DVD Recorder vs. VCR vs. DVR

Technology advances affected this market

Inserting DVD into DVD Player

Tetra Images / Getty Images

All video recording devices, including VCRs, DVD Recorders, and digital video recorders, make it possible to delay watching television at a later date, but they have differences. The method you choose affects video quality, storage capacity, and how long you can save the shows you record. If you're in the market for a recording device, you should know the differences among the options. We've reviewed three of these options.

Overall Findings

DVD Recorder VCR DVR
High-Definition recording Obsolete tech No physical media
Ability to transfer and digitize old VHS tapes Difficult to find a replacement if yours breaks Limited storage
More storage available on a DVD than a VHS Reusable tapes Watch both pre-recorded and live programming
Reusable media available   Readily available from your TV provider or in stores

While all three devices perform the same basic function, your choice is ultimately between a DVD recorder and a DVR. VCRs and the tapes you need to use them are difficult to find and replace. The newer devices have many of the same features and perform them even better.

Your decision between the other two options comes down to your needs. DVRs are better for temporary storage, while recorders are for people who prefer physical media and more permanence.

Availability: Digital Reigns

DVD Recorder DVR VCR
Available both online and in stores Available to buy new online, in stores, or rent from your TV provider Mostly available secondhand
    Might be even harder to find blank media to use

If you have years' worth of videotape collections, you may still have a VCR in your home. If your old VCR dies, you might be able to locate a replacement online. You'll have an easier time finding blank tapes, but without the deck to run it, they aren't going to be useful. The introduction and subsequent conversion to digital broadcasting spelled the end of this venerable format. The last VCR was manufactured in 2016. 

A DVD recorder should be easier to find; they're available in online stores like Amazon and retail locations. Many models even have built-in VHS decks, which could extend the life of your tape collection and provide a means with which to transfer it to a digital format. This option could be time-consuming and expensive, however, and even after you did, the picture would be analog quality. 

DVRs are also readily available, especially since you can usually lease one from your TV provider for a monthly equipment fee. They're also available at retail, however, if you'd rather own your equipment and keep it if you change services.

Storage: DVRs Win (With a Catch)

DVD Recorder VCR DVR
Physical discs of up to 50 GB Physical tapes Fixed storage
Some media is reusable Reusable Rewritable

VCRs are easy to use: You put the tape in, press Record, and remove and label the tape when your show is over. You can fit up to six hours of content on a single cassette. And when you combine that with the size of the tapes, your collection could take up a lot of room quickly.

DVD recorders offer more space. Single-sided DVDs have a storage capacity of 4.7 GB, and double-sided DVDs store 8.5 GB. That's about enough room for one or two hours' worth of high-definition video, which means you're sacrificing storage for quality. But you can also purchase a Blu-ray recorder and store up to 50 GB of data, or 750 minutes of HD content. Rewritable DVDs are also available that you can reuse similarly to VHS tapes.

DVRs have an internal hard drive that stores your media, and they can hold the most of the three. Some models, like Amazon's Fire TV Recast, have 1 TB of storage, which is enough for 120 hours of video. The hard drive size limits how much you can have at a time, but it's rewriteable and will take a while to fill up if you're at all diligent about keeping up with your shows. The fact that the DVR uses no physical media can be good or bad, depending on your needs.

Price: Go for the DVR

DVD Recorder VCR DVR
$200 or more $100 or less Small monthly fee from TV provider

Of the three choices, the DVD recorder will probably cost you the most. They sell for hundreds of dollars and can be even more if you get one with a VCR built into it.

VCRs are the cheapest, especially if you don't mind browsing an auction site like eBay to get a good deal. A unit that was the top of the line when it came out won't cost much more than $100, if that, and tapes are still readily available and affordable in most online shopfronts.

But you can get the best deal of all by leasing a DVR from your TV provider. They'll usually come either as part of your service package or optionally for a monthly fee.

You'll still want to research the difference between the lease and buying, however, since the rental fee could eventually cost more than just buying one outright.

Final Verdict

If you accept the fact that VCRs are obsolete in our digital age, then you need only decide whether you want the long-term storage capability of a DVD recorder or the bells and whistles that come with set-top DVRs.

With a DVR, you can pause live television and catch up with it just moments later. You can also schedule recordings of television shows well in advance, and the shows record whether or not you are home. You don't need to buy any media for the recording process.