Hippo Manchester
September 1, 2005

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Beyond VCRs, Part 2

DVDs are the next step in portable-recording technology

By John “jaQ” Andrews 

Last week I wrote about the joys of Digital Video Recorders, or DVRs.

Another option for moving beyond the VCR is the DVD recorder, which uses DVDs instead of a hard drive to store your favorite television programs or home movies.

In some ways, the DVD recorder is a much more direct evolution of the VCR than the DVR is. You’re still recording to a removable medium, so you can lend your recording to someone else or play it easily wherever you have a DVD player. You can also choose either rewritable discs, if you plan to watch something once and then reuse the media, or record-once discs, if you want to archive something and make sure no one can tape over it.

Most low-end DVD recorders don’t offer the pause-live-TV and advanced recording options that DVRs do. You can get those features if you spend several hundred dollars. On a budget, though, you’ll be setting the channel and time manually just like an old VCR — or, if you’re lucky, you can set a VCR+ code.

One thing to make sure of is that you have the correct media. There are several different types of recordable and rewritable DVDs, and in most cases your recorder will support only one format for recording. There’s little difference between the formats (DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW and DVD-RAM), so just worry about matching up the player and the media.

This column is about bargains, so I went out and bought me the cheapest DVD recorder I could lay my hands on: the CyberHome DVR 1600. It cost me $99.99 on sale at one of the big home electronics stores around here. And I must say, so far I’m pretty pleased.

It uses DVD+R and DVD+RW discs for recording, but can read pretty much any DVD format out there. It can also read CDs and has software to play straight CD audio, MP3 audio, video and photos.

Setting up a recording is almost identical to the process on a VCR. You set the date, time and channel you want to record, and you’re pretty much done. The program screen shows you what’s currently on the channel you select, so you’re not only able to ensure that the channel is correct, you’re entertained too.

I chose a random time and ended up taping Andromeda. While the quality of the show itself was debatable, the quality of the recording was superb — leaps and bounds ahead of my creaky VCR, even on a middling quality setting. (The higher quality, the less time you have on your DVD. I chose LP, which gave me about three hours to play with.) I chose to have the recorder set chapter marks every ten minutes, just for the heck of it, and that worked flawlessly as well.

The DVD+RW I used played just fine on my other DVD player, a GoVideo model. If you were an early adopter and got your DVD player just as they were coming out, you might have less luck playing a home-recorded DVD on it, but otherwise you shouldn’t have many problems. DVD-Rs and DVD+Rs do need to be “finalized” before they can play on other DVD players, so make sure you select that step before lending one out.

This DVD recorder has gotten bad reviews online, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I own a very cheap CyberHome DVD player as well, and I’ve always been happy with that. If this new gadget falls apart in a couple weeks, you, my loyal readers, will be the first to know.