As admin said, it is really difficult to find a standalone DVD recorder, especially the one with HDD on the market these days.
I personally own two Panasonic DVD recorders bought couple years ago (DMR-EH80, and SC-HT1500), and neither of them required TiVo or similar monthly subscriptions. The later model with home theater system bought in 2005 even had free TV Guide OnScreen, but I had nothing else just troubles to get my second dvd recorder to work with it correctly. And approx. two years ago, TV Guide OnScreen stopped working at all. I learned how to disable that feature, and recorded my favorite shows manually (I mostly did it even when I have TV Guide OnScreen.)
I personally prefer dvd recorders without any TV GUIDE OnScreen or similar features. It causes just error messages on the dvd recorder screen, etc., and on top of that, I think it tends to keep dvd recorder be hot on one side - probably trying hard to get some downloads from TV Guide schedule during the night and early morning. I already had to replace few bad capacitors twice in one year in the second dvd recorder. On the contrary, I did not have any similar troubles with the first dvd recorder - the one without TV Guide feature.
I recorded an abundand amount of shows, watched them, edited, burned to DVDs, deleted, etc. After more than 6 years of using dvd recorders, I can say I cannot leave without them.
A month ago, I decided to buy another dvd recorder for another room. To my surprise, there were not available at any retail stores since the end of 2007 (the time when my second recorder experienced bad capacitors issues for the first time - it is fixable by "lay" person after little research, having minimum "repair" skills.)
I searched online for dvd recorders, and I finally decide to buy PIONEER DVR-550H (silver) DVD recorder with 160GB built-in HDD. I am testing it for approx. 2 weeks, and I cannot be happier. It has even better editing features, dvd menu options than Panasonic models.
1. Ability to connect keyboard to dvd recorder, and put title name of your recording in more easier and quicker way (it is feature of DVR-550H & DVR-650H models only.)
2. Disc Copy/BackUp feature - it can make the exactly same copy of any of your finalized DVD (I tested finalized DVD-Rs.) I tested it with my DVDs recorded and finalized on both Panasonic DVD recorders. It makes the exact copy of the finilazed disc you put inside - including DVD menu, chapters, etc. In summary, after following onscreen prompts, you will have exactly the same copy as one you entered as original. (Note: This feature works with DVD that you created by yourself; it will not make any copy of copy-protected DVDs.)
3. It supports all DVD media you can find on the market (compare to limitations on previous models) - DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-RAM, DVD-R Dual Layer, and DVD+R Dual Layer. I actually only tested recording to DVD-R and DVD-RAM (my favorite for temporary and permanent backups), and they worked flawlessly. It can even read DVD-RAM recorded in Panasonic dvd recorders.
4. The timer recording works great - the way you use it on VCRs.
5. It has commercial skip feature as many models before - allowing to switch in 30 seconds incresements in recordings.)
6. I think it can even work with satellite receivers and record shows via satellite using timer built-in satellite onscreen menu; feature that many older models as Panasonic did not supported. I never tried it, we have digital cable, but based on the manual and my understanding, it could be a nice feature.
If you are looking for VCR replacement, you should buy DVD recorder with HDD (you should really buy one with at least 80GB), because re-recording even on rewritable DVD media might ruin your dvd burner laser inside the dvd recorder in a couple of years of heavy everyday usage. And replacement can be costly, if you do not have extended waranty. If you want VCR replacement, HDD is great for it, and you can still keep lot of shows there.
The only one thing is that you either have to order dvd recorder from Canada (but be aware with every purchase over $200, you will be very likely paying duty/customes in order to get your unit from Canada to the US.) Or you can buy the unit from US sellers (e.g. 220depot.com, world-import.com, etc.) and you will get region-free unit. Those companies has great amount of dvd recorder in their stores with quite good prices, offers 1 year warranty. etc. Either way, you will end with the unit designed by Pioneer Japan and made in China (I contacted almost all sellers about the country of manufacturing.)
And you can always add additional warranty as I plan to do in a couple of days using SquareTrade. You can get extended warranty for 3 years for approx. $35 - but you must buy it within 30 days of purchase of your dvd recorder from any retail or online store. (They claim that your item will be repaired with 5 days or they give you your money back - the price you paid for the unit and registered when obtaining extended warranty.)
Don't worry about compatilility of out-of-US designed dvd recorder on this market. I was worried too, believe me. You will just order two special connector for RF antenna cable and US adaptor plug (for $7 in total) and the unit will work perfect in your home like any other unit sold on this market before.
But don't get confused with PAL/NTSC systems. Your unit will be region-free, it means it will work in the US, and it will accept even e.g. PAL region 2 DVD-Video media, but in order to be able to see it on TV you either have to have multi-system TV or video converter (I have digital video converter, and it works for any DVD recorded in PAL region 2 system - that's all what I have available from other systems.)
However, if you are looking for VCR replacement for recording of TV shows, and use it exclusively with NTSC, you have nothing to worry about. The unit like Pioneer DVR-550H is set to work in your home OUT-OF-BOX.
If you have any question, you can send message, and someone from store (e.g. 220depot.com) will contact you very soon and answer your questions.
Auto channeling works little bit different. What I mean is it will rearrange (capture) channels under different numbers, but with manual setting, swapping, etc. you can correct all of those "flaws", and you'll have channel line up as same as it is in TV Guide channels line-up or the way you like it.
I remember one of my friend saying that she saw some DVD recorder at Wal-mart at some price around $150, but if you want a good, reliable dvd recorder for many years, buy Pioneer or Panasonic and invest couple more dollars per year to extended warranty. It worths it, especially these days when you cannot find any US model on the market (except Phillips.)
Based on my experiences with Phillips first model of dvd recorder in 2003, I would not buy Phillips anymore (it ended up in the store within 30 days after purchase due to repeated unexpected shut-down during recording to DVD media, making my $2.50 media unusable.) Admin is happy with his Phillips, so it could change over years, but many people who had chance to compare Phillips with other brands did not like it. The thing is that Phillips seems to be the only one company who decided to invest to ATSC tuner in dvd/hdd recorder on this market.
Last edited by reva; 03-27-2009 at 02:36 AM.