The Case of the Disappearing DVD Recorder

Find out why DVD recorders are getting scarce

Have you shopped for a DVD Recorder recently and have found slim-pickings on store shelves? It is not your imagination. While DVD recorders are still available in other parts of the World and Blu-ray Disc recorders are available in Japan and are being introduced in several other markets, the U.S. is being left out of the video disc-based recording equation; on purpose.

However, contrary to what you might think, it is not all the fault of LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and other Asian-based consumer electronics manufacturers. After all, they would love to sell as many DVD and Blu-ray Disc recorders as possible to anyone who wants to buy one.

The real reason that DVD recorders are scarce in the U.S., and Blu-ray Disc recorders are non-existent, can be squarely laid at the foot of the U.S. movie studios, cable/satellite providers, and TV broadcasters, which place restrictions on video recording that make the continued selling new DVD recorders, let alone providing access to standalone Blu-ray Disc recorders, in the U.S. consumer market an increasingly unprofitable venture.

Illustration of a woman in a store looking for a DVD recorder; cobwebs on the shelves
 Lifewire / Emilie Dunphy

Copy-Protection and Recording Cable/Satellite Programming

Most consumers buy a DVD recorder to record TV programs for later viewing. So how are movie studios and cable/satellite program providers conspiring to limit your access to such video recording? The implementation of a copy-protection scheme that severely restricts what you can record and how you can record it.

For example, HBO and several other cable and network programmers copy-protect most of their programs (sometimes on a random basis). The type of copy protection that they use (referred to as "Record Once") allows an initial recording to a temporary storage device (such as to a hard drive of a DVD recorder/Hard Drive combo, a cable DVR, TIVO, but not necessarily to a permanent storage format, such as DVD).

In addition, once you have made your recording to a cable DVR, TIVO, or hard drive, you are restricted from making a copy of the initial recording to DVD or VHS.

In other words, while you can make a recording to a temporary storage format, such as DVR-type device, you cannot make a "hard copy" onto DVD to add to your permanent collection. "Record Once" means recording once on a temporary storage medium, not to a hard copy, such as DVD.

As a result, consumers are finding out quickly that their DVD recorders and DVD Recorder/VHS combo units are unable to record programs from HBO or other premium channels, and definitely not Pay-Per-View or On-Demand programming ("Record Never"), due to the types of copy-protection employed to restrict recording onto DVD. This has also filtered into some of the non-premium cable channels.

The fact that you are not able to use a DVD recorder to record a lot of TV programming anymore isn't the fault of the DVD recorder or the DVD recorder manufacturer; it is the enforcement of copy-protection schemes required by the movie studios and other content providers. This state of affairs is backed up legal court rulings. It is a "Catch 22". Although you have the right to record a TV program, the content owners and providers also have the legal right to protect copyrighted content from being recorded. As a result, the ability to make a hard-copy recording may be prevented.

There is no way around the "Record Once" copy-protection scheme used by broadcasters and cable/satellite providers unless you use a DVD Recorder that can record on a DVD-RW disc in VR Mode or a DVD-RAM format disc that is CPRM compatible (look on the package). However, keep in mind that DVD-RW VR Mode or DVD-RAM recorded discs are not playable on most DVD players (just Panasonic and few others — refer to user manuals).

The Cable/Satellite DVR Factor

As mentioned above, cable/satellite DVRs and TIVO do allow recording of most content (except for pay-per-view and on-demand programming). However, since the recordings are made on a hard drive instead of a disc, they are not permanently saved (unless you have an extremely large hard drive). This is acceptable to movie studios and other content providers as further copies of the hard drive recording cannot be made, and once the hard drive is full, the consumer has to decide what to delete in order to recover more storage space for additional recordings.

This state of affairs is also a profit center for cable/Satellite service providers as they can lease or rent DVRs and also offer video "on demand" services that they can charge their subscribers. Since the DVR is required in order to record "Record Once" programming, the consumer is locked into this added expense if they want the ability to record many of the of their favorite shows and movies.

Of course, if you own the increasingly scarce DVD recorder/Hard Drive combination, you should be able to record your program onto the Hard Drive of the DVD Recorder/Hard Drive Combo, but if copy-protection is implemented within the program, you will be prevented from making a copy of your hard drive recording to DVD.

The Streaming Factor

Also, another big factor lessening the demand for DVD recorders is streaming. With streaming services, such as Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Netflix, Vudu, and others, including HBO (HBOGo and HBONow), and Showtime (Showtime Anytime), it is fairly convenient to find and view not only recently broadcast content, but binge-watch entire seasons of many TV series without the need to record them.

Streaming TV shows and movies is especially easy to if you have a Smart TV or Internet-enabled Blu-ray Disc player. Even if you don't own one those devices, there is also an abundance of inexpensive add-on media streamers that you can connect to a non-smart TV that can do the job. Roku even makes a media streamer that can be connected to older TVs that may only have composite AV input.

The convenience of internet streaming lessens the need to record those programs onto DVD for future viewing, thus saving a lot of shelf space. Less demand for DVD recording is another disincentive for manufacturers to continue to make DVD recorders.

Where Are the Blu-ray Disc Recorders?

There are no current plans to market standalone Blu-ray Disc recorders for consumers in the U.S market. One factor contributing to this state of affairs is the increasing use of TIVO and Cable/Satellite DVRs in the U.S., which is perceived by Asian-based manufacturers potential competitive hurdle in the success of Blu-ray as a recording option.

In addition, copy-protection concerns and potential piracy have the movie studios, content creators, and cable/satellite/over-the-air TV broadcasters "paranoid" about mainstream consumers having the ability to record high definition video content that can be saved in permanent hard-copy format, such as Blu-ray Disc.

Video copy-protection and the DVR factor are the main reasons why standalone Blu-ray Disc recorders are not available in the U.S., although they are plentiful in Japan and available in other select markets, such as parts of Europe, the UK, and Australia. Manufacturers simply don't want to hassle the expense of complying with the recording restrictions imposed in the U.S. market.

The Bottom Line

Although not all TV, cable, and satellite programming is affected by "Record Once" or "Record Never" copy-protection schemes, enabling limited use of a DVD recorder (although you often won't know until you find out if the program was able to be recorded), the era of widespread video recording of TV, cable and satellite programs onto a tape or disc format is coming to an end.

So next time you go shopping for a DVD Recorder, don't be surprised at the slim-pickings. It is all part of the "plan".

If you are still looking for a DVD recording device, you can check out what may still be available either new or used, in the following, periodically updated listings:

With DVD recorders fading into the sunset, find out what alternatives are now available in lieu of recording onto DVD in the report: DVD Recorders Gone, Now What?.