DVD/VCR Combo Drives

DVD/VCR combo drives give you the best of both worlds. Read on to find the right one for your needs.

A DVD/VCR combo drive combines a traditional VHS recorder with either a DVD player or recorder. It's a hybrid model that appeals to people who still have a considerable investment in older video tapes, and either want the convenience of being able to play them within one unit -- as opposed to having two playback units cluttering up the living room decor -- or in the case of DVD Recorder/VHS combos, those who want to transfer home video tapes to the more durable DVD format.

Why would you want one in your home?

There's an obvious space consideration at play with DVD Combo drives. Put simply, a single unit that encompasses a DVD player and VHS player will take up less space than having both units. There are also advantages in terms of cabling, as you only need one power socket and depending on the capabilities of your combo unit, one set of audio visual cables for connection to a display device.

DVD combo drive

The real advantage of DVD combo units comes when you consider DVD combos that include a DVD recorder. These generally allow recording to and from DVD and VHS (with certain limitations: see "What can I record?"), as well as simultaneous recording from two video sources (for example a rooftop aerial and a Foxtel Digital set top box). Most combo drives also allow you to record to one source (DVD or VHS) while watching from the other. This makes for a great archiving tool for old home movies. VHS tapes degrade over time, even if you're not watching them and while DVD discs aren't eternal they're a much more durable format overall.

DVD Recordable Formats

All DVD recorders, including combo drives, use recordable DVD media for program storage. The same discs can also be used on a PC for data storage. Unfortunately for consumers, it's not quite as simple as VHS recording, where any tape will work in any machine. There are multiple DVD formats, each with its own supporters. The official DVD forum standards are DVD-R (for one-time-only recordings), DVD-RW (for erasable discs -- the RW stands for "Rewritable") and DVD-RAM, which was originally a data-only format. There's also the competing DVD+R format, championed by a group of companies called the DVD Alliance and like DVD-R, there are +R (write once) and +RW (write many times) formats.

While arguments persist about which is the better format for video, at a practical consumer level there's virtually no difference in price and capability between DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW. Many players offer multiple format support and for an easy life you'd be well advised to track down a player that can support either disc format. DVD-RAM differs from the other two formats as it was originally designed as a computer format with a capability of millions of rewrite cycles -- DVD-RW and +RW discs are only good for a fraction of that. That might make DVD-RAM sound like an appealing format, were it not for the fact that the individual DVD-RAM discs are comparatively expensive and very few standalone DVD players can play back DVD-RAM discs.

The big difference between DVD-/+ format discs and commercial DVD discs is in the storage size. A recordable DVD has a total of 4.7GB of storage space on it -- usually defined as an hour of "DVD Quality" video -- while a commercial DVD is normally pressed to a dual layer disc with 8.5GB of storage. Newer writeable formats support dual layer discs; DVD+R DL (Dual Layer) discs first hit the market in 2004, while DVD-R DL discs only appeared in 2005. Currently, Dual Layer writers are only present in a small minority of DVD Combo devices, although they are becoming increasingly common in newer models.

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