Replacing a VCR with a DVD/HDD recorder

Week of October 17, 2004

Q: I want to buy a digital video recorder to replace my VCR. I want the
functions of my old VCR without the hassles of tapes. I am only interested in the channels I can pick up with my antenna and do not want to subscribe to any service. Does such a machine exist? If not, why not?

-Anthony Sinner, Minneapolis, MN

A: Such a machine does exist, but it is not a pure digital video recorder (DVR).

DVRs such as TiVo and Replay TV use a computer hard disc to record video. The incoming video signal is converted to a digital format and recorded on the disc. If you have a satellite system such as Dish Network or DirecTV, the incoming digital signal is recorded directly to the hard drive without any conversion. This preserves 100% of the picture quality of the incoming signal.

DVRs have interactive functions such as the ability to pause or rewind live programming, as well as a searchable program guide to help you find programming you want to record.
When you pay a subscription, you are paying for access to this program guide. With TiVo and Replay TV, you pay a subscription of $12.95 per month, or a one-time fee of $299 that covers the unit for its entire working life. (If your unit dies after three years, you will need another $299 subscription.)

What may serve your purpose is a DVD recorder with a built-in hard drive. These components allow you to record video on a hard drive like a DVR, though you do not have the pause and rewind features. If you like the programming you have recorded, you can burn it from the hard drive to a DVD and have a permanent copy.

Some of these products, such as the Panasonic DMR-E85HS, include the TVGuide On Screen programming guide to make it easy to find and record your favorite programs.

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