Tapeless Video Recorders Page 4

Tape Is FinishedYou probably have a DVD player. You almost certainly have a VCR. Together, they perform about the same functions as any of these three components - that is, in the same way a horse and buggy performs about the same function as a car. The fact is that these recorders establish an entirely new baseline in home recording.

Should you trade your tapes for discs? Blank DVDs cost more than blank tapes. Of course, that's not really an issue if time-shifting is your main focus. But if you intend to start an archive, disc cost is a consideration. On the other hand, DVDs of your home movies will be seen more often and last longer. The bottom line here: Tape is history and DVD rules.

Do you also need hard-drive storage, or would you prefer a hard drive over DVDs? That depends on how heavily you're into time-shifting. A hard-disk drive isn't for long-term archiving. Its forte is to record programs off the air so you can view them at your leisure and then erase them. For short-term archiving, a hard drive is far more convenient than a DVD. But for collecting programs, you need DVD. Whichever way you go, video recording just got a lot more interesting.

PDF: Features Checklist PDF: DVD recording/editing options
In The Lab

Our standard lab tests showed that all three machines did well as DVD players. But both the Panasonic and Toshiba suffered from the color-smearing chroma-upsampling "bug" when their component-video outputs were set to progressive-scan format, the Panasonic's case being milder than the Toshiba's.

The Toshiba's TiVo video and audio capabilities seemed to equal those of previous TiVo recorders we've tested. The two DVD recorders seemed well matched. As with previous DVD recorders we've tested, the video performance of the Panasonic and RCA changed much more than the audio as the recording mode changed. The audio remained superior to VHS Hi-Fi in all regards, but particularly in the low level of background noise, regardless of recording mode.

The Panasonic and RCA DVD recorders each have a 4-hour recording mode that cuts the horizontal resolution in half (from the prerecorded DVD value of 540 lines to approximately 260 lines). This also happened in the Toshiba's Medium-quality TiVo mode. Each DVD recorder also has a mode that cuts vertical resolution in half (from 480 to 240 lines). For the Panasonic this occured in its 6-hour mode and for the RCA in its 8-hour mode. At this point the picture detail was pretty "soft," like VHS tape. Like other DVD+R/RW recorders we've seen, the RCA switches to MPEG-1 video encoding in its 8-hour mode, which caused objects moving at moderate speeds to appear jerky.

Using a long-playing mode with all three machines, including the Toshiba, exposes your material to all manner of MPEG encoding artifacts, which can look pretty nasty, depending on the program material. For example, our acid-test camcorder footage of Rockefellar Center fountains broke into decidedly nonliquid blocks and strips with all DVD recording modes longer than 4 hours and with the Toshiba's Medium and Basic TiVo modes. These effects were reduced considerably in the DVD recorders' 1- and 2-hour modes, which provided reproduction close to a prerecorded DVD in quality. Recordings on the Toshiba, in all its TiVo modes, were not quite as clean or sharp.

The most nearly "universal" machine was the Panasonic, which played DVD-RW discs in both VR and Video formats, DVD+R/RW and, of course, DVD-RAM and DVD-R discs. The RCA and the Toshiba couldn't play DVD-RWs in VR format or DVD-RAMs, but they were fine with the other disc types. - David Ranada