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How To Record HDTV Programs

HDTV Is Spectacular - If You're Home To See It.

One of the fundamental issues surrounding the adoption of HD is the busy life of the average person. If you've owned a TiVo, ReplayTV, or any other kind of DVR, you obviously know how difficult it can be going back to watching television on the network's schedule rather than your own. Recording programs to watch later has allowed individuals of all ages to maintain a life and still see their favorite show.

Until recently, there was no good way you could record a high-def show if you couldn't be home to watch it. Those who work nights or have places more important to be than their living room sofa, have had to settle for the low quality version of a program even if they're setup to receive the HD version. Finally, good options for recording HDTV shows have arrived. And although none are truly perfect, they are better than nothing.

Devices That Record HDTV Programs

Digital VHS has been around for years. D-VHS was the first real consumer option for recording an HDTV program even though it was priced out of the reach of all but a select few individuals. There are several companies who produce a D-VHS VCR, the most popular of which are Mitsubishi and JVC. The original JVC unit is capable of recording HD, but their goal was to tout the D-Theater format, which allows you to buy some (very few) commercial films in high-def. Their latest offerings allow for easy HDTV recording and playback. Mitsubishi has had a D-VHS VCR available for quite a while and is designed for use with their Integrated-HDTV sets. This FireWire model with HAVi is affordable and easy to use, but is limited to whatever tuner is built in to the display, or compatible external tuners (which there are few).

For many, going to a tape format is like taking a step backwards in technology. If you own a Mitsubishi Integrated-HDTV, it is an affordable alternative if it can meet your needs. Otherwise, the mere thought of having to rewind tapes again is unpleasant for most. The D-VHS models that don't require FireWire are typically more expensive, and are not as user-friendly as some of the newer options.

Media PCs
If you're a computer nut, you can easily setup a Media PC to record local HDTV broadcasts to your computers hard drive. Media PCs can be a powerful home theater component considering they have several advantages over other recording options.

The biggest advantage of a Media PC is that your computer can have any number of extremely large hard drives, which allows you to record more high-definition programs than standalone DVRs. Also, Media PCs are easily upgradeable, so adding additional hard drives or tuner cards is relatively easy.

Media PCs, however, are not without there faults either. The most notable is that they're only useful for recording HD programs from a terrestrial antenna. If you rely on cable or satellite for HD programming, you'll have to wait until these abilities are offered in the Media PC category. Another downfall is that getting a Media PC connected to your television for actual HD playback can often be difficult, and sometime requires expensive special adapters. If ease of use is more important than functionality, you should look to another solution.

The hard drive based digital video recorder has ultimately changed the way television viewers watch TV. The most popular of these, TiVo, is currently used by millions of viewers with more added every day. Until recently, there were no DVR units available for recording HDTV programs. Finally, units are appearing on the market for all television services, including cable and satellite. Most HD-DVRs are provided by the service provider directly, while others need to be purchased at a local retailer.

Cable subscribers often get the option to rent one, which can really save on up-front costs. The prices of these often range anywhere from five to fifteen dollars a month. The only negative to renting is that over time the rental cost can eventually exceed the purchase price. Although, given the current prices, it could take years to reach that point. Satellite users currently have to buy one rather than rent it, and they're not cheap. Eventually, you'll probably be able to rent one as opposed to buying it. If you use an antenna for TV programming you have to buy it, but they're not quite as expensive as the satellite models.

DVRs are currently the best way to record HDTV. However, be aware that recording HDTV programs requires massive amounts of disk space, so even if you have a 250GB drive, don't expect to record any more than 30 hours of HDTV. Cable models currently have drives no bigger than 120Gb, so expect less than 15 hours of HDTV at any time. As larger hard drives become cheaper, you can expect to see them included in future models. The feature sets will vary greatly between models, but you can expect the TiVo models, or the ones you have to purchase separately, to include more features than the models you can rent.

It's also good to remember that DVRs are not designed for long term storage, so if you want to keep a permanent copy of your program, you'll need to consider a different recording solution, like D-VHS. New formats, such as Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, are on the horizon. These will provide an optical storage solution for long-term storage of recordings, as well as a commercial HD movie format that doesn't rely on tape.


The ability to record HDTV programs is an essential step for the widespread adoption of HDTV. Though no one can run from it forever, content providers have played the "chicken and egg" game since 1998. With more homes sporting HDTV compatible equipment you're bound to see the HDTV transition occur at a much faster rate, which means more HDTV shows for everyone to watch.

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