DVD burning could be the answer to your prayers, whether you need it for archiving or recording Match of the Day. We talk you through what’s best for your needs.

The DVD has proved to be an enduring format, and DVD burning is now a widespread method of storing information, as well as viewing high-quality video.

Viewing digitized video, as you find on DVDs, is far more appealing than winding through an analog tape. But before you start DVD burning purely for your entertainment needs, you'll need to decide what type of DVD recorder makes sense for you.

You have two primary routes to recording rapture: a set-top DVD recorder designed to live inside your entertainment cabinet, or a PC DVD burner coupled with a video-input or TV-tuner device. Which method you choose should depend upon the type of video you want to capture.

TV times

If you plan to record from television, or back-up VHS or camcorder tapes in their entirety to DVD, a set-top DVD recorder is your easiest, all-in-one option. Set-top DVD recorders have integrated TV tuners and a slew of video inputs (including DV and S-Video); these attributes alone make set-top units ideal for replacing your VCR, so you can record televised content or copy content from a digital video camera. In fact, you'd be quite accurate in thinking of them as VCRs that use recordable and rewritable DVDs instead of videotape.

A PC equipped with a hard drive and a DVD burner can also function as a living-room DVD recorder/digital video recorder (including electronic program guide and remote) – but only if you have a TV-tuner card or an external TV-tuner input. A PC running Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition OS will take care of such tasks seamlessly; however, Media Center systems tend to be a lot more expensive than the average PC.

You can add components to your existing desktop system to make it function as a DVD/digital video recorder. This approach is generally not as convenient unless you're pressed for space in a, a studio apartment or a small workspace, and you need the PC to act as a multipurpose tool.

Set-top DVD recorders come in two basic flavours: those with a hard drive, such as Pioneer's 80GB DVR-520H, Toshiba's 160GB RD-XS52 DVD Recorder, or Panasonic's 160GB DMR-E95HS, and those without, like GoVideo's R6740 and Philips' DVD-R615. As you’d expect, recorders that incorporate a hard drive are considerably more expensive.

All set-top DVD recorders have DVD burners built in, but they vary in the type of discs they write to: DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, DVD-RAM, or various combinations of those formats. Most have a DV input (for accepting your camcorder's output) and burn discs that, once finalized, can play back on any DVD player.

Write-once discs (+R and -R) are the most universally compatible, and rewritable discs are the least. DVD-RAM discs permit more rewrites than any other rewritable format, but they also have less compatibility with non-DVD-RAM drives and players than competing formats.

One of the big advantages to having a DVD recorder with a hard drive is that you can record long programs at the maximum image quality, without worrying about swapping discs midstream. Typically, you can fit just one hour on a single disc when recording at the highest image-quality setting – which is almost a requirement if you're recording high-motion content like a football match. Once the video is on the hard drive, you can copy it to multiple discs at your leisure.

The other advantage to a hard drive is that you can edit and label your video before burning it onto disc. Note that editing and labeling capabilities vary dramatically between recorder models. Most set-top recorders allow only limited editing, permitting you to create chapters, edit disc titles and menus, and delete portions of the recording (you could cut out all those pesky commercials, for example). But some go so far as to help you create a highlight reel from multiple programs. Set-top models' on-drive editing is not nearly as advanced as what you'll get in a good PC editing program, but it is a viable alternative if you're trying to avoid becoming entangled in a complex PC project.

A third variety of set-top recorders include a built-in VCR – a convenience that makes it simple to save VHS tapes to DVD and lets you eliminate a component from your entertainment system while you're at it. However, a few models will encode your resulting discs with copy protection, which means you won't be able to make a copy of your own DVD. Products from Panasonic and GoVideo don't encumber DVDs made from VHS with copy protection.

If you plan to copy lots of tapes to disc, having the integrated VCR is a boon, since the recorder automatically synchronizes the starting of the source tape and of the destination disc simultaneously. Alternatively, you can always connect a VCR to a DVD recorder via S-Video or composite cables to copy your tapes; however, with that arrangement you'll have to handle your own syncing.

When to Use a PC

A PC's DVD burner is the same type of DVD writing component that a set-top DVD recorder uses, but without the video inputs, TV tuner, display, video encoder, and other video-related electronics you'll find in a set-top box.

A DVD burner is either external or internal. External drives usually hook up to the computer via one of the system's USB 2.0 ports. (Note that the USB 1.1 ports typically found on older systems can't sustain the fast transfers an external DVD burner requires.) Internal drives must be installed in a PC, in an available, externally accessible drive bay.

One of the perks of having a PC drive is that you can use it for backing up data as well as for copying DVD videos or burning DVD movie discs from video files already on your hard drive. For the moment PC DVD burners hold a capacity advantage over set-top DVD recorders, though it applies only to recordable, write-once media. These burners can record movies and data to 8.5GB double-layer DVD+R media, allowing you to store up to two hours of video at the maximum image quality per disc – twice the amount you can pack on a standard single-layer disc. This advantage should evaporate later this year, though, when the first set-top recorders with double-layer drives begin to appear.

PC DVD burners hold another advantage over set-top recorders in that you can buy get hold of one much more cheaply. Of course, the drive alone will get you only so far. Any PC equipped with a DVD burner can write video to DVD; but to get your video into your PC in the first place, you'll need either a FireWire connection (for directly importing video from DV cameras) or a USB 2.0 TV/video capture device.

If you're short on ports, look for a PCI add-in interface card that has both FireWire and USB 2.0 ports; you should be able to find one for around £15. (Of course, you'll need an empty PCI slot to add it to your system.)

A number of capture options are available. At the forefront are TV-capture cards such as Hauppauge's (pronounced hop-hog) $99 (around £55) WinTV-PVR-150, Pinnacle System's $90 PCTV Pro (around £50), or even Hauppauge's $199 (around £110) dual-tuner WinTV-PVR-350, which lets you watch one program while recording another.

Another route is to use a graphics card with integrated TV-tuner and video-capture capabilities, such as ATI's All-In-Wonder series or NVidia's Personal Cinema cards – this will cost you between about £40 and £130, depending on the speed of the graphics chip set. A third option – and the easiest means of gaining video recording and capture without opening your PC – is to use an external USB 2.0.

Once the video is stored on your hard drive, you have the flexibility of editing and enhancing your video using software like Nero 6 Ultra Edition (a $60 download). A PC, with its mouse and keyboard, makes editing video or snipping out commercials far easier to accomplish than it is on a set-top recorder, which often has primitive editing utilities and relies on a remote control for all navigation.

PC DVD recorders have several advantages, though they lack the set-it-and-forget-it ease of a set-top device. Serious video editors wouldn't dream of using anything other than a PC-based editing system. You can easily add bigger hard drives to your computer if you need more capacity (and you probably will if you really get into video editing). It's also fairly inexpensive and quite simple to add a faster DVD burner for quicker archiving and disc copying.

You can upgrade the software you use to record and edit, as well. And you won't have to give up your remote control just because you're using a PC – most computer-based TV/video-capture products also ship with remote controls.