Can HDTV programs be recorded on a DVD recorder?

Since the conversion of analog television broadcasting to digital in 2009, and the subsequent trend of cable providers to phase out analog service, it has become more difficult to use a DVD recorder to burn your favorite shows and movies to disc. Also, coupled with copy protection issues, you can’t figure out how to record your shows in high definition.

DVD and HDTV recording

You cannot record TV shows and DVD movies in high definition using a DVD recorder. The reason is quite simple – DVD is not a high definition format, and DVD recording standards and burners adhere to that restriction – there are no “HD DVD burners” available.

The resolution of the DVD format, whether commercial or home, is 480i (standard resolution). Discs can be played at 480p on a progressive scan DVD player or upscaled to 720p/1080i/1080p on select DVD players (also when played on a Blu-ray Disc player). However, the DVD is not changed, it still contains video recorded in standard definition.

DVD recorders and HDTV tuners

In order to comply with today’s HDTV broadcast standards, many DVD recorders are equipped with ATSC (also known as HD or HDTV) tuners.

Some DVD recorders do not have a tuner, requiring a connection to an external tuner or cable/satellite box to receive any TV programming.

However, there is a catch. Although a DVD recorder may have a built-in ATSC tuner or be connected to an external tuner capable of receiving HDTV signals, the recorded DVD will not be in HD. Any HDTV signals received by DVD recorders with internal or external ATSC tuners will be down-converted to standard definition for DVD recording.

On the other hand, many DVD recorders have the ability to expand, via HDMI connections, for playback. This means that if you recorded an HDTV program on your DVD recorder in standard definition, you will be able to play it in an extended format if your DVD recorder has that capability. Although upscaling does not result in true high definition, the DVD will look better than if you played it in standard resolution.

The only devices that can record and play back HDTV programming in high definition in the US are HD-DVRs (also known as “HD Recorders”), such as those offered by TIVO, and cable/satellite providers. For a short time, D-VHS VCRs, which were manufactured primarily by JVC, were available to record HD content onto specifically formulated VHS tapes, but have been out of production for many years.

DVD recorders with hard drives

Although you can’t record high definition on DVD, there are some DVD recorder and hard drive combination units that allow you to record HDTV programming in HD resolution to the hard drive, and if you play back the recording on the hard drive, you can see it in HD. However, any copy you can make from the hard drive to the DVD (excluding any copy protection issues), will be downscaled to a standard resolution.


One format that allows you to record high-definition video on a standard DVD or MiniDVD disc is AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition).

AVCHD is a high-definition (HD) digital video camera format that supports the recording of video signals at 1080i and 720p resolution onto DVD minidiscs, miniDV tapes, hard drives, or digital camera memory cards, using compression highly efficient using a format known as MPEG4 (H264)


AVCHD was jointly developed by Matsushita (Panasonic) and Sony Corporation. AVCHD recordings made on MiniDVD discs can be played on some Blu-ray Disc players. However, they cannot be played on standard DVD players. Also, standard DVD recorders are not equipped to record DVDs in the AVCHD format, which means you can’t use them to record your HDTV or HD cable/satellite programs.

Blu-ray Disc Burning

Since you can’t use a DVD recorder to burn high-definition HDTV programs to DVD, you might think Blu-ray is the answer. After all, Blu-ray technology supports high-definition video recording.

Unfortunately, however, there are no Blu-ray Disc recorders available to consumers in the US, and the few that are available from “professional” sources do not have the ability to record TV shows or movies in high definition. , since they do not have HD tuners, nor HDMI inputs for recording in high definition from external HD cable / Satellite.

For more information on the availability and use of Blu-ray Disc recorders in the US, see our companion: Where are the Blu-ray Disc recorders?

The final result

Recording TV shows, whether broadcast, cable or satellite to DVD, is definitely more restrictive these days, and doing it in high definition with a DVD recorder is unquestionable.

Barring any copy protection issues, you should keep your HD shows in standard definition on DVD, or by temporarily storing HD in a DVR-type option such as TIVO, Dish, DirecTV, or select OTA (over-the-air) DVRs from companies like Channel Master, View TV and Mediasonic (TIVO also makes an OTA DVR).

Also, keep in mind that when you connect an external HDTV tuner, cable/satellite box, or DVR to a DVD recorder, the recorder only has composite video and, in some cases, S-video, which only pass video signals. standard resolution analog video.

You have the option of settling for a standard resolution permanent copy on DVD or a temporary HD copy on a DVR. However, with a DVR sooner or later your hard drive will fill up and you will have to decide which programs to delete to make room for more recording.

Of course, another option is to forgo recording TV shows altogether and opt for the convenience of video-on-demand and webcasting to satisfy your TV viewing hunger.