1. Maximise the TV signal
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The ancient hi-fi axiom of 'rubbish in, rubbish out' is every bit as true with video as it is with audio. Your TV aerial is a vital link in the picture-quality chain: a weak signal can hobble even the best DVD recorders. So, unless you never intend to record off-air - which is unlikely - get a specialist to perform a health check on your TV aerial. Often, an inexpensive realignment can produce a much better signal, while fresh coaxial cable from aerial to outlet socket can also make a massive difference to the picture. Even a new aerial doesn't cost that much.
2. Cable & satellite signals
There's an argument for saving a few dollars and opting for a DVD recorder with an analogue TV tuner. These do tend to be cheaper, though the price gap between analogue and digital models isn't as wide as it was. Remember that the signal path between your set-top box (whatever type it is) and your recorder needs to be as direct as possible - avoid routing pictures through other kit where possible, and use short cables.
3. RGB-Scart can be best
If you're buying a recorder to use with a set-top box, make sure it has an RGB-Scart input. Many DVD recorders don't (and we're not just talking about the cheap ones), but one will make a huge difference to image quality. If you don't have an RGB-Scart input, you might be limited to using a basic composite-video connection. If you do have the right sockets, buy a decent RGB-Scart cable.
4. Upgrade your cabling
For wall-mounted TV aerial outlet sockets, get a quality aerial cable to maximise signal quality. Keep your aerial cable away from mains cables, and avoid spooling or twisting cables: the spaghetti of cabling lurking behind many a TV isn't just unsightly, it hampers performance. Upgraded video cables are also essential: an RGB-capable Scart cable is ideal for a cheaper recorder, while many recorders justify using superior component video connections, or even HDMI, if possible.
5. Multiformat recorders
The recent format war between a series of competing recordable discs has been a monumental pain in the posterior for all concerned. Happily, it looks as if DVD recorder manufacturers have put paid to the whole thing. You can now buy multiformat recorders able to record to at least four differing blank discs, from several manufacturers - and Panasonic's latest range records to all five (DVD-R/-RW, DVD+R/+RW, DVD-RAM0. We would choose a multi-format recorder wherever possible. We like our Award Winner, the Panasonic EH65.
6. Hard-disks make life easy
For the ultimate convenience, a recorder with a hard-disk drive (HDD) is a great buy, though it'll cost you more. First, it means you don't need to worry about having a blank disc: simply hit record with impunity, as your intended recording is almost certain to fit the space you have available. Hard-disks also allow some cool features, like pausing live TV - if the doorbell rings, you can pause your programme and come back to the same point in the broadcast a few minutes later. Keen home editors can also splice and dice recordings, too.
7. Keep the kids happy, too
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If you want to use your DVD recorder as your main DVD player and for recording, then having a hard disk is especially worthwhile. It means you can play pre-recorded DVDs and record from the TV at the same time - a lifesaving feature for families, especially those of you with youngsters addicted to the latest Wiggles DVD. They can get their fix, while the HDD's busy capturing your fave shows to watch when they've finally gone to bed (if you've the energy).
8. Max your recording quality
Unless you absolutely can't avoid using a lower-quality mode, stick to better-quality, shorter-duration modes when setting your timed recordings. Image quality can drop off significantly in long-play modes, and you'll see the difference clearly on a good TV, especially a flatscreen. Dual-layer DVD discs can be worth using (they cost more, but several new recorders can use them). They offer nearly twice the storage capacity of standard DVD discs, giving you much more recording time or allowing better quality. Hard-disks can be even more accomÂ¬modating: with 250GB of space, you can record around 40 hours at best-quality.
9. Don't fill up your hard disk - and keep it cool
If you have a hard-disk recorder, delete older content from it regularly to avoid crashes. We've found that most hard-disk recorders suffer from stability problems when you approach their maximum capacity. If you only have 20 percent of storage space or less on your disk, give it a spring clean, or archive some content to DVD. Also, consider where you position your kit, as anything with a hard-disk mustn't get too hot. Keep your beloved recorder away from sources of heat, such as AV amps, and make sure it's well ventilated.
10. Buy a built-in
If all this sounds too much, there is an easier solution. For the ultimate in convenience, check out LG's new range of flatscreens with a built-in PVR. Then you have the convenience of a personal video recorder, all in one box, so it looks neater in your lounge room. The 'one remote' system is also a blessing for those of us who don't have the time to get our heads around multiple remotes or fork out for a universal one.