DVD Recorders On the Cheap

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While DVD recorders have a ways to go before they reach the bargain-basement prices that VCRs hit before they became obsolete, today's starter models are genuine bargains - especially because they can produce much better recordings than even the most expensive VCRs. The three decks tested here - Panasonic's DMR-ES10 ($200), Philips's DVDR 615 ($250), and Pioneer's DVR-233 ($259) - come from companies that have proved themselves masters at designing DVD recorders at higher prices. In fact, these three companies were the original proponents of DVD recorders, and it's fascinating to see what they've been able to accomplish in their entry-level decks.

What they managed to leave in is far more impressive that what they've omitted, which actually isn't much. Most important, they've retained the image integrity, even in the medium-quality recording modes. (Recording modes are essentially the same as a VCR's tape speeds, with the better-quality modes producing shorter recording times on a blank DVD.)

Surveys have shown that many people don't edit their DVD recordings. But watching my own early, off-air DVD dubs - with commercials intact - has convinced me that to enjoy repeated viewings of a recording over the long term, you've got to get rid of those annoying commercials! So it's worth your time to check out how good a recorder is at removing blocks of commercials. I paid particular attention to that feature with these three machines, and what I found may surprise you as much as it did me.