As far as I’m aware of, all DVD recorders offer the ability to schedule recordings. However, if you are interested in being able to enter Video plus+ codes or select programmes from a built-in programme/TV gude, you will need to look out for these features in the specifications. These features are generally clearly advertised on the recorder itself as well as its packaging, so if a recorder you are looking at does not mention about Video plus+ for example, then expect this feature to be missing.
If you plan to continue using VHS tapes long after you get your DVD recorder and need to conserve space, I would recommend going for a DVD/VCR combo recorder. However, if you just want to transfer your VHS tapes to DVD and plan on doing away with your VCR, then assuming your VCR is in good working order, I would recommend going for a DVD recorder and connecting up your VCR. From my experience, some of the older VCR’s actually seem to produce a better picture than VCRs manufactured in the past couple of years. For example, we have a VCR from the early 80’s that plays worn-out tapes (regularly played over & over) with a fairly decent picture that no recent VCR we try seems to cope with (picture constantly rolls & flickers with intermittent sound).
The recording time completely depends on which recording mode you use. These figures give a rough guide, but can vastly vary from one brand to another:
[li]HQ - ~20 Hours per 100GB
[/li][li]SP - ~40 Hours per 100GB
[/li][li]LP - ~60 Hours per 100GB
[/li][li]EP - ~80 Hours per 100GB
[/li][li]SLP - ~120 Hours per 100GB
Just be warned that the hard drive recording time advertised is generally always the longest play mode (lowest quality mode). The SP mode generally offers up to around average DVD quality from a good quality DVD recorder. LP is usually considered around VHS quality as the recorded resolution is cut in half. SLP is the equivalent to Video CD quality.
If you have a couple of VCRs handy and know of a few people who may be able to give you a lend of a VCR, I would recommend testing an old tape across various VCRs, preferably during a section of ads or unwanted recording to avoid further wearing the section you wish to transfer.
Unfortunately very few (if any) DVD+HDD recorders offer the ability to hook up to a PC. If you are just interested in being able to edit out ads and split recordings, have a look for these features in the specifications before deciding on a given recorder. Alternatively, you can transfer the full recording to a rewritable DVD (since most DVD recorders do a direct transfer without further conversion) and pop this in your PC to edit the recording. Some DVD recorders such as the Lite-On series store recordings as MPEG2 files, which means that should the internal writer die or if you need to transfer a large amount of recordings, you can take out the internal hard drive and put it in a PC to copy over the recordings. However, please be warned that this will most likely invalidate any warranty on the DVD recorder.
This depends on the features you are interested in. For example, there are seven different DVD formats out there consisting of DVD-RAM, DVD-R, DVD-R DL, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+R DL and DVD+RW and no DVD recorder that I’m aware of handles all seven formats, so you’ll need to decide based on what editing features and playback capabilities you will be interested in. The ‘RW’ and ‘RAM’ formats are rewritable discs and can be erased and reused over and over. The ‘RAM’ format gives better flexibility and editing features, but only DVD-RAM compliant players can read these discs. DVD+RW on the other hand gives the ability to play recordings without the need to finalise the disc in other DVD players. The DVD-R and DVD+R write once formats give good playback compatibility with DVD players, but must be finalised before hand. Finally the DL discs offer about double the capacity, but are more expensive to buy and have playback issues with some DVD players.
For hard drive based DVD recorders, if you are interested in being able to edit recordings directly on hits hard drive, the most important features to look out for include the ability to split & merge recordings, edit & hide chapters and so on. If you are interested in being able to playback DivX and XviD content, have a look out for these features also.