DVD recorders are set to become more than just an expensive toy. As industry big-hitters prepare their products, Digit looked at the next generation of DVD recording.

The latest DVD recorders do a lot more than just burn content to DVDs. New models let you play and record VHS video, while others add hard drives and programming guides to put you in control of when you watch your favourite TV programmes.

And there's more to come. DVD write-once discs from both major rewritable camps (DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW) that nearly double current capacity to 8.5GB are on the horizon. By the end of the year, you may start to see DVD recorders using blue laser technology, which can raise capacity to a whopping 23GB per single-sided disc.

Several new DVD recorders were on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas in January, including models from such rewritable DVD mainstays as Panasonic and Philips, as well as from LG, Sharp, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba.

Convert VHS to DVD

LG puts a strong stake in the ground of the growing combination DVD and VHS recorder market with its LGXBR342, one of the first of such models to ship (it started selling in the US in January). The $499 (around £330) unit records to DVD-R/-RW as well as to VHS.

LG will follow this unit with the $399 (around £270) LGDVDR313, which will record to DVD-R/-RW and DVD+R/+RW, and should be available this spring. It will have FireWire and DVI ports, in addition to standard analog ports.

Panasonic's combination DVD and VHS recorder, the DIGA DMR-E75VS, should arrive in the spring too. Like LG's devices, this unit offers one-touch dubbing to either DVD or VHS. It will offer some colour and frame jitter corrections and will let you burn video to DVD-R or DVD-RAM, which has gained some popularity as a backup medium in PCs. It should sell for $600 (around £400).

Panasonic is readying new entry-level units. The DMR-E55 is scheduled to ship in April, with the DMR-E65 following in June. The $350 (roughly £230) DMR-E55 offers basic recording functions in DVD-R and DVD-RAM, while the $450 (£300) DMR-E65 adds SD (Secure Digital) and PC Card slots, as well as TV Guide's electronic program guide (EPG).

Samsung's dual-deck version is the DVD-VR300. The unit allows you to record from one format to the other at will. It supports DVD-R/-RW as well as DVD-RAM. The device ships in May and should sell for about $500 (£330). In May, Samsung will have a more basic offering, the DVD-R100. This $400 (around £270) unit will record in DVD-R/-RW and DVD-RAM.

More to come

This summer, Philips should release its entry into the combo DVD/VHS market, the $500 DVDR600VR. It too will allow for one-touch recording between formats. It records on DVD+R/+RW.

Philips will be releasing more mainstream models too. The DVDR615 (due in April), the DVDR755 (available this summer), and the DVDR740 (shipping in September). All three models have an ILink (FireWire) port and write to DVD+R/+RW.

The high-end DVDR755 comes with an HDMI digital-video input, as well as a PC Card slot so you can feed in your flash memory cards with digital images for display. The distinguishing feature of the DVDR740 is its included TV Guide EPG, which facilitates recording. You get Yes DVD software, which makes editing your videos a bit easier.

Hard drives included

DVD recorders first came with built-in hard drives last year, and your choices just keep growing. First out of the gate is Sharp with its DV-HR300 (DVD-R/-RW recording). The unit ships in February and comes with an 80GB hard drive, though it lacks a program guide (it does support VCR+). It offers standard analog inputs as well as FireWire, and should sell for $799 (around £530).

Sharp's basic unit, the DV-SR3U, which supports DVD-R/-RW, should be out in March and sell for $499 (£330).

Toshiba will have a new hard drive-based recorder, due out in March. The RD-XS32Multi Drive DVD Recorder should sell for $600 (£400) and, like the Sharp unit, will have an 80GB hard drive but no EPG. It will record to DVD-R/-RW as well as to DVD-RAM.

Next out will be Panasonic's DMR-E85, shipping in May, and replacing the DMR-E80H. You can record to the 120GB hard drive as well as DVD-R and DVD-RAM. The unit will feature TV Guide's EPG, which gives you eight days' worth of advance programming information. It should sell for about $800 (around £530).

LG's $599 (around £400) LGHDR414 will arrive in May too. It will come with an 80GB hard drive and support both DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW, but not DVD-RAM. It will have an EPG, and feature FireWire and DVI ports along with standard analog ports.

This summer, Philips will release its entry into this space, the $699 (£450) HDRW720. The unit comes with an 80GB drive and records to DVD+R/+RW. Like the DVDR740, it comes with a TV Guide EPG.

Samsung's DVD-HR800 will ship in August and offer a 120GB hard drive as well as DVD-R/-RW and -RAM recording. It features a slot that takes most flash media (CompactFlash, SD, and the like) to make it easier for you to show your pictures on your TV, for example. An included EPG from Gemstar will facilitate programming, letting you scan ahead to see when your shows will be on. It should sell for $600 (around £400).

All three Samsung units have FireWire inputs on the front panel, as well as more traditional analog inputs.

Sony's newest recorder is the $500 (around £330) RDR-GX300, available this summer. The unit can record in DVD-R/-RW as well as DVD+R/+RW and features some picture and audio correction to improve the quality of the DVD recording.

Sony has demonstrated two other models, one with an EPG and an ILink port, the other with a 120GB hard disk. Sony has not announced pricing, but the company says the models should be available sometime in the fall.

More capacity ahead

Your write-once DVD will soon boast more capacity, reaching up to 8.5GB, say several vendors. Both DVD+R and DVD-R should have such discs this year. The discs gain the extra capacity through a second layer, although unlike with double-sided discs, you will not need to physically turn over a disc in order to write to the additional capacity.

Verbatim plans to have a DVD+R disc out this April, according to company representatives. They expect drives that take advantage of these higher-capacity discs will become available in the same period. Philips, one such drive manufacturer, has said only that drives should be available in the first half of this year. Sony demonstrated a dual-layer DVD+R drive at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, and says drives should ship sometime towards the middle of this year.

Pioneer, a familiar name in DVD recording, also demonstrated a dual-layer DVD-R. But Andy Parsons, senior vice president for Pioneer's industrial video and mass storage group, says the standard still needs approval from the DVD Forum. He expects the ratification process to proceed quickly, however, and thinks both drives and media will hit the market this year.