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Home entertainment technology has evolved a great deal over the past few years. Garden-variety DVD Players, though still a mainstay (and a great value), have been joined on the home theater stage by new technologies that take the promise and flexibility of home video entertainment to a whole new level.

Given all the new options, it's easy to become overwhelmed when making a choice for your needs. In this guide, we'll help you narrow your choices based on the other home theater equipment you own (or plan to) and the ways in which you'd like to use digital video at home.

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An HDMI-equipped HDTV is required for high-definition disc playback.

A Blu-ray Disc Player represents the state of the art in digital audio/video entertainment. It is capable of output resolutions up to 1080p, exceeding the highest standards of broadcast HDTV and maximizing the potential of today's best HDTVs.

With more than double the resolution of standard DVDs, Blu-ray Disc offers dramatically improved picture clarity, depth, color accuracy and brightness. Also, the vast storage capacity enables Blu-ray Disc to deliver up to 7.1 channels of high-resolution surround sound (a compatible audio system is required), as well as enhanced special-features content, interactive menus and more. Plus, the already extensive selection of movies available on Blu-ray Disc continues to grow rapidly week by week!

Blu-ray Disc Players also upconvert standard DVDs to near-HD quality (for best performance, look for a player with an output resolution that matches your HDTV’s native display resolution). Most play DVD+/-R and DVD+/-RW recordable discs as well. Certain Blu-ray Disc Players do not play audio CDs; be sure to check model specs if CD playback is important to you.

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An HDMI-equipped HDTV is required to enjoy the benefits of HD upconversion.

Upconvert DVD Players can't play true high-definition discs (for that, you’ll need a High-Definition Player). However, when connected to a compatible HDTV via the all-digital HDMI connection, they can make your existing DVDs look better than ever before.

Standard DVD discs contain 480 lines of picture information per video frame — significantly fewer than the 720 or 1080 lines minimally required to constitute a true HD signal. In essence, an Upconvert DVD Player analyzes the content of each of these lines and makes an intelligent guess as to what should appear between them. It then generates extra lines of picture information not present in the original signal, and inserts them between the existing lines to create a simulated 1080-line image that conforms to HDTV format standards. The result, though not technically a true HD picture, is a noticeably sharper image with greater detail and realism. You’ll be able to experience your favorite movie like never before.

Without HDMI, it's just a DVD Player.

Remember, you need an HDTV with an HDMI connection to reap the enhanced-picture benefits of an Upconvert DVD Player. For best performance, look for a player with an output resolution that matches your HDTV's native display resolution (1080p, 1080i or 720p).

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A DVD Recorder gives you all the playback capabilities of a DVD Player, plus the added benefit of tape-free recording and archiving to DVDs. The first thing you'll want to decide is whether you want a DVD Recorder with a built-in tuner, or one without.

DVD Recorders without a Tuner

This type of DVD Recorder is ideal for archiving to DVDs. It allows you to easily transfer home videos from your camcorder to DVDs for backup and sharing, and archive your favorite TV shows to DVD from homemade VHS tapes or from your Tivo® or other DVR. You can also manually record TV shows from a cable or set-top box as they are being broadcast.

DVD Recorders with a Tuner

Much like a VCR, this type of DVD Recorder has a built-in TV tuner. It can do everything a DVD Recorder without a tuner can do, PLUS (like a VCR) it lets you schedule TV recordings hours or days in advance. You can also watch one channel while recording another, assuming you have another TV tuner somewhere in your system (for example, built into your TV).

In anticipation of the federally mandated February 17, 2009 changeover to digital television broadcasting in the U.S., manufacturers have begun replacing the analog TV tuners previously used in DVD Recorders with digital (or "ATSC") tuners. In addition to future-proofing the recorder against the 2009 technology change, the inclusion of an ATSC tuner provides other benefits:

  • Over-the-air reception of digital signals broadcast by local network affiliates: Most local TV stations already broadcast digital (though not necessarily HD) versions of the analog channels you've been watching for years. Digital broadcasting offers a clearer, more reliable signal (and hence, improved picture and sound) than its analog equivalent, but without a digital tuner, the only way to receive local digital TV signals is by paying a cable or satellite operator. A digital-tuner equipped DVD Recorder lets you watch these digital channels for free.
  • HD reception capability: Today's DVD recorders can't record in high definition, but digital-tuner equipped models can decode and pass through HD signals to an HD-capable display via an HDMI connection. If you own a tunerless HDTV (also known as an HD-Ready TV or HDTV Monitor) with an HDMI connection, a DVD Recorder with a built-in digital tuner can be a cost-effective way to get the most out of your TV viewing.

Many DVD Recorders also feature HD upconversion (via HDMI) to enhance the picture quality of standard DVDs when used with a compatible HDTV. For best performance, look for a recorder with an output resolution that matches your HDTV’s native display resolution (1080p, 1080i or 720p).

Solo or combo?

A DVD Recorder can be purchased as a stand-alone component, or as part of a so-called "Combo" unit that also includes a VCR. This arrangement is very convenient for archiving purposes, as it allows you to dub homemade VHS tapes directly to DVD without the hassle of connecting separate components. However, it's important to keep in mind that, due to copyright protection, NO DVD Recorder (Combo or otherwise) will record directly from a commercial VHS tape.

Note: Connectivity options vary widely from model to model. Be sure to verify that the model you're considering comes equipped with inputs that are compatible with the source(s) you want to record. In particular, if you're looking to archive your digital camcorder tapes, you'll want to ensure that the DVD Recorder has the necessary input (in most cases, it's a FireWire connection – also known variously by the trade names DV-link or i-Link, or by its technical name, IEEE-1394).

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Each Portable DVD Player is a self-contained entertainment powerhouse, with a built-in LCD screen that folds down tight against the chassis for protection when not in use. Screen sizes range from about 7 to 10.5 inches (typically in the 16:9 "widescreen" aspect ratio). In addition to commercial DVDs, many Portable DVD Players also play recordable DVDs, CDs, MP3 music files and JPEG images; some even include memory-card slots. (Format compatibility varies from player to player; check product specs carefully.) All are equipped with small stereo speakers, plus a headphone jack (or two) for private use.

In addition to playing movies and music, some Portable DVD Players offer A/V inputs that allow you to connect an external device (such as a video game console or a camcorder) and use the built-in screen as a display. And, in a pinch, you can connect your Portable DVD Player to a home entertainment system and use it just like a regular DVD Player.

The battery included with most portables offers no more than a few hours of operating time between recharges; we recommend a higher-capacity Universal Rechargeable Battery to ensure you don't run out of juice at the wrong moment. We also offer a selection of other essential accessories, like padded travel cases and in-vehicle mounting kits, to help you get the most enjoyment from your Portable DVD Player.

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It wasn't long ago that DVDs were the state of the home entertainment art – and guess what? They're still a perfectly viable option. Delivering an excellent picture that easily surpasses VHS quality (not to mention special-features content and far more user-friendly navigation than with videotapes), a DVD Player will enhance even the most basic TV. Most play a variety of video and audio disc formats, including recordable DVDs, CDs, MP3 and JPEG files encoded on disc. Some even offer a built-in memory-card slot, so your digital pictures can go from camera to TV screen in the blink of an eye.

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