DVD recorders and HDTV

Week of October 9, 2005

Q: I have always wanted a DVD recorder, but until now the prices were a bit too high. Now I can buy a DVD recorder for $100 and it is tempting. However, with advances in Digital TV and HDTV, I am again thinking I should wait a bit longer.

A current DVD recorder cannot record a HDTV digital program I can receive from an outdoor antenna. The DVD recorder’s tuner will not receive the signals.

What do you advise? Should I wait for a DVD recorder that records HD signals?

-Ted Trostle, State College, PA

A: I think you should buy the DVD recorder now and enjoy it- you have always wanted it, after all! If you wait for the next thing on the horizon before you buy, you will end up never buying anything… technology marches on and there is always something better coming out sometime in the future.

It is true that your new DVD recorder will not be able to record HDTV signals in HD. High definition DVD recorders are not expected until next year at the earliest, and they will cost thousands of dollars when they are introduced. What’s more, the worst format war since Beta vs. VHS is heating up as there are two non-compatible formats competing to be the high definition video disc standard. One is called High definition DVD (HD-DVD), the other is called Blu-ray Disc (BD). Both systems have their proponents in both the hardware and film industry, and both have their advantages and disadvantages.

HD-DVD can use existing manufacturing facilities to produce the discs, and would be less expensive to implement from a manufacturing standpoint. BD offers 50GB or storage capacity, significantly higher than HD-DVD’s 30GB, but at a somewhat greater cost. Based on industry reports I have seen, it is straightforward comparison and pretty much face value: HD-DVD is less expensive, BD is a more advanced, better system- but you pay for it.

Guaranteeing a messy format war are the companies supporting each format. Blu-ray Disc supporters include Sony, Panasonic, Philips, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Apple Computer. HD-DVD proponents include Toshiba, Intel, and Microsoft. Film studios are similarly split- for example Universal Pictures and Warner Home Video will sell films on HD-DVD, Paramount Disney and 20th Century Fox on BD.

What does all of this mean? To me, even if BD and HD-DVD players are available, I’d hold out for a universal player that can play both types of discs… such as a DVD player than can play both Super Audio CDs and DVD-Audio discs. If I was a judge and had to pick between the formats to choose the one to be the next standard, I’d choose Blu-Ray Disc as its greater storage capacity holds off obsolescence longer- but money and the marketplace will be the ultimate arbiter. As VHS showed Beta fans, being better does not mean you will succeed in the marketplace!

For the DVD recorder you purchase in the near future, you can still record programs tuned with a digital tuner. Most HDTV tuners have analog outputs that can be connected to your DVD recorder. You can make a very high quality DVD this way, though it won’t be in high definition.

If you want to record in high definition, it can still be done with a D-VHS VCR. You can archive current HDTV programs on tape, and transfer them to a high definition DVD format when the prices come down to Earth a few years from now.

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