Can I Record HDTV on a DVD Recorder?

What you need to know about recording high-definition TV onto a DVD

Since the conversion from analog to digital TV broadcasting in 2009, and the subsequent trend of cable providers eliminating analog service, it's challenging to use a DVD recorder to record your favorite shows and movies onto a disc. Also, along with copy-protection issues, you may need help figuring out how to record shows in high-definition.

DVD Recording and HDTV

You can't record TV shows and movies onto DVD in high definition using a DVD recorder. The reason is simple. DVD isn't a high-definition format. DVD recording standards and recorders adhere to that constraint, so HD DVD recorders aren't available.

DVD Recording

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On commercial and home-recorded discs, the resolution of the DVD format is 480i (standard resolution). Discs can be played back in 480p on a progressive scan DVD player or upscaled to 720p, 1080i, or 1080p on select DVD players (also when played back on a Blu-ray Disc player). However, the DVD isn't changed. It still contains video recorded in standard definition.

DVD Recorders and HDTV Tuners

Many DVD recorders are equipped with ATSC (also called HD or HDTV) tuners to comply with current HDTV broadcast standards.

Some DVD recorders are tunerless, which requires a connection to an external tuner, or a cable or satellite box, to receive TV programming.

However, there is a catch. The recorded DVD won't be in HD even when the DVD recorder has a built-in ATSC tuner or is attached to an external tuner capable of receiving HDTV signals. Any HDTV signals received by DVD recorders with either internal or external ATSC tuners are downscaled to standard definition for DVD recording.

Panasonic DMR-EA18K DVD Recorder


On the other hand, many DVD recorders have upscaling capability, via HDMI connections, for playback. This means that when you record an HDTV program on your DVD recorder in standard definition, you can play it back in an upscaled format if the DVD recorder has that capability. Although upscaling doesn't result in true high definition, the DVD looks better than if you played it back in standard resolution.

The only devices that can record and playback HDTV programming in high definition in the U.S. are HD-DVRs (also called HD recorders), like those offered by TIVO and cable/satellite providers. For a brief time, D-VHS VCRs, made primarily by JVC, could record HD content on specifically formulated VHS tape. Those have been out of production for many years.

DVD Recorders With Hard Drives

You can't record in high definition onto DVD. However, select DVD recorder and hard drive combo units can record HDTV programming in HD resolution on the hard drive.

When you playback the hard drive recording, you can view it in HD. However, copies you make from the hard drive to the DVD (exclusive of copy-protection issues) are downscaled to standard resolution.

AVCHD Format

One format that allows high-definition video to be recorded ​on a standard DVD disc or MiniDVD disc is AVCHD (advanced video codec high definition).

AVCHD is a high-definition (HD) digital video camera format that supports recording 1080i and 720p resolution video signals onto MiniDVD discs, MiniDV tapes, hard drives, and digital camera memory cards, using a compression format known as MPEG4 (H264).

JVC SR-DVM700US DVD/miniDV/Hard Drive Combination Recorder


AVCHD was developed by Matsushita (Panasonic) and Sony Corporation. AVCHD recordings made on MiniDVD discs can be played on some Blu-ray Disc players. However, those recordings cannot be played on standard DVD players.

Also, standard DVD recorders are not equipped to record DVDs in the AVCHD format, which means you can't use AVCHD to record HDTV or HD cable and satellite programs.

Blu-Ray Disc Recording

Since you can't use a DVD recorder to record HDTV programs in high definition onto DVD, you might think that Blu-ray is the answer. After all, Blu-ray technology supports high definition video recording.

Consumer-available Blu-ray Disc recorders aren't available in the U.S. The few that can be purchased through professional sources can't record TV programs or movies in high definition. These recorders don't have HD tuners or the HDMI inputs for recording in high definition from external HD cable and satellite boxes.

The Bottom Line

Recording TV programs, whether from broadcast, cable, or satellite, onto DVD is more restrictive these days. Doing so in high definition with a DVD recorder is out of the question.

Barring any copy-protection issues, you must preserve HD programs in standard definition on DVD, or via temporary storage in HD on a DVR-type option, such as TIVO, Dish, DirecTV, or select OTA (over-the-air) DVRs from companies such as Channel Master, View TV, and Mediasonic (TIVO also makes an OTA DVR).

Also, when connecting an external HDTV tuner, cable or satellite box, or DVR to a DVD recorder, the recorder only has composite, and, in some cases, S-video, both of which only pass standard resolution analog video signals.

You have the choice to settle for a permanent standard resolution copy on DVD or a temporary HD copy on a DVR. However, with a DVR, the hard drive will fill up, and you must decide what programs to delete to make room to record more.

Another option is to forgo recording TV shows altogether and opt for the convenience of video-on-demand and internet streaming to satisfy your TV viewing experience.

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