DVD recorders do double duty

The latest DVD recorders do a lot more than just burn to DVDs. New models let you play and record VHS video, while others add hard drives and programming guides to give you TiVo-like functionality.

And there's more to come: On the horizon are DVD write-once discs from both major rewritable camps (DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW) that nearly double current capacity to 8.5GB, up from 4.7GB. By year's end, you may also start to see DVD recorders using blue laser technology, which can raise capacity to a whopping 23GB per single-sided disc.

Several new DVD recorders were on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in the US, including models from such rewritable DVD mainstays as Panasonic Consumer Electronics and Koninklijke Philips Electronics, as well as from LG Electronics, Sharp, Samsung Electronics, Sony, and Toshiba.

Convert VHS to DVD

LG Electronics puts a strong stake in the ground of the growing combination DVD and VHS recorder market with its LGXBR342, one of the first of such models to ship (it started selling in January). The US$499 unit records to DVD-R/-RW as well as to VHS.

LG will follow this unit with the US$399 LGDVDR313, which will record to DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW, and should be available this spring. It will have FireWire and DVI ports, in addition to standard analog ports.

Panasonic's combination DVD and VHS recorder, the DIGA DMR-E75VS, should also follow in the spring. Like LG's devices, this unit offers one-touch dubbing to either DVD or VHS. It will offer some color and frame jitter corrections and will let you burn video to DVD-R or DVD-RAM, which has gained some popularity as a backup medium in PCs. It should sell for US$600.

Panasonic is readying new entry-level units. The DMR-E55 is scheduled to ship in April, with the DMR-E65 following in June. The US$350 DMR-E55 offers basic recording functions in DVD-R and DVD-RAM, while the US$450 DMR-E65 adds SD (Secure Digital) and PC Card slots as well as TV Guide's electronic program guide (EPG), although this doesn't work for those who have satellite service.

Samsung's dual-deck version is the DVD-VR300. The unit allows you to record from one format to the other at will; it supports DVD-R/-RW as well as DVD-RAM. The device ships in May and should sell for about US$500. In May, Samsung will also have a more basic offering, the DVD-R100. This US$400 unit will record in DVD-R/-RW and DVD-RAM.

More to Come

This summer, Philips should release its entry into the combo DVD/VHS market, the US$500 DVDR600VR. It too will allow for one-touch recording between formats; it records on DVD+R/+RW.

Philips will also be releasing more mainstream models: the US$499 DVDR615 (due in April), the US$799 DVDR755 (available this summer), and the US$599 DVDR740 (shipping in September). All three models have an ILink (FireWire) port and write to DVD+R/+RW.

The high-end DVDR755 also comes with an HDMI digital-video input, as well as a PC Card slot so you can feed in your flash memory cards with digital images for display. The distinguishing feature of the DVDR740 is its included TV Guide EPG, which facilitates recording. You also get Yes DVD software, which makes editing your videos a bit easier.

Hard Drives Included

DVD recorders first came with built-in hard drives last year, and your choices just keep growing. First out of the gate is Sharp with its DV-HR300 (DVD-R/-RW recording). The unit ships in February and comes with an 80GB hard drive, though it lacks a program guide (it does support VCR+). It offers standard analog inputs as well as FireWire, and should sell for US$799.

Sharp's basic unit, the DV-SR3U, which supports DVD-R/-RW, should be out in March and sell for US$499.

Toshiba will also have a new hard drive-based recorder, due out in March. The RD-XS32Multi Drive DVD Recorder should sell for US$600 and, like the Sharp unit, will have an 80GB hard drive but no EPG. It will record to DVD-R/-RW as well as to DVD-RAM.

The more entry-level D-R2, which supports the same formats, is also scheduled to become available in March, for US$400.

Next out will be Panasonic's DMR-E85, shipping in May, and replacing the DMR-E80H. You can record to the 120GB hard drive as well as DVD-R and DVD-RAM. The unit will feature TV Guide's EPG, which gives you eight days' worth of advance programming information. It should sell for about US$800.

Also coming in May is LG's US$599 LGHDR414, which will come with an 80GB hard drive and support for both DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW, but not DVD-RAM. It will have an EPG, and features FireWire and DVI ports along with standard analog ports.

This summer, Philips will release its entry into this space, the US$699 HDRW720. The unit comes with an 80GB drive and records to DVD+R/+RW. Like the DVDR740, it also comes with a TV Guide EPG.

Samsung's DVD-HR800 will ship in August and offer a 120GB hard drive as well as DVD-R/-RW and -RAM recording. It also features a slot that takes most flash media (CompactFlash, SD, and the like) to make it easier for you to show your pictures on your TV, for example. An included EPG from Gemstar will facilitate programming, letting you scan ahead to see when your shows will be on. It should sell for US$600.

All three Samsung units have FireWire inputs on the front panel, as well as more traditional analog inputs.

Sony's newest recorder is the US$500 RDR-GX300, available this summer. The unit can record in DVD-R/-RW as well as DVD+R/+RW and features some picture and audio correction to improve the quality of the DVD recording.

Sony also demonstrated two other models, one with an EPG and an ILink port, the other with a 120GB hard disk. Sony has not announced pricing, but says the models should be available sometime in the fall.

More Capacity Ahead

Your write-once DVD will soon boast more capacity, reaching up to 8.5GB, say several vendors. Both DVD+R and DVD-R should have such discs this year. The discs gain the extra capacity through a second layer, although unlike with double-sided discs, you will not need to physically turn over a disc in order to write to the additional capacity.

Verbatim plans to have a DVD+R disc out this April, according to company representatives. They expect drives that take advantage of these higher-capacity discs will become available in the same time frame. Philips, one such drive manufacturer, has said only that drives should be available in the first half of this year. Sony also demonstrated a dual-layer DVD+R drive at CES and says drives should ship sometime midyear.

Pioneer, a familiar name in DVD recording, also demonstrated a dual-layer DVD-R. But Andy Parsons, senior vice president for Pioneer's industrial video and mass storage group, says the standard still needs approval from the DVD Forum. He expects the ratification process to proceed quickly, however, and thinks both drives and media will hit the market this year.

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