Looking to record your favorite music and videos? Get ready to go digital
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you're shopping for a video recorder of any type:
- Inputs and outputs. Most video recorders will have both an RF (antenna or cable) input and a set of analog line-level audio and video inputs. Some will have a multipin S-video (sometimes mislabeled S-VHS) input in addition to the standard composite-video RCA jack. Hard-disk recorders with built-in satellite-TV receivers normally won't have an RF input for anything other than a satellite dish, however, and you won't find digital video inputs even on digital recorders. Recorders based on newer technology have only direct audio and video outputs. Most will also have S-video outputs for better picture quality, and high-end models (of DVD recorders, especially) may have component-video outputs as well. The key is to make sure you can hook everything in your system together in a way that makes sense, which means at the very least that input and output types must match between components. If you expect to copy from a camcorder to your video recorder, having a set of audio/ video inputs on the front panel will come in very handy.
- Audio. Hard-disk and DVD recorders use high-quality MPEG or Dolby Digital audio coding. Many of these will provide digital audio outputs as well as analog, which can be quite useful. (If you intend to use a DVD recorder as your main DVD player in a home theater system, it should definitely have a digital audio output.)
- Recording time. With DVD recorders, you can expect to get about 2 hours per disc, although Panasonic's DMR-E10 does have a 4-hour mode, and its new DMR-E20 has a 6-hour mode. VCRs and most hard-disk recorders have variable recording capacities. (Satellite-based hard-disk record ers record the signal directly, however, and don't do their own compression.) A hard-disk recorder's maximum recording time de pends on the data capacity of its hard drives and the data rate used for video coding. The lower the data rate, the longer the recording time, but also the lower the video quality. The difference in picture quality from the lowest to the highest data rate is dramatic, so it's a good idea to eyeball what you're going to get at each setting so that you'll know how much recording time you'll get at settings you'd normally use. Note that advertised recording times are usually the maximum they can deliver.
- Programming features. If you plan to record broadcast programs, you'll want to be able to program your recorder for unattended operation. Virtually all hard-disk recorders allow you to subscribe to program guides that allow for simple point-and-click setup from the remote control. (Some hard-disk recorders are nearly useless without such a system, in fact.) Just about any recorder will allow manual programming as well. Since chances are good that you'll want to set recording times yourself occasionally, you should check to see how any recorder you're considering handles this function before you buy. Some make it much easier than others.
So there you are. Yes, it's more complicated than the old days, when the only recorders were cassette decks and VCRs. The explosion of choices brings many benefits, however, in performance, versatility, and ease of use. What's happening now in the world of video recording is particularly exciting. It's good times for shoppers.