Answers to Basic Questions About DVD Recorders

Start here for what you need to know about DVD recorders

Magnavox MDR-865H DVD/HDD Recorder (top) - Funai DV220FX4 DVD/VCR Recorder (bottom)
Magnavox MDR-865H DVD/HDD Recorder (top) - Funai DV220FX4 DVD/VCR Recorder (bottom). Images courtesy of Amazon.com

The era of the VCR has drawn to a close and the era of the DVD, although still with us, is giving way to Blu-ray, Video-on-Demand, and Internet Streaming. These changes in how we access video content has also affected the use and availability of DVD recorders, but our email box is still filled with many questions on what DVD recorders are, how they work, and what they can be used for.

In order to address the most common questions regarding DVD recorders, here are some general FAQs that should make your DVD recorder buying decision easier, taking into consideration the limited selection available.

Each FAQ has a brief answer as well as link out to more comprehensive details. The reason for this format is that if all of the FAQs were answered in full detail here, the article would be about 20 pages long. This way you can explore the ones that are the most important to you.

  • What is a DVD recorder and what is a DVD burner? DVD recorders are standalone units that connect to a TV and record. video and audio onto DVD. A DVD burner refers to a device that incorporated into a PC, or, if external, connects to a PC for recording video, audio, and data.
  • Can I copy VHS videos and DVDs on a DVD recorder? Anything you can copy onto a VCR, you can copy onto a DVD using a DVD recorder, as long as the video to be recorded onto a DVD recorder is not copy-protected.
  • Can I copy video from my Camcorder to a DVD recorder? As an extension of the previous answer, all DVD recorders have connections that allow you to copy video directly from a camcorder to a DVD.
  • Can DVD recorders connect to an Antenna, Cable, or Satellite Box? If the DVD recorder has a built-in tuner it can be connected to an antenna. If you have a cable or satellite box, it is best to connect the box to the DVD recorder using analog audio/video connections. However, there are some additional things to take into consideration.
  • Can I watch one TV program while recording another with a DVD recorder? If the DVD recorder has a built-in tuner, and you receive TV programs via antenna, you may be able to watch one program and record another at the same time. However, if you have a cable or satellite box, you can only access one channel at a time for viewing or recording.
  • Can I make a copy of a Cable/Satellite DVR or DVD recording that I made from HBO? Although you can record programs from pay services, such as HBO, Showtime, etc... (except on-demand or select special event content) onto the hard drive of a cable or satellite DVR, due to a special type of copy-protection, it may not be possible to copy the recording made on a DVD onto DVD using a DVD recorder.
  • What are the recordable DVD formats and they be played on other DVD players? DVD recorders provide the ability to record in one, or more, of the following formats: DVD-R, DVD-RL, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD-R DL DVD+RW, DVD-RAM. Except for DVD-RAM, the rest of the formats are playable on most DVD players, but there are things to take into consideration. Refer to our companion article for more details.
  • Is there a DVD recorder that records in all formats? There is no DVD recorder that records in all formats. However, some do have the ability to record in DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW. Check out more details.
  • How much time can I record on a DVD? Unlike a VCR, a DVD recorder does not record using speeds, but rather modes. The amount of time is determined by how much compression is needed to put the desired length video on a Disc. Examples of DVD record times are XP: 1 hour, SP: 2 hours, LP: 4 hours, EP: 6 hours. 
  • Can I create chapters and menus on the DVDs that I make using a DVD Recorder? Depending on the brand/model DVD recorder and the disc format used, you can create chapters and menus on the DVD that allow you to navigate the contents of the DVD.
  • How does DVD recorder video quality compare to a VCR or DVD player? If you have a high-quality source and use either the one or two-hour record mode, you can end up with a good quality DVD recording, which is much better than VHS. However, if you are recording from a VHS source or are using a 4 hour, 6 hours, or longer record mode, you will end up with a VHS-quality recording.
  • Can DVDs I record be played anywhere in the World? Unfortunately, if you make a DVD using a DVD recorder, the disc will not be playable on all players everywhere in the World. The reason for this is that DVD players in some countries are tied to the NTSC video system, while others may be tied to the PAL video system.
  • Are there DVD Recorder/VHS VCR or Hard Disk/DVD recorder combos? In addition to standalone DVD recorder-only machines, there are devices that incorporate both a DVD recorder and VHS VCR or a DVD Recorder and Hard Drive. Depending on your needs, these options can provide more recording and playback flexibility.
  • Can a DVD recorder record Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS surround sound? Although DVD recorders can play back both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 channel surround sound encoded commercial DVDs, they cannot record those formats directly. DVD recorders only have analog audio inputs. The way the audio is recorded on DVD is that it encodes the incoming analog audio input signal as two-channel Dolby Digital for recording onto the disc.
  • Can DVD recorders record audio-only DVDs? DVD recorders typically do not have this capability, as they need an incoming video signal in order to sync the recording. However, there may be exceptions to this.
  • Can I record a DVD in Progressive Scan? DVD recorders cannot record in progressive scan. Progressive Scan is a playback function performed by the DVD player's internal processing. In other words, progressive scan is added on playback, not during recording.
  • Can I record HDTV on a DVD recorder? Since DVD is not a high-definition format, anything that you record onto DVD is standard definition. If your DVD recorder has a built-in HD tuner, it will receive the HD broadcast channels, but the signal is then downscaled to standard definition for recording onto DVD.
  • Can a DVD recorder with no RF input record off a cable directly from the wall? If your DVD recorder does not have an RF input—In other words, it has no built-in tuner—you cannot connect an antenna or cable from your cable or satellite service. In order to receive and record programs on a "tunerless" DVD recorder, you have to connect an external DTV converter or cable/satellite box.
  • What about blank DVD discs? Make sure you use the correct format discs for your specific DVD recorder. Check your user guide for specific disc types that are compatible with your recorder. Also, take into consideration which discs have the best compatibility for playing in other DVD players.
  • How do I hook up a DVD recorder to my TV or home theater system? DVD recorders have the same type of connections as a VCR and can be connected to your TV and home theater setup in the same way, following the same signal path rules. Also, some DVD recorders include HDMI outputs so that they be can more easily connect to HDTVs. For more details, refer to our companion article linked in the question.
  • Do DVD recorders also have region code lock, like DVD players? DVDs that you make with a DVD recorder are not region coded. However, if your DVD recorder is tied to the NTSC system, the discs will be recorded in NTSC, if tied to the PAL system, they will be made in PAL.
  • Is it worth buying a DVD recorder now? Since 2010, DVD recorders have been on the decline in terms of availability (Magnavox is only one making them for the U.S.), but are still in demand, as used machines can command high prices. This state of affairs is due to several reasons that you should take into consideration.