DVD Recorders


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DVD recorders have gotten cheap. Is it the right time for you to buy?

A few cautionary notes:

They’re Going To Get Faster Fairly Soon

Right now, the affordable DVD recorders allow you to record DVD+R or DVD-R disks at 4X speed. That means you could record 4.7Gb of data using either format in about fifteen minutes.

The next generation of recorders coming out now allow you to record DVD+R at 8X speed (DVD-R remains at 4X). That means the time for a DVD+R recording would drop to around eight and a half minutes.

No, 8X is not twice as fast as 4X, just like a CD recorder 48X is not twice as fast as a 24X. An 8X recorder is called an 8X recorder because it will get up to 8X while recording, but it starts at a lower speed.

Pioneer announced the other day that its next recorder should be able to record both DVD+R and DVD-R media at 8X speed (the 8X DVD-R standard hasn’t been quite set yet).

As 2004 progresses, 12X DVD+R recorders ought to become available. Phillips recently demonstrated a proof-of-concept 16X DVD+R recording.

By the way, a CD recorder 1X and a DVD recorder 1X are not at all the same thing. For CDs, 1X equals 150Kb/sec, while for a DVD, it equal 1.35Mb/sec. Thus, a DVD “X” is worth about 9 CD “Xs”. That means an 8X DVD recorder would record DVDs at a speed equivalent to a 72X CD-ROM, so it’s not like you can expect a 52X DVD recorder real soon.

Going from 4X to 8X will be the last jump that will save users an appreciable amount of time per recording. An 8X recorder could save you about six minutes over a 4X recorder, while a 12X recorder might save you more like two.

It seems that if you want to get relatively fast recording times from a recorder fairly soon, one ought to wait for 8X recorders.

Still An Adventure…

Still An Adventure

DVD recording is still more than a bit of an adventure. If you are looking for a more-or-less brainless experience, you’re not going to get one, and the commercial software than promises you one doesn’t quite do it (at least according to the user comments I’ve seen).

Folks are still finding that their DVD recordings sometimes won’t play back on various DVD players. It happens often enough for it to be a matter of real concern for owners of DVD recorders; when a relatively cheap batch of disks are mentioned in a forum, people ask, “Will they work on my setup?”

Some of this is due to hardware. For example, in this review, some of the DVD players used simply would not play most (but not all) of the DVD+R disks it was given.

If you read a bit more about the problem, you find out about interesting new phenomenon like “book type” and you find out that burners often call your DVD+R a +RW; the DVD player won’t play +RWs, and the drive manufacturer has no plans to fix it.

Firmware upgrades occur quite often, mostly to get things to work.

Some of it is no doubt due to the disks out there. Most of the disks being sold (and especially the cheap ones), are being manufactured by the same Taiwanese CD manufacturers who became so notorious during the CD era. For instance, many pioneers have reported that disks made by one of these companies record fine, but won’t play back six months later

More often, pioneers have reported varying levels of quality within a bundle, for instance, the top ones do fine at 4X, but the bottom ones only do 2X.

Even who is making what can be very confusing, as this one forum thread illustrates.

Before you buy a recorder and media, you ought to spend more than a little time at this website, looking at the various guides, user reviews (don’t look at just the numbers, read them) and forums.

The point of all this is not to say it can’t be done. The point to all this is to say that you’re going to need to be pretty motivated and do a lot of reading before being able to do this right.

Either that, or your sister is getting married, and you want a lot of neat coasters (at around $1 a pop) for the reception.

Back To The Drawing Board, Twice

Unlike CD-ROMS, which have stayed pretty much the same insofar as capacity, DVDs are going to change.

Initially, DVDs were recorded on a single layer (that’s called DVD-5). Now, they’re often recorded on two layers (that’s DVD-9). Current DVD recorders can read two layers, but only record one layer, so if you want to “backup” a dual-layer DVD, you have to either:

  • Record on two DVDs.
  • Rip out the parts you don’t want and hope you can fit in on one DVD.
  • Rip out the parts you don’t want, and compress the video files to the point where it will all fit on one DVD.

    All of these entail problems.

    Are there plans to make dual-layer recorders? Yes, there are. Expect to see the first ones about a year from now.

    Just around the time when they’ll start to be obsoleted.

    You see, the DVD standard itself is going to change to.

    Sooner or later, DVDs will have to jump to a much higher capacity due to a new standard: HD-DVD. This is simply DVD recorded to HDTV standards. Current DVDs simply can’t hold an entire movie in HD-DVD format; they can only handle about 25 minutes’ worth of video.

    How soon will this happen? Hard to say. There are already three incompatible competing standards being waved around at the moment (one of which isn’t recordable at all). You can read a bit about the fighting going on about the two recordable standards here (if you’d like a far more technical discussion, go here and scroll down a bit.

    Backward compatibility is at least somewhat questionable (especially for self-recorded disks). For instance, one of the competing standards (Blu-Ray) provides no backward compatibility with recordable DVDs (they would play back prerecorded ones).

    Blu-ray recorders exist today (though at astronomical prices). You might see a semi-affordable one as early as a year from now. Mainstream pricing probably would be two to three years from now. We just don’t know who will win, and what will be compatible with what yet.

    The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name…

    The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name

    Of course, people will talk about everything about their DVD recorders except what they’re really using them for.

    Throughout the computer era, the equivalent of Mom has always been saying, “Backup your data,” and at least at the home level, Mom has been mostly ignored.

    When it comes to those little plastic disks, though, with data coming from other people, it is amazing how suddenly interested people are in backing up those up. Or how many people are making home movies, and apparently recording every second of their lives (at least based on the number of disks they say they buy).

    Please. I’m sure some people actually use DVD recorders for this purpose, but on the whole, the top use is backing up the neighborhood video store inventory.

    Please, if you write me, spare me the “Of course, I’m just backing up my DVD (or CD) collection,” even if you really are. I find reading that disclaimer very irritating when I know full well many if not most of those writing such are lying to me from the getgo. Let’s have a “Don’t tell, don’t ask” policy. Don’t tell me what you’re doing, and I won’t ask (not that I have in the past).

    In any event, full DVD copying (as opposed to the heavily compressed “fit-a-movie-on-a-CD”, which is already endemic) is unlikely to spread to mainstream cyberspace any time soon simply because the files are too big for even mainstream broadband. Even at a grossly optimistic 250KB/sec download speed, a 4GB movie would take about 4 1/2 hours to download, and in the P2P world, one would probably be delighted if it took less than fifteen hours.

    There will be two major forms of movie copying. The first will be compressed video of very recent (or unreleased) movies. The second will be “copy the neighbor’s or video store’s DVD.”

    To do the first, you have to get yourself a copy of the movie. This is usually done by getting a prerelease DVD (or CD) sent to reviewers, or by lax security. From Here’s an example (though this deals with music from the band Korn, not movies):

    But, of course, the question of how many fans will buy instead of burn “Mirror” bears consideration.

    Korn’s last four albums debuted in the top-3 of The Billboard 200. “Life Is Peachy” arrived at No. 3 and has sold 1.8 million units in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. “Follow the Leader” and “Issues” debuted at No. 1 and scanned 3.6 million and 3.2 million, respectively. “Untouchables” debuted at No. 2 and has moved 1.4 million units. Debut album “Korn” has sold 2.1 million.

    Vocalist Jonathan Davis and Fieldy believe the sales for “Untouchables” were hurt when the album was leaked to the Internet four months prior to its release.

    The band had freely passed material around while recording and made copies for friends. This time, “nobody got a copy, no one,” Fieldy says. “As soon as we were done listening to the CD, we destroyed it. We didn’t go online with it. I think that’s how [the leak] happened the last time.” Recording at Davis’ home studio also provided a more secure environment.

    It will be interesting to see how well this works for Korn. Similiar moves are being made by the movie industry.

    Second, odds are that by sometime next year, this sort of theft will be a felony. Bipartison legislation is being introduced today.

    “The Artists Rights and Theft Prevention Act,” (emphasis for those of you who don’t consider this stealing) which would make it a felony (more than one year in prison) to “share” any pre-release entertainment online.

    The actual text of the act isn’t available yet, but we’ll go over it and talk about it in the next P2P review.

    Should this pass (and the article indicates that even consumer groups don’t have a problem with it), we’re talking about jail time. It will be a lot easier to round up a large proportion of those offering such pre-release material than what the RIAA is currently doing.

    If you have an ounce of brains in your head, don’t do this when or if this bill comes close to passage. It will be a lot easier to round up a large proportion of those offering such pre-release material than what the RIAA is currently doing (whether law enforcement agencies will actually go looking hot and heavy is another matter; if they get lots of money with which to do so, they probably will, if not, any efforts will be token, which is fine except if you’re the token).

    If you have at least a few ounces in your head, we’ll keep a close eye on this bill, not only because of its potential impact, but because it will likely be the first opportunity for the average Congressperson to weigh in on this general issue.

    For the “copy somebody else’s DVD”, it will be a powerful argument for some form of DRM in the near few years, likely tied into the development of HD-DVD (new protection standards are being devised for that), backed up by governmental criminal penalties.

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