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The Case of the Disappearing DVD Recorder

Why DVD Recorders are Getting So Hard to Find


LG RC897T DVD Recorder VCR Combo - Front View

LG RC897T DVD Recorder VCR Combo - Front View

Photo (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
Samsung DVD Recorder With Built-in ATSC Tuner

Samsung DVD Recorder With Built-in ATSC Tuner

Photo (c) 2007 - Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com, Inc.
Pioneer DVR-233-S DVD Recorder - Front View

Pioneer DVR-233-S DVD Recorder - Front View

(c) 2006 Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Have you shopped for a DVD Recorder recently and have found slim-pickins on store shelves? It is not your imagination. While DVD recorders are thriving in other parts of the World and Blu-ray Disc recorders are all the rage in Japan, and are being introduced in several other markets, the U.S. is being left out of the video recording equation; on purpose.

However, contrary to what you might think, it is not all the fault of Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and other Asian-based consumer electronics manufacturers. After all, they would love to sell as many DVD and Blu-ray Disc recorders as possible to anyone who wants to buy one.

The real reason that DVD recorders are scarce in the U.S., and Blu-ray Disc recorders are non-existent, can be squarely laid at the foot of the U.S. movie studios and cable/satellite providers, which place restrictions on video recording that make the continued selling new DVD recorders, let alone providing access to standalone Blu-ray Disc recorders, in the U.S. consumer market an increasingly unprofitable venture.

Copy-Protection and Recording Cable/Satellite Programming

Most consumers buy a DVD recorder to record television programs for later viewing. So how are movie studios and cable/satellite program providers conspiring to limit your access to such video recording? The implementation of a copy-protection scheme that severely restricts what you can record and how you can record it.

For example, HBO and some other cable and network programmers copy-protect most of their programs on a random basis. The type of copy protection that they use (referred to as "Record Once") allows an initial recording to a temporary storage device (such as to a hard drive of a DVD recorder/Hard Drive combo, a cable DVR, TIVO, but not necessarily to a permanent storage format, such as DVD). In addition, once you have made your recording to cable DVR, TIVO, or Hard Drive, you are not allowed to make a copy of the initial recording to a DVD or VHS.

In other words, while you can make a recording to temporary storage format, such as DVR-type device, you cannot make a "hard copy" onto DVD to add to your permanent collection. "Record Once" means recording once on a temporary storage medium, not to a hard copy, such as DVD.

As a result, consumers are finding out quickly that newer DVD recorders and DVD Recorder/VHS combo units are unable record programs from HBO or other premium channels, and definitely not Pay-Per-View or On-Demand programming ("Record Never"), due to the types of copy-protection employed to restrict recording onto DVD. This is also filtering into some of the non-premium cable channels.

This isn't the fault of the DVD recorder, or the DVD recorder manufacturer; it is the enforcement of copy-protection schemes required by the movie studios and other content providers, which is also backed up legal court rulings. It is a "Catch 22". You have the right to record, but the content owners and providers also have the legal right to protect copyrighted content from being recorded. As a result, the ability to make a hard-copy recording may be prevented.

TECH NOTE: There is no way around the "Record Once" copy-protection scheme used by broadcasters and cable/satellite providers unless you use a DVD Recorder that can record on a DVD-RW disc in VR Mode or a DVD-RAM format disc that is CPRM compatible (look on the package). However, keep in mind that DVD-RW VR Mode or DVD-RAM recorded discs are not playable on most DVD players (just Panasonic and few others - refer to user manuals).

The Cable/Satellite DVR Factor

As mentioned above, cable/satellite DVRs and TIVO do allow recording of most content (except for pay-per-view and on-demand programming). However, since the recordings are made on a hard drive instead of a disc, they are not permanently saved (unless you have an extremely large hard drive). This is acceptable to movie studios and other content providers as further copies of the hard drive recording cannot be made.

This state of affairs is also a profit center for cable/Satellite service providers as they can lease or rent DVRs and also offer video "on demand" services that they can charge their subscribers. Since the DVR is required in order to record "Record Once" programming, the consumer is locked into this added expense if the they want the ability to record many of the of their favorite shows and movies.

Of course, if you own the increasingly scarce DVD recorder/Hard Drive combination, you should be able to record your program onto the Hard Drive of the DVD Recorder/Hard Drive Combo, but if copy-protection is implemented within the program, you will be prevented from making a copy of your hard drive recording to DVD.

Where are the Blu-ray Disc Recorders?

There are no current plans to market standalone Blu-ray Disc recorders for consumers in the U.S market. One factor contributing to this state of affairs is the increasing use of TIVO and Cable/Satellite DVRs in the U.S., which is perceived by Asian-based manufacturers to affect the potential competitive success of Blu-ray as a recording option.

In addition, copy-protection concerns and potential piracy have the movie studios "paranoid" about mainstream consumers having the ability to record high definition video content that can be saved in permanent hard-copy format, such as Blu-ray Disc.

Video copy-protection and the DVR factor are the main reasons why standalone Blu-ray Disc recorders are not available in the U.S., although they are plentiful in Japan and are being introduced elsewhere. The manufacturers simply don't want to hassle the expense of complying with the recording restrictions imposed in the U.S. market.

For more details on the Blu-ray Disc Recorder issue, read my article: Are There Blu-ray Disc Recorders?

A Final Word

Although not all TV, cable, and satellite programming is currently affected by "Record Once" or "Record Never" copy-protection schemes, and can still be recorded using a DVD recorder (although you often won't know until you find out if the program was able to be recorded), the era of widespread video recording of TV, cable and satellite programs onto a tape or disc format is coming to an end.

So next time you go shopping for a DVD Recorder, don't be surprised at the slim-pickins. It is all part of the "plan".

With DVD recorders fading into sunset, find out what alternatives are now available in lieu of recording onto DVD in the report:DVD Recorders Gone, Now What? (About.com DVRs).

Also, for an additional technical explanation and perspective on the issues revolving around video recording and copy-protection, also read the article: Understanding Copy Protection (About.com DVRs).

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