-capable camcorder that could be paired with such
a unit for the independent filmaker. If a DVD recorder has the Blu-ray
logo, it will have the ability to record in HD, depending on the
9. What about blank DVD discs?
Blank DVDs can be found in most consumer electronics and computer
stores, usually in the computer department. Since prices vary, I
will not quote any here. The main thing to remember is to get
discs that are of the same format as your recorder. For example,
if you have a DVD recorder that records in the DVD+R/+RW format
make sure you buy discs that have that label on the packaging. You
cannot use a +R disc in a -R recorder or vice versa.
10. Are DVD recorders also good DVD players?
all the recording features, DVD recorders are also excellent DVD
players, just as with standard DVD players, basic units may not
have all of the high-end bells and whistles, but most units have
progresssive scan, component outputs, Dolby Digital, and DTS
pass-through, CDR/RW, and VCD playback, just as any current DVD
player would. Some units also have CD-MP3 and JPEG still photo
playback as well. When you shop for a DVD recorder, also make sure
it has the playback features you require.
11. How do I
hookup a DVD recorder to my TV or home theater system?
A DVD recorder can hookup to any TV that has a least AV inputs
(you will need and RF modulator if your TV does not have AV
inputs). Just hookup your cable or antenna feed to the ant/cable
input of the DVD recorder and loop it out to the RF input on the
TV. In addition, you will need to hookup of the DVD recorder to
the AV inputs (composite, s-video, or component) of the TV for DVD
playback. Note: Although DVD recorders have an RF loop through to
the TV, it is passive, when playing back a recorded DVD you must
use the AV inputs of the TV or buy an RF modulator to put between
the DVD recorder and TV to convert the recorded signal.
When connecting a DVD recorder to home theater receiver, however,
you can connect it just as you would a VCR, through the VCR1 or
VCR2 loop, with additional connection of the digital coaxial or
digital optical output to the digital audio inputs available on
the AV receiver. Use the monitor output of the AV receiver to
supply the video part of the feed to the TV. In this type of
hookup you have access to all the surround sound functions of DVD
playback (of commercial DVDs) as well as the DVD recorder's
recording and dubbing functions from other video sources (such as
a VCR) connected to the AV receiver. Most DVD recorders also have
from mounted AV inputs as well for the connection of a camcorder.
All the owner's manuals provided with DVD recorders have
explicit and simple hookup diagrams for a variety of setup
12. Do DVD recorders also have region lock,
like standard DVD players?
DVDs that you make yourself
are not region encoded, however, DVD recorders are region specific
with regards to playback of commerically made DVDs. See my related
article on this topic - link on the right side of this page under
13. Is it worth buying a DVD
It depends on your needs. If you like
the idea of recording with the best video and audio quality
currently possible, preserving old family videos in a more
permanent format, making your own short films or videos, and need
to replace an aging VCR anyway, a DVD recorder may be an option to
consider. Prices are still a little high, but not out of reach.
Just three years ago a DVD recorder was $3,000, last year prices
went down to less than $1,000. Right now some units are as low as
$399. If you can wait until 2004, prices will be down to as low as
$349 for basic units; full featured units will still be around
$599-699. Of course make sure the DVD recorder you consider has
the features you need.
I hope that the
above FAQs help to sort out the issues revolving around DVD
recorders. Keep in mind, as with all consumer eletronics
technology, that things are constantly changing. In other words,
the above FAQs are dynamic and will be updated when needed. If you
have any input into these FAQs, feel free to send me a comment or
post it on my Forum. Also, stayed tuned for updates on DVD
recorders and related products throughout the year.
Source: Robert Silva, About Home Theatre