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Correction to This Article
A review of high-definition television recording options in the Aug. 29 Business section incorrectly said that Dish Network's Dish Player-DVR 921 digital video recorder is available for rental. It is available for purchase, and the price is $999.
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Recordings Match the Show, With a Key Drawback

And its controls allow you to quickly and easily compensate for the varying resolutions and aspect ratios on different channels, so the picture always properly fits your TV.

Its one downside -- besides that $1,000 price -- is its sluggish operation, with a noticeable pause as it fills out the onscreen programming grid.


An LG digital video recorder. The industry's unsolved problem: High-definition recordings aren't portable or storable at original quality. (Courtesy of LG Electronics Inc.)

_____Decoding Digital TV_____
Your Questions Answered: Recording, Shopping, More
To Be Picture-Perfect, a Choice of 3 (The Washington Post, Aug 29, 2004)
The Digital Transition (The Washington Post, Aug 29, 2004)
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Transcript Rob Pegoraro was online to answer your HDTV questions.
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Dish Network's Dish Player-DVR 921 isn't quite as smooth as DirecTV's TiVo, but it adds a picture-in-picture display of the current program to its programming guide; you don't have to stop watching to check out what's playing on other channels. It can search for programs by title or by category, with options to record shows daily, weekly or Monday through Friday, but you can't exclude reruns.

Dish's standout feature, however, is its forward-skip button for precision evasion of commercial breaks. This model's fast-forward mode can run as fast as 300 times playback speed -- useful for quickly pinpointing a scene late in a lengthy movie. Sadly, this recorder, like DirecTV's, is sometimes in short supply.

For all their finer points, these three recorders leave out one must-have capability: a way to take recordings elsewhere or archive them for permanent storage at their original quality. Even newer DVD recorders will still have to convert an HD signal to a lower resolution.

Only one type of HD recorder does offer that option, the D-VHS VCRs developed by JVC. Its $800 HM-DH5U can make both standard and high-definition recordings; it also plays conventional VHS and new "D-Theatre" high-definition D-VHS tapes, which look spectacular.

Blank D-VHS tapes can store 2 1/2 hours of high-def video and 15 at a lowest-quality mode that still looks better than VHS; they cost about $15 each. Tapes that store 3 1/2 hours in HD and 21 hours in lowest-quality mode cost $25.

Unfortunately, it is still VHS at heart, which means that finding an old recording is a matter of fast-forwarding until you see its start whiz past, then rewinding briefly. And its tapes take up much more room on a shelf than DVDs.

The D-VHS's biggest failing, though, was that it couldn't record in HD from most digital video recorders, thanks to JVC's spectacularly stupid decision to leave out the three most common high-def video inputs in favor of a digital FireWire connector with built-in copy-control circuitry; only a handful of other devices support this. (Comcast's recorder is one; see Jim Hawk's article on Page F1 for details.)

The electronics industry is busy developing high-definition recordable DVDs that should solve this recording conundrum once and for all -- except that the industry, ignoring every lesson from the past 30 years, has developed two incompatible standards.

If this feud isn't settled before these "HD-DVD" and "Blu-Ray" formats arrive in stores, consumers who remember the days of VHS vs. Beta can't be blamed for thinking that this business still hasn't advanced too many years past 1980.


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