Hybrid hard drive/DVD recorders combine the convenience and economy of recording onto a hard drive with the option to archive your favourite moments onto DVD. Whether you want to watch your favourite programmes at your own convenience, archive the sporting highlights of the season or make DVDs of your home movies, a hard drive/DVD recorder is the most versatile solution.
There are a few things to consider when you're choosing a hybrid recorder. First and foremost, does it have a built-in Freeview tuner? While it's possible to connect your recorder to an external Freeview box, it's much more convenient to have the tuner built in. If you want to be able to record one programme while you watch another, you'll need a second tuner somewhere in your television ecosystem -- either in the recorder itself, in your television or in a separate Freeview box. .
The recorders reviewed here all have 160GB hard disks, although other sizes are available. As a rough guide, 160GB will allow you to store 20 to 40 hours of television programming at the highest quality setting, or 60 to 80 hours if you compromise slightly. At the lowest quality setting, you'll get up to 300 hours of recording time, although you'll certainly notice the difference in the picture quality.
Recordable DVDs come in several formats, including -R, -RW, -R DL, DVD-RAM, +R, +RW and +R DL. The DVD-R and DVD+R formats are different, although most modern DVD players can play both types. A basic
-R or +R disc can only be used to record data once, whereas a -RW or +RW disc can be erased and reused. The -R DL and +R DL discs have two layers (DL stands for dual or double layer), enabling them to hold twice as much data as a standard -R or +R disc. DVD-RAM discs are erasable and reusable, but can only be played in devices that support this format. DVD-RAM discs are usually housed in a cartridge, so they look quite different from the other formats.
If you're going to be making DVDs for other people -- for example, if you're going to transfer camcorder footage of your new baby onto DVD and send it to your parents -- look for a recorder that supports both the -R and +R formats, for maximum compatibility. If you're only going to be making discs for yourself, look for support for erasable (RW) and high-capacity (DL) discs.
You should also check the inputs and outputs. An i.Link or Firewire input is very handy if you're planning to transfer footage from your camcorder. If you have an HD Ready screen, look for a recorder that can output upscaled video via an HDMI socket. Upscaling matches the resolution of the picture to the resolution of your screen, giving you a smoother image.