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What exactly is a DVD Recorder and why do I need one?

Think of a DVD Recorder as a recording device that does much the same thing as a VCR, such as recording from TV or your camcorder and playing those recordings for display on your TV. Except that a DVD Recorder does those things much better than a VCR, by virtue of recording onto DVD discs with resolution and clarity that's inherently superior to VHS tapes. And, since DVD Recorders have a built-in TV tuner just like a VCR, you can set the timer to record one show while watching another. Or, you can use the VCR Plus+ feature (available on many models) to record your shows without having to program the timer.

    In what other ways are DVDs better than VHS tapes?

  • A DVD Recorder makes it easy to create a crisp, clear DVD library consisting of all your favorite shows, movies, sports and home videos.

  • DVD discs don't degrade over time the way tapes do since there's no physical contact between the laser that reads the disc and the disc itself.

  • DVDs will play flawlessly for years on end, hundreds of times or more, provided you take reasonable care in handling them.

  • DVDs record with more lines of resolution, for a markedly sharper picture than VHS.

  • By pairing a DVD recorder (or player) with Progressive-Scan (a feature included on most DVD Recorders today) with your digital TV, the result is double the lines of resolution for a significantly crisper, sharper and more consistent picture.

  • For preserving and protecting precious home videos for generations, there's nothing better than DVDs.

  • When transferring home videos onto DVDs, your recordings will often look better than the originals. That's because many DVD Recorders have image-filtering and enhancement circuitry that smooths out the imperfections in your old videotapes.

  • DVDs are smaller and much thinner than VHS tapes, so once you've created an entire library of DVDs, you'll be able to store it in a fraction of the space.
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Are DVD Recorders difficult to operate?

Not at all. They're every bit as easy as using a VCR and in some ways, a lot easier. With a DVD Recorder, you'll never again have to worry about tracking adjustments, tape jitters, breakage and rewinding or fast-forwarding tape. With DVDs you can instantly access the beginning of the disc, regardless of where you left off or, alternatively, you can generally pick up right where you left off. Or you can zip directly to a particular chapter or "marker" on the DVD, or electronically rewind or fast-forward at a variety of speeds. And, like a VCR, you can set a variety of different recording speeds depending upon the length and quality you desire.

What can I record onto DVDs?

You can record virtually anything broadcast on your TV directly onto DVDs. From transferring treasured home videos, to favorite shows, movies and sports from over-the-air, cable, satellite, premium stations or TiVo®. Check out  Building A Home Entertainment Library on DVDs for more recording ideas.

So, what's up with all the different formats like DVD+R/+RW and DVD-R/-RW?

When you start thinking about buying a DVD Recorder, those different formats can seem a bit confusing. But don't let them throw you, because once you settle on a DVD Recorder, it becomes fairly simple. Honest. The "plus" and "minus" formats are alternative recording formats used by different manufacturers, simple as that. Neither format (+ or -) is superior to the other. Standard DVD-R or DVD+R discs are of the record-once variety, so they cannot be re-recorded. And the "RW" format simply means rewritable; in other words you can use these discs over and over, erasing them in between.

Then what is DVD-RAM?

DVD-RAM (Random Access Memory) is a rewritable format that was designed to be a reliable storage and recording solution for multimedia, both data and video. DVD-RAM offers advantages over other rewriteable formats (DVD-RW and DVD+RW) in that DVD-RAM discs can be re-recorded an estimated 100,000 times vs. an estimated 1,000 times for DVD-RW and DVD+RW. To achieve this reliability, the media is often enclosed in a cartridge, which must be recorded and played upon a DVD-RAM compatible recorder, player or drive. Also, because DVD-RAM is a much faster format, it can provide some neat tricks, such as "chasing playback". This feature comes in handy if you're recording a TV show, for example, and would like to begin watching it before the recording is finished. With DVD-RAM and chasing playback you can watch the DVD from the beginning while simultaneously continuing to record.

What you really need to know about DVD recording formats:

For most people, the most important thing regarding DVD recording is to ensure compatible playback. And the key to successful playback is to remember that DVD recorders and players will record and play only in the formats that they support (either DVD-R/-RW, DVD+R/+RW or DVD-R/RAM and, in the case of Multiformat DVD Recorders, both the "plus" and "minus" formats). For example, a DVD+RW disc will not play on a DVD-R/-RW Player or Recorder and vice versa. But a Multiformat DVD Recorder will support both plus and minus formats.

Can't you make this format stuff a little easier?

If thinking about different DVD formats just isn't your thing, the easiest solution, however, is to get a Multiformat DVD Recorder. As the name implies, Multiformat DVD Recorders are manufactured to be compatible with multiple formats, meaning these models are capable of both playing and recording in any of the DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW recording formats. Multiformat (+ and -) DVD Recorders available at this time, however, do not support the DVD-RAM format.

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So, which format DVD Recorder should I buy?

As mentioned above, for many people, a Multiformat DVD Recorder provides the easiest solution to ensuring playback compatibility, since you can record in either (+ or -) format. But, depending upon your particular situation, you may actually prefer to select one format over the other. Our "Buying Tips" below can help you decide which format's right for you.

    Buying Tips for choosing the right format when buying a DVD Recorder:

  • As far as recording quality goes, it really doesn't matter which format you select — neither the plus nor minus format is superior to the other.

  • If you already own a DVD Player and want a DVD Recorder to create DVDs that will also play on your existing player, be sure to check your DVD Player's owner's manual to see which formats it supports. Then select a DVD Recorder that records in those same formats.*

  • If you buy a DVD Recorder and intend to buy another DVD Player for playback in another room, be sure to select a DVD Player that supports the recording formats that are native to your DVD Recorder.

  • If you have a PC with a built-in or stand-alone DVD Burner, you'll probably want to match the recording format (+ or -) of the DVD Recorder you buy with that of your DVD Burner, so you can watch discs interchangeably, on either your TV or your PC.

  • A Multiformat DVD Player will record and play in both DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW formats, so it's ideal if you intend to record DVDs for a variety of different persons or players with varying playback formats.

  • If you're going to be doing a vast amount of rewriting (erasing and re-recording discs) you may want to consider a DVD-RAM Recorder because DVD-RAM discs can be re-recorded an estimated 100,000 times.

  • Be sure to always buy discs formatted to match your DVD Recorder's formats — recordable DVDs are clearly marked either DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, DVD+R or DVD+RW on the packaging.
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Can I copy movies from commercial VHS tapes or DVDs?

Well, yes and no. As you may know, in order to protect copyrighted material, commercial DVD and VHS tape manufacturers have developed copyguards (special coding) built into the discs and tapes to prevent illegal duplication. So, when you try to duplicate these sources using a DVD recorder, you'll get either an error message not allowing you to copy them, or if you are able to make copies they will be scrambled, rendering them unviewable. That said, certain electronic devices and software programs that override copyguard encoding do exist.

What about the DVDs I've purchased? Can I make a back-up copy of those?

At the time of this publication, the very issue of making "fair use" personal copies of copyrighted DVDs and VHS tapes continues to be litigated in the U.S. court system. Important note: DVD recorders will not override the copyguard protection encoded onto commercial DVDs and videotapes. As mentioned above, attempting to copy copyguarded material will result in either a disc error (circumventing the recording process) or a scrambled (unviewable) disc. See below for more information.†

So, what are you waiting for?

Now that you know all the cool things you can do with a DVD Recorder, such as creating a crisp, clear DVD library chock-full of all your favorite shows, movies, sports and home videos, there's but one thing left to do. Shop! To make choosing your DVD Recorder easier, we've grouped our selection by recording formats, below.      
Shop for your DVD Recorder:
      Shop DVD Recorders

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    *If you have a relatively old DVD player (one that does not mention various playback formats within its owner's manual), that player may not be capable of playing DVDs you record, regardless of which format you select. Many such "older" DVD players support only the original commercial DVD playback standard (DVD-Video) and will not play DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R or DVD+RW or DVD-RAM discs. Most DVD Players available today, however, will support either the "plus" or "minus" formats or both.

    †While it is true that certain devices are available that may be capable of overriding the copyguard protection encoded onto commercial DVDs and VHS tapes, the final verdict as to whether you have the legal right to use those devices to make personal "fair use" back-up copies of DVDs and VHS tapes continues to be debated in the court system. In the interim, of course, all related copyright laws regarding copying of DVDs and VHS tapes remain in effect.

    Best Buy, Inc. in no way supports or condones the illegal duplication of copyrighted material.