Archiving the Work of John Saxon

My husband is John Saxon, and we have many of his movies on commercial VHS and DVD, while others and some of the TV shows he has appeared on are recorded on a DirecTV DVR. We'd like to make DVD copies of the tapes and DVDs as well as archive the TV programs from the DVR. What would you suggest for a DVD recorder?

Gloria Saxon

For those who might not know this film and TV actor, John Saxon has had a long and illustrious career, with roles in such classics as Nightmare on Elm Street, Enter the Dragon (a scene from which is seen above), and The Last Samurai. He also guest starred on many TV series in the 1970s and '80s, including Murder, She Wrote, In the Heat of the Night, Matlock, Dynasty, Fantasy Island, and Magnum, P.I., to name a few.

Saxon's commercial VHS tapes are most likely copy-protected, but they can probably be copied from a VCR to a DVD recorder using a device called a digital video stabilizer, which I explain in response to a similar question here. His commercial DVDs are probably copy-protected as well, and a video stabilizer might do the trick between a player and the DVD recorder, but I've never tried this—DVDs might use a different type of copy protection than VHS tapes.

I know you can use a computer to copy commercial DVDs. On a modern Macintosh, you simply create a disk image of the DVD using Disk Utility, then burn a copy onto a DVD-R. This must also be possible using a Windows computer, but I don't know how to do that—perhaps some of our readers can help with this point.

TV shows on the DVR might be copy-protected as well, and I don't know if connecting a digital video stabilizer between the DVR and DVD recorder will work, or even if it's necessary. First, I would try simply connecting the video and audio outputs from the DVR to the video and audio inputs on the DVD recorder and see if that works. If not, try connecting the video stabilizer between the DVR and DVD recorder. If that doesn't work, I don't know how you can copy the DVR content to DVD.

As for which DVD recorder to get, I'd stick with the name brands—JVC, LG, Panasonic, Philips, Pioneer, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba—though my impression is that few such devices are being made these days, so you might have to look for one on eBay. In your case, I recommend a simple, straightforward DVD recorder without a built-in TV tuner or hard disk, since you record DirecTV on that service's DVR. Also, a VHS/DVD combo unit won't do you any good, since such a device won't let you copy commercial VHS tapes.

I would get one with an S-video input, since that's the best-quality connection available on DVD recorders. And record at the highest possible quality setting, but keep in mind that the higher the quality, the less time you will have on one disc. In any event, you're going to lose some quality from one generation to the next.

If you want to be able to play the DVDs you record on any DVD player, be sure to use one of the write-once formats (DVD-R or DVD+R). Don't use any of the rewritable formats (DVD-RW, DVD+RW, or DVD-RAM), which are less compatible with most DVD players. And get a unit that can record on dual-layer (DL) blanks, which will give you twice as much recording time. This is especially important when recording long programs such as full-length movies, at the highest quality setting.

If you have an A/V question, please send it to askscottwilkinson@gmail.com.

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