After Christmas, I made the decision to buy to a DVD Recorder and digital tuner, which is one of the best TV gear purchases I've ever made.
My plans for a new DVD recorder was to capture favorite TV shows (Heroes, The Office and Numb3rs) and convert DV tapes of Nathan and our VHS wedding video to DVD discs.
Choosing a Device
After my research, I chose the Panasonic DMREZ27K, a DVD player/recorder with a built-in ATSC digital and analog TV tuner. It plays DVDs, records DVDs, reads SD cards and receives both analog and digital TV signals from local stations. It also has S-Video, and Firewire ports which are critical for converting our DV tapes to DVD.
When looking at these types of devices it can be difficult to compare, because features are often inconsistent across brands. For instance, many DVD Recorders don't come with an ATSC digital tuner, while others do. To deal with this, I focused on what features I most needed and chose the best device within my price range.
DVD Player & Recorder
The recorder and player were pretty easy to get used to, being very similar to our old DVD player and VCR recorder. You can record immediately or on a timed program, from digital TV signal, RCA jacks, S-Video port, or the Firewire port.
It can record 4 hours of video on a single disc in LP mode at decent quality, or 6-8 hours at lower quality. I'm still experimenting with settings, but have recorded from digital TV, through S-Video and Firewire from the DV camera and through RCA jacks from VHS tape with pretty good results.
Once a DVD is recorded, I can toss the DVD disc into my Mac and view the video, or convert the video files into a format optimized for the iPod touch. Nice!
Commercial DVDs look pretty good when played, though I should mention — we don't have an HDTV yet. The Panasonic up-samples DVDs to decent quality 1080i resolution video via an HDMI port, so we'll be able to enjoy old DVDs when we do get an HDTV screen, at least until Blu-Ray Recorders are reasonably priced.
One feature I've not tested yet — recording with DVD-RAM discs. Apparently the Panasonic recorder can treat DVD-RAM discs like hard drives, pausing live TV while the program is still recording. I'll update this article once I try it out.
Digital TV Tuner
The surprise feature of the Panasonic DMREZ27K was the ATSC digital TV tuner. We had subscribed to bare bones cable for years, but when we moved last summer, our basic cable got fewer channels and went from $12/month to $20/month. Ouch!
After researching Digital Terrestrial Television (DTTV) I decided to take a chance, replacing our cable with over the air digital TV, saving $20/month.
I found a variety of helpful resources on the web: the Engadget article OTA HD demystified, HDTV Magazine's DTV reference, DTV.gov, HDTV Antenna Guide, and TitanTV providing customized, web-based, local digital TV programming schedules.
Once I had the digital tuner setup, I was amazed at the picture quality and the variety of local channels! We had all of our local Milwaukee stations in digital, a 24 hour weather channel, 9 different public TV stations and several more to boot.
We love the two kids stations we receive: a PBS station with Sesame Street, Curious George, Clifford and the other, Qubo, with a variety of quirky, fun programs like Postman Pat, Theodore Tugboat and Pecola, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
When analog TV shuts down on February 17, 2009, we'll still receive the digital broadcasts we see now, and may even gain a few by then.
In this transitional period between analog and digital TV, regular and HDTV, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, it's nice to find a device that does a lot for a reasonable price.
I've been very pleased with the Panasonic DMREZ27K. I've converted VHS and short DV tapes to DVD, recorded TV shows in digital quality over the air, and have two fun, educational stations for our son, all while saving $20 a month on cable.
Not bad for $200 bucks!