How to Buy a DVD Recorder

DVD Recorder Shopping Tips

Ready to buy? Consider these points before you punch the record button at the cash register.

What are you going to do with it? If all you want to do is record TV programs and keep some of them, the best thing to get, by far, is a digital video recorder with a built-in DVD burner or a DVD recorder with a hard drive. If, on the other hand, your primary interest is making DVDs from home videos, you may still want a hard disk, but make sure the recorder provides good editing functionality and an and a DV input (also called a FireWire port). If you have VHS tapes you want to transfer to DVD, a DVD recorder/VCR can be a handy and enhanced alternative to connecting your VCR to the DVD recorder.

How portable do your recordings need to be? If you want to play your discs in other rooms of the house or share them with other people, get a recorder that supports as many formats as possible. This will improve your odds of being able to share discs with other, perhaps more finicky, devices.

Do you want an electronic program guide, and if so, which one? Gemstar's TV Guide On Screen is the free alternative to TiVo; however, you'll have to put up with annoyances like unintuitive program grids and busy, ad-laden screens. Microsoft is also offering a fee-based EPG, currently available only on one of LG Electronics' DVD recorders.

What else can the recorder do? Consider whether the unit can play MP3 and WMA CDs, view JPEGs, and support those file formats stored on flash memory cards.

How easy is it to use? Check out the on-screen menus and the remote control. Good interfaces will guide you through tasks, while bad ones will get in the way. This can make a big difference in how much you use and enjoy the device, especially if you do a lot of editing. In that case, look at how the recorder organizes scenes for you and look at the steps required to perform basic tasks such as trimming, deleting, and reordering scenes. If the manual is available online, skim its contents to see if it offers clear, detailed explanations of everything related to recording and--especially for home video--editing.

How good is the picture at the various compression settings? Most recorders perform comparably at their best settings; you'll see greater differences in 4-, 6-, and 8-hour modes.

If, on the other hand, your primary interest is creating DVDs of home video, use some of your best-looking footage and see how well it survives the transfer.

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