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DVD Recorders : Buying guide : Basics : content protection

DVD Recorders Introduction

DVD players are quickly replacing VCRs as the preferred source for playing movies at home. Now, with home DVD recorders, you may find yourself using your VCR even less. Just as VCRs play pre-recorded movies and record on blank tapes, DVD recorders play DVD movies and record on blank DVD discs.

Imagine being able to record TV shows and home movies and then watch them on a DVD player, or on your computer's DVD-ROM drive. DVD recorders provide DVD's outstanding picture and sound quality, as well as tape-free convenience. Like a VCR, a DVD recorder has a built-in TV tuner, and a clock/timer for unattended recording. Note: You will not be able to make recordings of copy-protected DVDs.

Advantages of recording to a disc

The advantages of recording video to DVD versus tape are similar to the advantages of recording music to CD instead of cassette. You don't have to fast-forward or rewind to find an unused 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. To start recording, you simply push the Record button! Arranging and editing video segments with a DVD recorder is as easy as creating a mix CD on a CD recorder.

Because optical discs are a much more durable and robust medium than magnetic tapes, DVD recorders are ideal for archiving programs recorded on other media, or for transferring precious 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 many fewer moving parts than a VCR, for better long-term reliability.

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. The highest-quality mode yields recordings with picture and sound quality that are virtually indistinguishable from the original. The video recording format is MPEG2, while audio is recorded in 2-channel Dolby® Digital 2.0.

DVD Recordable Discs Overview

CD-Recordable discs (CD-R) were introduced in 1988 and CD-RW (the re-writable version) was introduced about 15 years after the first read-only CD was launched.

Both write-once and re-writable  DVD discs have been developed and all are now available. There are several different formats all with a capacity of 4.7GB per side:

  • DVD-R discs are write-once discs with a capacity of 4.7GB per side. Two versions have been defined: DVD-R for Authoring and DVD-R for General use. Note that copy protected content cannot be written to DVD-R discs.
  • DVD-RAM discs are re-writable discs with a capacity of 4.7GB per side for computer data storage and archive applications, although this format is also used in some DVD video recorders.
  • DVD-RW discs are re-writable discs with a capacity of 4.7GB per side for consumer applications such as video recording.
  • DVD+RW and DVD+R discs are similar to the corresponding DVD-RW and DVD-R for General formats.

Both recorders and discs for these formats are  now available and include PC drives, video recorders and camcorders. Compatibility is an issue as not all formats will play on existing DVD players and DVD-ROM drives.

Three competing recordable-DVD camps
Electronics and computer manufacturers couldn't agree on a single standard for recordable DVD, so they've split into three camps.

DVD-R/RW is backed by Pioneer and supported on the computer side by Apple;

is backed by Panasonic with support by Toshiba; 

is backed by Sony and Philips, with support from Hewlett-Packard.

Another way to group these recordable formats is "write-once" (non-erasable) versus rewriteable (erasable). Write-once formats include DVD-R and DVD+R; rewriteable formats include DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, and DVD+RW. 

DVD-RW and DVD+RW discs can be erased and re-recorded about 1,000 times, while DVD-RAM discs can be re-recorded up to 100,000 times! When purchasing blank discs, be sure you're getting a type that's compatible with your recorder. For example, there are two types of DVD-R discs: DVD-R(G-general), and DVD-R(A-authoring). Consumer recorders use DVD-R(G) discs.

With so many formats and compatibility issues, and only a handful of DVD recorder models available to consumers, it's difficult to say with total certainty which discs will play in which recorders (or players!).

There are some technical differences among these formats, but the most important distinction for consumers is compatibility with existing DVD players (and computer DVD-ROM drives). 

DVD-R is the format that's most compatible with current players and drives. DVD-RAM is the least compatible — it will only play on DVD players specifically designed to handle it. However, DVD-RAM does offer some unique capabilities, such as simultaneous record and playback, which provides some of the same conveniences as a TiVo hard disk recorder.

Making the right connections

If you're shopping for a DVD recorder, make sure you get one with the necessary video and audio connections for optimum performance with your other A/V gear. Starting with video, most DVD recorders include composite and S-video jacks, and some have component video inputs, too. 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, a few DVD recorders include an i.LINK digital A/V jack.

As far as audio connections, if you plan to use a DVD recorder as your primary DVD player, make sure you get one with a digital audio output, so you can send Dolby Digital signals to your A/V receiver. 

See DVD Recorders, PVR, HDTV

See How to connect your DVD player