QAfter my TiVo modem got fried a couple weeks ago, I sweet-talked the TiVo reps into transferring my lifetime subscription to a new box. I'm looking at getting the model with the built-in DVD recorder, but will those discs work in my DVD player and laptop?

AThat's the right question to ask, on account of the pointless format war the electronics industry still hasn't resolved in the seven years since the first rewritable DVDs went on sale.

TiVo's current DVD-burner models, Humax's DRT400 ($400) and DRT800 ($500), can save a recorded TV program to two kinds of disc, DVD-R and DVD-RW. The write-once -R discs should play just about anywhere, except for the oldest DVD players. The rewritable -RW kind should work in slightly fewer machines; with either type of disc, newer devices are far more likely to play them without complaint.

Both DVD-R and DVD-RW media, when burned on the Humax TiVo box, require a brief "finalization" process before they can be played elsewhere. (As a side effect, this makes DVD-RW recordings essentially uneditable; to reuse an -RW disc, you have to erase it first. Some DVD-RW recorders include a "VR" mode that allows instant playback and editing but renders the disc unplayable on most other machines).

Both DVD-R and DVD-RW constitute one of the three families of recordable DVDs. DVD-RAM, the oldest of the bunch, offers the most convenient recording, editing and erasing but works in very few players and computers. In practice, recordings stored on DVD-RAM may not be much more portable than those parked on a TiVo's hard drive.

A third format, DVD+R and DVD+RW, offers almost the same recording/erasing convenience as DVD-RW's VR mode or DVD-RAM, but the same or better compatibility as DVD-R and DVD-RW's standard mode.

By the way, if you think the DVD-recording format war is a pain, wait until two incompatible types of high-definition DVD go on sale in the next year or so. I have two words for this situation: consumer boycott.

-- Rob Pegoraro

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or