Sound Advice: TV recording isn't what it used to be

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 19, 2013 - 12:51 PM

Q: I have been following your columns on home TV recording. Can’t you get a hard drive/DVD recorder at Wal-Mart and do all the home recording you want? That’s what I do, and I’m happy with it.

A: If I ever want to fill up my inbox to overflowing, I know what to do: Write about home recording.

Although there are devices that work for over-the-air and some cable recording, they do not address all of the points I have made that show how much things have changed.

It used to be that you could buy a VCR or DVD recorder with a built-in tuner. You could connect it to your cable line or antenna, set the timer and record on VHS tapes or DVDs. There were no monthly fees for recording, you could record all the channels, and you could record at full quality. (I know that VHS is technically lower than broadcast TV or the best satellite broadcasts so there could be some loss, but it is nothing compared with standard-definition TV vs HDTV, and most home users didn’t notice.)

Even when you had scrambled signals requiring a cable box, you could connect the coax from the cable box to the VCR and record on Channel 3 or 4. After the recording was made, you could store the tape or disc and watch it whenever or wherever you want, including on other devices.

To recap: You could record at full quality, you could record all the cable channels, there were no fees, you could hang on to the recordings and they worked in other VCRs and DVD players.

There is no solution available in North America that will allow you to do all of these things. If you have a DVR from the cable company or TiVo, you are paying a fee. If you have a home hard drive/DVD recorder you can’t save the recordings in high-­definition quality on your own tapes or discs, and once everyone is forced to cable converter boxes you won’t be able to record in high definition or record all the channels anymore, either.

It didn’t have to be this way. It is technically possible to make cable and satellite boxes with FireWire connections that can be connected to Blu-ray recorders, which record in full high-definition resolution on your own discs without paying any fees. The initial plan for HDTV was for FireWire to be implemented throughout display devices and set-top boxes; in fact, some older TVs as well as D-VHS VCRs are so equipped.

Using my D-VHS VCR and HDTV with a FireWire connection, I can tune over-the-air channels and make high-definition recordings on D-VHS tapes and keep them for future viewing. I do this with special events such as the Olympic opening ceremonies. Unfortunately, this works only with over-the-air, so if I can’t record football on ESPN this way.

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