How to Buy a DVD Recorder

The Specs Explained

The key DVD recorder specifications refer mostly to which recording options are provided--whether technical options such as disc formats and compression, or functional options such as inputs and programming.

We've divided the specs into three groups: important, somewhat important, and minor.

Important: Recording Formats

DVD has seven different recordable-disc formats. Pick a recorder based on which formats your current hardware uses and which formats best suit your needs.

DVD-R: Write-once (it can't be erased or rewritten). This is the format most broadly compatible with DVD players; almost all current models and many older ones play it.

DVD-R DL: Write-once dual-layer media can store twice as much video as a single-layer DVD-R disc.

DVD-RW: The rewritable sibling of DVD-R. DVD-RW is reasonably compatible with ordinary DVD players; this format will play in most current models and some older ones.

DVD+R: Write-once (can't be erased or rewritten). This format is similar to DVD-R in compatibility with DVD players; it will play in almost all current models and many older ones.

DVD+R DL: This write-once double-layer media format can store twice as much video as a single-layer DVD+R disc.

DVD+RW: The rewritable sibling of DVD+R. It is reasonably compatible with ordinary DVD players; DVD+RW will play in most current models and some older ones.

DVD-RAM: Rewritable format with excellent random-access capability. This is the best format for on-disc editing. DVD-RAM is compatible only with players designed to support the format.

Important: Recording Capabilities

Recorders can increase the amount of video they can fit on a disc by compressing the data more severely. Picture quality drops correspondingly, however, so this specification should not be considered in isolation. If you anticipate needing to record large blocks of programs at high quality--for example, the full multi-hour evening broadcast of the Summer Olympics, or the entirety of the Super Bowl--buy a DVD recorder with a hard drive. Such models allow you to record at the best image quality, and then archive the recording to multiple discs at a later time.

If you want to get 2 hours of maximum-quality video on a single disc, make sure your chosen recorder supports recording to either double-layer or dual-layer DVD media.

Important: Component-Video Output

Component-video output allows the highest picture quality when connected to a display with component-video inputs, especially if the recorder and display support progressive scan.

Important: High-Def Upconversion

Many recorders now offer HDMI output and in-unit scaling to upconvert your images to 1080i or 1080p. Look for this feature if you plan to use your recorder with a high-definition LCD or plasma display. By going through the HDMI output, you'll achieve a slightly improved image quality over standard-definition video that's output to an HDTV via component or composite video.

Somewhat Important: DV Input

A DV input--also known as FireWire or iLink support--ensures maximum video and audio quality when the video is transferred from a digital camcorder, or from a digital cable box or satellite receiver equipped with a FireWire output.

Somewhat Important: Front-Panel A/V Inputs

Audio/video inputs on the front panel make temporary connection of devices such as camcorders much more convenient.

Somewhat Important: Electronic Program Guide

EPGs can make it much easier to program the device to record television programs. Guides vary in sophistication (most are free, but some carry monthly fees).

Minor: Type of Digital Audio Output

It's important to be able to make a digital audio connection to an A/V receiver or surround-sound processor if you're going to use the recorder to watch movies in a home theater system. On the other hand, most receivers, processors, and DVD recorders provide for both coaxial and optical (Toslink) connections, so making a match is rarely a problem.

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