Digital TV recorders buying guide

There was a time when recording a TV programme meant using your good old-fashioned VCR. These days there are several digital devices on which to record material, from those using DVDs to those recording on to an internal hard drive.

This guide provides some handy hints to help you decide which one is right for you.

Hard disc drive recorders

An HDD recorder is especially useful if you want to record a lot of programmes or other material. Instead of recording directly on to a DVD, HDD recorders use a hard drive similar to that found on a computer. Some HDD recorders can hold hours of material at a time, and some allow you to copy this content on to DVDs. Many will also hook up to a camcorder, allowing you to transfer material between hard drive, memory cards and blank DVDs.

Features to look out for:

  • Easy location of items: Locating a particular scene or point in a film by track means you can easily find your place without having to waste time with fast-forward or rewind.
  • No fast-forward amd re-winding to find what you're looking for: Recorded DVDs offer a "track list" of what they contain.
  • AV input: Allows you to connect your recorder to a camcorder, and transfer home movies to a DVD.
  • Simultaneous playback: Record one programme, play another at the same time.
  • Chasing playback: Effectively creates a time delay by allowing you to start watching a programme which is still being recorded.
  • Pause live TV: Handy if you have to nip to the loo just at the crucial cliff-hanger moment! It allows you to pause the TV and, when you come back, just carry on where you left off.
  • Twin tuners: Record two programmes at the same time, or watch one channel whilst recording another.

DVD Recorders

DVD recorders come with all the features you would associate with a DVD player: great picture quality, the ability to access enhanced features and to play both DVDs and CDs. However, they also allow you to record items on DVD.

Two main types of DVD recorder exist:

  • DVD-R/RW allows you to record on to use-once DVDs or rewritable discs - which you can record over as many times as you like. Blank discs are getting cheaper all the time and you can fit several hours of TV on to one disc - the machine automatically records over any free space on the DVD. One drawback is that the disc can only be used on compatible DVD-R/RW players.
  • DVD+R/RW is very similar to the previous type of recorder. DVD+R/RW machines work with rewritable and use-once DVDs. However, DVD+R/RW recorders are more likely to be compatible with other DVD players and they offer a few extra features. The on-screen menu shows a little thumbnail picture of each recording, making it easy to skip from programme to programme.