Fair Use Equipment
September 06, 2002
NY Times On Fair Use Equipment

Is it me? Or does the NY Times gets more and more annoying everytime I go there with the popups and the animated ads and the flashing lights and the (insert noise from the science freak guy on the simpsons here)....

Right now, DVD recorders convert an analog signal to digital data, but the day will soon arrive when broadcasters send that digital information straight to your home. At that point, the television shows you record may look as beautiful as the movies you buy. On the other hand, if broadcasters move to protect that digital signal from copying, you may not be able to record the shows at all.

Here's the full text of the article in case the link goes bad:


Burning Your Own DVD's

WHEN buyers began snapping up DVD players a few years ago, the allure of better sound and picture in the home theater was enough. But until recently, DVD systems in living rooms (and in PC's) lacked the feature that would send the VCR to the eight-track graveyard: they couldn't record.

Now, recordable DVD is a reasonably affordable reality. With a recordable DVD system, you can record television shows, either as permanent keepsakes or temporary files. You can also convert your old home movies into digital video and then store them for centuries. If you have a digital camcorder, you can send the video straight to DVD for editing and archiving, and even stream it back out to digital video.

There is a catch, though: an industrywide format war. Just like CD burners, DVD recorders generally support write-once discs ("R") and rewritable discs ("RW"), but you can't just go to the store and buy one or the other. About half of the manufacturers build recorders for DVD-R and DVD-RW discs (and occasionally the largely incompatible DVD-RAM), while the other half build them for DVD+R and DVD+RW media. Each camp makes claims about the compatibility and functionality of its chosen format, and although there are technical differences, the most obvious one is still the choice of punctuation in the format's name.

So what do you really need to know? First, a DVD-R/RW recorder can't use DVD+R/RW media and vice versa. Second, appropriately prepared DVD-R and DVD+R discs will almost always work in third-party DVD players, while their rewritable counterparts may not be as successful.

"The biggest issue for consumers is to not buy the wrong kind of blank media," said Wolfgang Schlichting, a research manager at the technology research firm IDC.

Before you can buy any media, however, you need a recorder, and there are more out there than you might think. Formats aside, the two basic types are the PC drive and the home-theater component. Most desktop-system offers now include an optional DVD recorder, and I tested three such systems: Apple's new 17-inch G4 iMac with a Pioneer-built DVD-R SuperDrive ($1,999); Gateway's Pentium 4-powered 700XL with a Panasonic DVD-R/DVD-RAM drive ($2,999); and a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion 772n, which also has Pentium 4 plus HP's own DVD200i DVD+R/RW drive ($1,349, with the monitor sold separately).

With a recordable drive comes DVD-authoring software, which makes a title page and prepares video files so that the disc you create will play in a standard DVD player. SuperDrive-equipped Apples ship with the company's own iDVD; Gateway offers Pinnacle Express, while HP features MyDVD by Sonic Solutions. I also tested Roxio's new VideoWave Movie Creator ($80).

The test was simple: record video with a digital camcorder (in this case, a Samsung SCD86), dump it onto each computer, then turn the final product into a DVD that could be viewed on a standard DVD player. As far as title pages go, Apple's iDVD was the only program that allowed me to place text and icons exactly where I wanted them, and the only one with animated backgrounds. Sonic's MyDVD titles were funky and easy to customize but, alas, static. Roxio's program had mostly themed templates (births, birthdays, sporting events and weddings), but at least they were attractive. I thought Pinnacle Express had the ugliest selections, and the title page I made with it didn't even display appropriately on the TV screen.

Once video content was selected and a title page was made, it was time to record. The process is similar to burning a CD: throw in the blank disc, click the Record button and wait. Creating a five-minute DVD took 15 to 20 minutes on each system; two-thirds of that was spent preparing the material, and the other third recording data. The experience was not only quick and painless but fairly entertaining, too.

Creating DVD's of home movies is nice, but who really spends a lot of time watching home movies? What I really want is television on DVD. To start my video library, I borrowed three of the most popular home-theater recorders: the Philips DVDR985, the Pioneer Elite DVR-7000 and the Panasonic DMR-HS2. Each combines a high-end progressive-scan DVD player with DVD recording capability and a converter to digitize incoming television signals. In addition, all of these recorders use the VCR Plus+ system (the codes printed in local listings) for automatic recording, and all connect directly to digital camcorders.

The Philips DVDR985 ($1,000) works exactly as it should. When your show comes on, you throw in a blank disc and press record. Once it is finished, push Stop, then take a look at the title page. You can enter the name of the program you recorded; otherwise it will show the channel and a time stamp. If you use a rewriteable disc in Philips's case, a DVD+RW you can choose a thumbnail image from each show and add and delete recordings as you go. If you use DVD+R, you may use titles for your programs, but you can't choose a thumbnail, and once you have deleted something, the space cannot be reclaimed.

A DVD+R disc (as well as DVD-R and DVD-RW) must be finalized closed to further recording for it to behave like a store-bought read-only DVD. DVD+RW discs don't require a finalizing process, but they are not as compatible as DVD+R's. That the Philips model offers no video-editing perks is a blessing in disguise; it was the easiest to use of the players I tested.

With more features, the Pioneer Elite DVR-7000 ($2,000) can be tricky, although recording to and finalizing DVD-R couldn't be simpler. Complications arise with DVD-RW discs, which can be designated for one of two separate recording modes: video mode, essentially an erasable version of the DVD-R; and VR mode, which gives the disc more flexibility with recording quality and video editing. It is useful, yes, but once a DVD-RW is initialized for VR mode, it can only be played in the DVR-7000. If you wanted to send an edited summer-vacation video to Grandma, you would probably have to bounce it out to the camcorder, then transfer it back onto a DVD-R.

That aside, what irks me about the Pioneer model is the short recording time. The Philips lets you record up to four hours per disc, and the Panasonic gives you six. Although the Pioneer allows up to six hours in VR mode, you only get two in the more compatible video mode.

The Panasonic DMR-HS2 ($1,000) has the most to prove. Not only does it record DVD-R and DVD-RAM discs, but it also has a hard drive inside for temporary recording of shows and home videos, which can then be edited and "dubbed" to DVD. The exterior is sleek by Panasonic standards; the setup was easy, and the remote control is remarkably simple. But once you're plugged in, you're at the mercy of a user-unfriendly and occasionally misleading interface. This product will make good on its many promises you can record a show, then edit out the commercials before sending it to DVD-R; cut an hour of home video into a snappy five-minute show; and combine still images and video on the same disc but it will require trial and error.

If you get both a DVD-recording computer and an entertainment unit, it is best to stick with the same media format for example, pair HP with Philips for DVD+R and DVD+RW, or Gateway with Panasonic for DVD-R. (Blank DVD-R's are as inexpensive as $3 apiece, and you can get any of the others for $8 or less if you look around.)

As for picture quality, with home videos it largely depends on your digital camcorder, although it is hard to find one that can't keep up with a typical TV set. When you record from cable or a VCR, there are other variables. A disc set for two hours should look better than a disc set for six, but if the signal is poor, recording it to DVD won't make it better.

Right now, DVD recorders convert an analog signal to digital data, but the day will soon arrive when broadcasters send that digital information straight to your home. At that point, the television shows you record may look as beautiful as the movies you buy. On the other hand, if broadcasters move to protect that digital signal from copying, you may not be able to record the shows at all.

Posted by Lisa at September 06, 2002 07:35 AM | TrackBack
Me A to Z (A Work In Progress)