PVR and Hard Disk Video Recorder Buying Guide

Long record times, high definition and advanced features.

The VHS video cassette recorder has reached the end of its lifetime as a mainstream product. With video recording technology advancing so much in the past three decades VHS has now been superseded by hard disk drive and DVD recorders -- the latest components to grace the living room.

But what was wrong with the VCR?

Hard disk drive-based recording offers several clear improvements over the humble video cassette:

Random access. One of the greatest improvements over VCR is the convenience factor. One of the key problems with tape is the necessity to advance and rewind the tape to access particular footage, a process known as sequential access. Hard disks do away with this problem by using random access, much in the same way as DVDs; it doesn't matter how much data is stored on the disk, recordings can instantly be accessed at the press of a button.

Better quality. Another advantage, which also applies to DVDs, is the improvement in picture quality. Hard disk drives store digital data, meaning an end to ugly scratches and other visual aberrations. Sound is also improved, with multi channel audio and high quality encoding.

Longer recording times. While the most that could be expected from an average VCR tape was about four hours of recording (8 hours if you used the Long Play modes in your VCR recorder), hard disk drives offer significantly increased recording times. The limiting factor is the size of the disk, and with terabyte (1000GB) recorders due to hit the Australian market soon, there seems to be no shortage of space. A terabyte of disk space will offer enough room for about 1700 hours of standard definition footage, or in other words, over two months of continuous recording!

Space saving. This is a big boon for all the Feng Shui enthusiasts who hate clutter. Having all the recordings in one big box rather than a multitude of smaller boxes will save a lot of space in the long run. Imagine how many cassettes you would need to store 1700 hours of recordings! (About 425 is the answer you were looking for.)

Multiple formats. VCRs were all about video. Hard disk drives can offer so much more, with space to save all your photos and music in addition to an entire season of your favorite show.

Timeshift. One of the great features of hard disk drive recorders is timeshift, or as it is sometimes put, the ability to 'pause' live television. Using nifty buffering technology this feature will let you put live television on hold while you answer the phone, and come back to exactly where you left off. It's even possible to rewind live television to see whether that try in the footy really did go over the line.

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