We Know: How To Buy a DVD Recorder

What would I need a DVD recorder for?

That is the first question you should ask. Knowing the answer will help you get the best value for your money. Let's list the possibilities:

  1.   I want to replace my VCR to record programs off the air. Nothing fancy here.
  2.   I want transfer video from my camcorder to DVD.
  3.   I want to record, or "burn", DVDs on my computer to store data and maybe copy some videos too.

(1) and (2) are similar because they point to your buying a standalone playback/recorder you can hook up to your TV and maybe your camcorder. These standalone recorders cannot record or store data from a computer. For that you'll need a so-called DVD "burner" which is referred in item (3). This is a separate consideration and one you can find out more about it in our article on All About Computer DVD Burners.

What does "DVD" mean?

DVD has come to stand for several terms. Most accurate and common these days are Digital Video Disc or Digital Versatile Disc. It is an optical storage medium (meaning it uses laser technology to store data on the disc) that looks like a CD but which is different in that it can store about six times the amount of data or information of a CD and it can operate at a much higher speed. This means it's big enough to store two hours or more of video programs for playback. When the term "versatile" is used it refers to the ability of DVDs to be used in computers to store large amounts of data as well as video programs.

So, how do I get started?

First, get to know the following terms: DVD-R and DVD+R. These are DVD recording and playback formats. The DVD-R simply means it's recordable (it's a hyphen, not a minus sign). This was the first DVD recording standard and was created to insure that videos burned onto DVDs on computers (using the same format) would play back on standalone units. It was backed by several well-known brand-name DVD player manufacturers.


DVD+R was developed sometime after by a group of competing and also well-known manufacturers. Without getting too technical here, the DVD+R format is considered a more advanced format and provides the potential for more layers of information being recorded onto a single DVD disc.

Which format should I choose then?

Either one's going to record OK for you. A better way to look at this is:

  1. If you just want to record stuff off the air, you'll need just a basic recorder, which translates to "cheap", and there are plenty of cheap DVD recorders out there right now, and getting cheaper by the day. These will also work fine if you want to start transferring video from VHS tapes you might have to DVD.
  2. If you want transfer video from your camcorder directly to your recorder, consider buying one that has a Firewire input so you can go straight from your camcorder right into the recorder using the highest quality transfer method.

What else should I look for?

  1. Inputs on both the front and the back of the unit--having both will cost little more but can also make it easier when you want to record video from your camcorder.
  2. Consider buying a combo VHS/DVD playback/recorder if you have a lot of VHS videotapes you'd like to copy to DVD. Some units will allow you to record both ways--the less expensive models will just let you go from videotape to DVD.
  3. Units are available to record in both of the primary DVD formats. In most cases recording in either one is good enough; but if you want the capability for both and will pay more it, it's available.
  4. If you're going to be using this for your main playback unit too just make sure it can handle DVDs that have been recorded on other units and/or burners. This usually means getting a more expensive unit. The cheaper ones often have trouble playing back discs recorded on other recorders or burners.

What about -RW and +RW?

You're likely to see the terms -RW and +RW right next to the -R and +R terms on DVD recorders. This just means they can record onto rewriteable DVD discs, which come in the same two formats.

What about DVD recorders for High-Definition TV?

That's another whole issue and series of considerations. They're coming onto the market right now. And already a new format war has developed: Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD. Stay tuned as this plays itself out and, unless you have money to blow, probably hold off on purchasing one right now until this settles down. Be forewarned. The battle does not promise to be pretty.



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