What is a DVD recorder? Basically, it's a mini-computer with a DVD burner. It records to a disc as the video is digitizes and compressed to MPEG. It's really not a whole lot more than a new-age VCR, sans tape (discs used instead).
There are a few aspects that make or break the quality of a DVD recorder. There are essentially two categories to consider. REQUIREMENTS and OPTIONS. That should be self-explanatory. Requirements are what make/break a machine. Options are secondary to a machine rating... what good are options if the machine does have basic requirements?
(While some of this will undoubtedly make it onto the buyer guides section of the site, it will start here.)
Another important thing to note, in regards to determining what is and what is not a quality machine, is the human factor. As in the human tendency to complain more than praise. User forums online are filled with people whining away the day about how certain brands are terrible machines because "everybody" has some certain problem. In reality, some problems affect maybe 5% of units, while others affect 100% of units.
Also be wary of certain magazines that play favorites to "name brand" machines.
(1) CHIPSET. This is the most important piece of the puzzle, the brains of the unit. It directly controls the quality of the video/audio that you record. It's a hardware MPEG encoder, usually present as a single chip. The best chip currently made is from LSI Logic, the DiMeNsion series.
(2) BITRATE USAGE. The is also extremely important to the quality of your video. You want a unit that gives you full VBR (variable bitrate). Not CVBR (constrained VBR), not CBR (constant bitrate). Inadequate bitrate is one of the leading factors to making blocky video.
(3) MECHANICS. Who cares about anything else if the timer, the clock, the power, the burner, and other things don't work correctly? There are machines out there that have clocks that gain several minutes per day. Some have flakey timers that are unreliable. Some have power supply glitches, which can either lock a machine down or outright blow out. There are even some that have inferior DVD burners inside, and do not cooperate with blank discs (including good 1ST CLASS media!) or even pressed discs for playback. Very sad.
(4) TUNER QUALITY. There are a number of cheap machines out there stocked with inferior tuners. Tuners are the screw-in RF inputs, where you plug in an antenna or cable connection. Some of the lower quality ones allow for audio noise, mono audio, video noise, and all kinds of other imperfections that drag down the recording quality.
(1) HARD DRIVES. These are not necessary. They onyl really exist so people can record a lot and dump to disc later. Maybe edit out commercials, although it need be noted that no machine seems to do frame-precise editing, so it is advisable to dump to a computer should editing be need. Some also use them as a tivo-like device.
(2) DV INPUT. These are not necessary. A nice addition if you have a DV camera and want to use the recorder to dump DV tapes to DVD.
(3) TV GUIDE. Not necessary. Can be helpful, assuming it actually works and maintains accurate data some do not.
(4) REGION FREE, MACROVISION FREE. Not a requirement, but can be helpful if you want to watch DVDs from another region. Or if you plan to record commercial VHS releases to DVD.
(5) ... more to be added later
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