Can DVDs Record from VCRs, TVs, and So On?

The answer is yes. When DVD was originally introduced in 1997, it could only play. DVD video recorders appeared in Japan at the end of 1999 and in the rest of the world at the end of 2000.

Early units were expensive: from $2,500 to $4,000. DVD recorders are still quite expensive (typically $500 to $2000 as of mid-2003), but they will eventually be as cheap as VCRs. DVD recorders are already being added to satellite and cable receivers, hard-disk video recorders, and similar boxes.

 A DVD recorder basically works like a VCR. It has a tuner and A/V inputs, and it can be programmed to record shows. An important difference is that you never have to rewind or fast forward. Recordings on a disc are instantly accessible, usually from an onscreen menu.

Note that DVD video recorders can’t copy most DVD movie discs, which are protected. Unfortunately, more than one recordable DVD format is available, and they don’t all play together nicely. It’s nothing like the old VHS versus Betamax battle, as many in the press would have you believe, but it is rather confusing.

Don’t be further confused by DVD recordable drives (DVD burners) for computers. These recorders can store data, but creating full-featured DVDVideos requires additional software to do video encoding (MPEG), audio encoding (Dolby Digital, MPEG, or PCM), navigation and control data generation, and so on.

What Happens If I Scratch the Disc? Aren’t Discs Too Fragile to Be Rented?

Scratches may cause minor data errors that are easily corrected. That is, data is stored on DVDs using powerful error-correction techniques that can recover from even large scratches with no loss of data. A common misperception is that a scratch will be worse on a DVD than on a CD because of higher storage density and because video is heavily compressed.

DVD data density is physically four times that of CD-ROM, so it’s true that a scratch will affect more data, but DVD error correction is at least 10 times better than CD-ROM error correction and more than makes up for the density increase. It’s also important to realize that MPEG-2 and Dolby Digital compression are partly based on the removal or reduction of imperceptible information, so decompression doesn’t expand the data as much as might be assumed.

Major scratches may cause uncorrectable errors that will produce an input/output (I/O) error on a computer or show up as a momentary glitch in the DVD-Video picture. Paradoxically, sometimes the smallest scratches can cause the worst errors (because of the particular orientation and refraction of the scratch).

Many schemes can conceal errors in MPEG video, which may be used in future players. See the later section “How Should I Clean and Care for DVDs?” for more information. The industry’s DVD computer advisory group specifically requested no mandatory caddies or other protective carriers.

Consider that laserdiscs, music CDs, and CD-ROMs are likewise subject to scratches, but many video stores and libraries rent them. Most reports of rental disc performance are positive, although if you have problems playing a rental disc, check for scratches.

VHS Is Good Enough. Why Should I Care About DVD?

The primary advantages of DVD are video quality, surround sound, and extra features. DVD will not degrade with age or after many playings like videotape will (which is an advantage for parents with kids who watch Disney videos twice a week). This is the collectability factor present with CDs versus cassette tapes. If none of this matters to you, then VHS probably is good enough.

Is the Packaging Different from CDs?

Manufacturers were worried that customers would assume DVDs would play in their CD players, so they wanted the packaging to be different. Most DVD packages are as wide as a CD jewel box (about 5 5/8 inches) and as tall as a VHS cassette box (about 7 3/8 inches), as recommended by the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA).

However, no one is being forced to use a larger package size. Some companies use standard jewel cases or paper and vinyl sleeves. Divx discs come in paperboard and plastic Q-Pack cases the same size as a CD jewel case.

Most movies are packaged in the Amaray keep case, an all-plastic clamshell with clear vinyl pockets for inserts that’s popular among consumers. Time Warner’s snapper, a paperboard case with a plastic lip, is less popular. The super jewel box, the stretch limo version of a CD jewel case, is common in Europe.