The VCR is on its last legs. VHS beat BETA but, analog video tape is no match for digital 1s and 0s. The prices for DVD recorders have reached a point where a DVD recorder is a realistic option for many consumers. However, just like the early days of recordable CDs, there are a variety of competing formats.

The incredible success of the DVD Video format can be largely attributed to the single unified format supported by the DVD Forum and adopted by all anufacturers. Unfortunately there are three competing formats for DVD recording.

The good news is that the three recording format families are all enjoying credible levels of success. They are backed by heavyweights in the consumer electronics industry and are being supported by blank disc manufacturers. There are also multi-format recorders available for those who want to keep their options open. Finally, any DVD recording format puts that old VCR of yours to shame.


In 1997, not long after DVD video’s debut, the DVD-R (write once) format was introduced. Perhaps due to its early definition, the DVD-R format is the most compatible with older stand alone DVD players and DVD-ROM computer hardware. The Re-Writable version, DVD-RW, was introduced in 1999. Blank -RW discs are more expensive but support up to 1000 re-write cycles without loss of quality. Compatibility with other DVD players is significantly less for -RW than -R. For the purpose of archiving video, -R format makes more sense from a compatibility and economic standpoint. The -RW format comes in handy when you’re “time shifting” your favourite programs.

The DVD-R/RW format is supported by the DVD Forum and by the likes of Pioneer, Sony, Toshiba, Apple Computer, and Compaq Computer.


The DVD RAM format was created by Panasonic and Technics. It was introduced in 1998 and is also supported by the DVD Forum. DVD RAM’s non linear storage mechanism makes it function like more of a removable hard drive. Blank DVD RAM discs are available in 12cm and 8cm sizes. The 8cm discs are used in Panasonic and Hitachi camcorders. Initially DVD RAM discs were contained within a cartridge, the current design allows for the disc to be removed from the cartridge.

Due to the nature of the DVD RAM format it is not compatible with regular DVD players. Only Panasonic DVD players made after 2001 are compatible with DVD RAM. The advantage of DVD RAM is its hard drive like performance and robustness. This makes it well suited for data storage and also allows for greater flexibility when it comes to video editing. It also supports 100,000 re-write cycles per disc.


The re-writeable DVD+RW format was first introduced in 2001, its write once variant, DVD+R, followed in 2002. The DVD+R/RW competes directly with the DVD-R/RW format. Even though it was late coming to the party DVD+R/RW is only slightly less compatible with older DVD players than DVD-R/RW, with the +R write once format being more backwards compatible than the +RW format. It also enjoys slight editing advantages before the disc is “finalized”. Finalization is the completion of the recording process. This finalization is also much quicker in the DVD+R/RW format. The cost of blank DVD+R/RW discs are comparable to DVD-R/RW and so are the re-write cycles.

Interestingly the DVD+R/RW format is not endorsed by the DVD Forum. It is supported by Sony (who also supports the DVD-R/RW format), Yamaha, Thomson, Ricoh, Mitsubishi Chemical, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Microsoft. Together, they call themselves the DVD+RW Alliance. Microsoft joined the DVD+RW Alliance late, in May 2003.


So which recordable DVD format should you choose? For a VCR replacement, we would choose a DVD-R/RW or a DVD+R/RW recorder. We rule out DVD-RAM, due to its incompatibility with most existing DVD-Video players and DVD-ROM drives. Between DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW, you have a virtual guarantee that your DVD recorder will be useful for years to come. It is unlikely that DVD-RAM will emerge as the single format of choice. Although with the advent of universal recorders all three formats may be able to coexist.

Any DVD recorder is an excellent replacement for you VCR. Even the most basic DVD recorder will do what your VCR does, and then some. Sound and picture quality will be immensely better. So what features should you look for?

As a replacement for your VCR your DVD recorder should have a TV Tuner. It should also be compatible with an Electronic Programming Guide (EPG), such as TV-Guide plus or Guide plus. The EPG allows for quick selection and programming via an on screen interface.

A DVD recorder equipped with Variable Bit Rate (MPEG 2) recording, will maximize disc space while maintaining video quality.

You may also want to look for a DVD recorder that incorporates some sort of Video Processing Circuitry. For example a 3-D comb filter and time based correction, noise reduction or video equalization. While these types of technologies will not perfect a poor picture, they will certainly enhance old VHS or camcorder tapes that you want to convert to DVD.

If the read and write data rates of the recordable DVD disc are fast enough, DVD recorders can literally record one program, and playback the same or another program at the same time. What this means is you can pause live TV, or you can start watching the beginning of a program 15 minutes after it has started while your recorder continues recording the remainder of the program. Or you could watch a recorded show while recording a new one.

You may also want to do some simple editing of your videos. Different players have different features. You may want to go online and download owner’s manuals form manufacturers’ websites and fully investigate features and capabilities of the recorders you are interested in. For more advanced video editing you will need to transfer your video to your computer and use video editing software.

Some manufacturers are incorporating hard discs into their recorders. A hard disc allows for: greater flexibility and speed in video editing, easier and faster methods of making multiple copies and greater flexibility in simultaneous record and play use. There are also other features that will vary from model to model.

If you have or are planning on buying a camcorder you should look for a “fire-wire” port on the DVD player. This will prevent loss of video and sound quality when transferring date from your digital camcorder to the DVD recorder. Analogue inputs, such as S-Video and component video are also important.

When purchasing a DVD recorder you should also look for features that other DVD players have, since the unit may become your primary playback machine as well. For example, does the DVD recorder offer progressive-scan and digital audio outputs?

DVD recorders are the next step in the digital revolution. Their sound and video quality trumps analog VHS. It provides greater flexibility in recording, playback and editing of video material. With an increasing number of choices and dropping prices of DVD recorders, VCRs seemed rather concerned at press time.

Click here to discuss this article on the CANADA HiFi Forum