Power User: Record what you want, where you want

For the second Power User column in a row, I actually have some new products to talk about. This is unusual for me because these days I seldom see anything new and worthwhile.

I had always shied away from DVD recorders because in the early days there were so many compatibility problems. Recently, however, I really needed one and I opted for the most versatile model I could find: the Sony DVDirect VRDVC10 (www.sony.com). The thing that makes this $280 recorder different is that it works as both a computer drive and a standalone DVD recorder.

Attached to your PC or server via a fast USB 2.0 port, the DVDirect plays and records most optical disk standards. In addition, you can pick it up and carry the recorder to any video source and record on DVD+RW or DVD+R disks. It supports non-PC connections for standard S-video ports and RCA, including stereo RCA inputs.

This makes the drive useful for evidence collection, but it also allows you to copy training or other videos even if the sync is so bad that they currently play only on the original VCRs (even Betamax tapes).

Operating the DVDirect is straightforward. Insert a disk and the drive automatically begins to format it. Select recording speed (2 hours to 6 hours, twice as long when using dual-layer discs), press the record button, and, as soon as a video signal is detected, the recording begins. You can also stop or pause recording, but there is no remote control. When recording is complete, you just finalize the disk so it can be read.

Why in the world?
Why would you want a portable DVD recorder? Well, you can use it to record a camera feed, TV shows, laser disks, videotapes or any other video input without running it through a computer. This means you can tote the small, 1.2-pound recorder to any office where there's video you need to copy.

Because the DVDirect runs only when a video signal is present, you can even use it as a six-hour tamper-proof surveillance recorder. The quality is what you would expect from DVD, but a major limitation of this recorder is that in portable mode it doesn't offer any digital input stream. To record from a digital video camera or other digital source, you must use the analog S-video or RCA signal, or run it through a computer.

Another complaint I have is the lack of a remote control, which makes it considerably more difficult to edit video. Still, this is a highly versatile device that is extremely easy to use.

Add to it the $100 Sima GoDVD CT-2 video enhancement module (www.simacorp.com) and you can back up old videotapes while enhancing them in the process. The GoDVD CT-2 even lets you make copies of copy-protected DVDs. Of course, that latter option is for backup purposes only, but it's a handy strength because the GoDVD CT-2 can play copy-protected DVD signals through video networks that haven't always carried the signal properly, such as those that have a VCR in the circuit.

The GoDVD CT-2 can brighten or darken video signals, and it will balance the signal to remove the annoying video fade/brighten problem that sometimes occurs when playing DVDs over certain video networks. It will even convert them to black and white and handle PAL- or NTSC-compliant signals, but won't convert between the two.

Pair the DVDirect with the GoDVD CT-2 and you can record almost anything. The DVD+R disks I created from old VHS tapes and off-air monitoring worked in everything from expensive progressive scan DVD players to the cheapest player I could find (about $35 new). They even ran in an Xbox game console, which is notorious for rejecting DVD disks as unreadable. Now that's technology progress. n

John McCormick is a freelance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at [email protected]

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