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update With so many different models available and tons of unfamiliar specifications to consider, finding the right DVD recorder can be quite overwhelming, even for the more savvy shopper.
But the effort can be worthwhile for three main reasons: better image and surround sound capture, the ability to record live shows while playing back video content recorded earlier, massive recording space for units with onboard hard drives
To simplify your shopping process, we've compiled a checklist to give you the big picture.
1. Know thy formats
There are seven dominant DVD standards today: DVD+R, DVD+R DL, DVD+RW, DVD-R, DVD-R DL, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM. Most recorders now support DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW while selected models support the DVD-RAM or Dual-Layer (DL) formats. ("R" refers to write-once discs, "RW" represents rewritable media.)
In case you're wondering, there is no significant difference between the "-" and "+" DVD formats. Industry trends, however, point to the DVD+R/RW media being the more popular choice, and the DVD-R/RW discs being cheaper and more backward-compatible with older DVD players. DL formats support twice the capacity of the older media with 8.5GB of storage space.
The oddball of the lot is the DVD-RAM standard, which has discs reusable up to 100,000 times. The unique feature of this format is that it allows for simultaneous playback and recording of video content. The media also comes double-sided and can store twice the 4.7GB available on standard DVD discs. Unfortunately, DVD-RAM media cannot be read on many DVD players and costs the most among the five formats.
2. Built-in hard drives
DVD recorders can be split into two broad categories: Those that record on DVDs and those that record on DVD and a built-in hard drive. Most recorders on the market now fall into the latter category, and their main advantage is the huge recording capacity. They represent better value for money as a result because you don't need to burn a new DVD for every program. Some new models sport 400GB drives that can capture a whopping 650 hours of video footage. Most DVD recorders with onboard hard drives also offer simultaneous playback and recording. Expect to pay a little more for HDD recorders.
3. Time shift recording
The ability to play back and pause a live TV program while its still recording is known as time shift. Most DVD-R and HDD recorders come with this function and it is extremely popular with couch potatoes and sports fans who want the freedom to pause and continue a live game or movie broadcast without having to miss anything.
4. Ease of use
Unlike VCRs which are primarily used for recording and playback of TV programs, DVD recorders feature a whole lot more functions, including time shift, downloading of video footage from camcorders and advanced recording capabilities. This, unfortunately, adds to the complexity of the machine, which makes it even more important to find one that's easy to use. Do pay particular attention to the intuitiveness of the remote control, onscreen display and setup menu when trying out the recorder at the showroom. Also, make sure your new recorder supports the new EPG before leaving the shop, as it makes scheduling recordings a whole lot easier. An EPG lets you view the next week's programs and click the ones you want to record -- simple!
5. Number of recording hours
Most manufacturers claim their recorders can chalk up to a certain number of hours, but these figures are often misleading as the recordings tend to be at the lowest quality (sometimes even lower than the extended mode on VCRs). A better estimation of the true recording time is to look at the two best-quality recording modes which are often only a fraction of the maximum figure. That will help you decide how big a hard drive you need for your recording needs.
6. Connectivity options
Besides keeping an eye out for the different video connectivity options such as composite-video, component and S-video, an interesting feature to watch out for is FireWire. This is particularly useful for camcorder users who want to archive captured footage onto DVDs. Increasingly, new recorder models also feature onboard memory card readers for downloading digicam images and short video into the DVD or onboard hard drive. Most models now also sport HDMI video output for a neat one-cable digital interface optimised for flat-panel TVs -- some also offer upscaling of your DVD collection.
The most expensive DVD recorder isn't always the best one for your needs. Many of the latest models vary from AU$200 to as much as AU$1,800, with those on the higher end usually sporting larger hard drive capacities, faster DVD writing speeds and advanced recording and playback options. Depending on your recording needs, you should probably be spending at least AU$400 to AU$600 for a decent system, preferably one with a hard drive and a fair number of recording modes.