What I'm trying to say (but not very well) is that it May Be possible to capture in the correct mpeg formt, but don't bet on it. Mpeg capture hardware usually has a fixed capture compression; and that compression most likely is not satisfactory for your particular needs. Converting to the correct compression is a 4-1 realtime process that must be done in your pc. Capturing in an mpeg format that your burning software doesn't like still involves that 4-1 process.
My solution, which works for me, is to capture in high quality (because my breakout box requires cpu "help" that my 1.3 GHz cpu cannot provide, the minimum speed is 1.7 GHz). I have tried a breakout box that does all the conversion work itself; but the video results were unsatisfactory.
I capture in small increments, 10-15 minutes, 20 minutes tops. I edit & then render each segment into dvd 2-4 hr/disc compression using Pinnacle Studio. This is the 4 to 1 time waster. Using MovieFactory to later assemble the pieces & burn them avoids a repeat rendering if, & only if, I set the mpeg compression & audio specs to be the same as in the Pinnacle software.
I avoid burning with Pinnacle mainly because the MovieFactory seems to be faster (sic) AND MovieFactory has an excellent disc capacity gauge. This last has saved me a lot of time & wasted discs due to bad burns.
I edit with Pinnacle because it is easier than most other packages to scan, cut, layout, & add transitions. It is also very "interactive" about the conversion process. It actually displays each key frame that it renders in realtime as the process takes place. So you can see the video as it is being saved (without sound being played back, but that is being rendered, too). The resulting mpeg files are ready for dvd. They are playable on the computer & only need a file format conversion to the file names that a dvd player can accept. Remember that I said mpeg-2 & video_ts are actually the same file format with 2 different names? MovieFactory simply copies the rendered (from Pinnacle) mpg files to a temp area on your hard drive, merges multiple files together into 1 GB _ts files, & creates the menu, index, & intro files that meet the dvd player spec.
Once I use Pinnacle to edit & render my video, the time-intensive work is done. MovieFactory just assembles the imported videos into dvd-friendly chunks, gives it dvd-friendly names, & burns the whole thing to disc. It can convert & burn 4.2 GB of video (a full disc) in under 30 minutes. The file translation takes about 10 minutes & the burn about 20. Faster discs & burners can go quicker than older, slower ones. All the time-consuming work was already done by Pinnacle.
However, using this method, I can spend 2 hrs. per night rendering, and still be able to use my PC for limited other work (rendering likes to take 100% cpu capacity), and have everything pre-formatted for a simple collect, copy, & burn that takes 1/2 hour when I am ready. Try multi-tasking during an all-at-once edit/burn & you could lose everything! I can also erase the original, high quality, space-gobbling unedited video after I have created & viewed the rendered mpeg files.
To sum: I capture, edit & render with Pinnacle (the 4-1 process). I create the menu & burn with MovieFactory (about 1/2 hour). Pinnacle seems to take much longer to create & burn a dvd than MovieFactory and I don't like the menu layout options as much.
As for the dedicated set-top dvr/dvd recorder, I can record up to 4 hours per dvd with acceptable video quality on a 42" plasma screen. It takes 2 hours max dvd size to equal Hollywood commercial dvd video (actually, this quality equals Superbit dvd quality). Commercial dvd's are recorded at 4-5 Mbit/second. 5-6 Mbit/sec is the 2 hr per disc compression. 8-10 Mbits give 1 hr per disc. 3-4 Mbits will permit as much as 4 hours per disc.
I generally use the set top unit to record 2 hour or 4 hour discs, no longer than that. The nice thing is that I can record to the unit's hard drive in the compression that I want to burn my disc at (SP for 2 hours, & LP for 4 hours). I can then edit the video right on the unit's hard drive and dub to dvd at high speed, which just copies the edited video file directly, with no further conversion. The high speed dub takes maybe 30 minutes per dvd & the finishing process, which makes it viewable on virtually any dvd player, takes another 3 minutes. The video compression is done real-time right in the recorder.
I have a Panasonic DMR-E85H with a 120 GB hard drive & up to 32x dvd recording. I record some shows using the unit's hard drive & dvd, & export some others to my PC for recording there. The stuff I export is usually short clips from multiple shows that I want to add fades, etc. to. The dvr doesn't do fancy editing, just scene cuts & order rearrangements. I like it because the video quality is as good as the best TiVo quality & recording is quick & easy. The price is high, about $600. For my purposes, which include transferring tapes to digital & saving some TV shows, sans commercials, it is the perfect solution. I can do 2 or even 3 dvd's a night, once the hard drive originals are edited.
For example, you can record an entire football game to the unit's hard drive at the LP compression (which fits 4 hours on a dvd), spend 1/2 to 3/4 hour finding & editing out the commercials (with exact frame precision), & probably fit it all on a single dvd.
You can dub to dvd at high speed, which is probably under an hour, and finish the disc to make it playable on regular set top players. DVD-R discs have been on sale for as little as 40 cents each, recently. So, an entire football game takes 1/2 hour of work to prep & another hour to burn & finalize. You don't have to lose use of your pc while the thing is rendering & you can go away, or do something else while the set top unit is recording or dubbing or finalizing.
The best part, for me, is not having to pay extra for the TiVo service. I just recorded the entire Spider-man cartoon series from 1997 to 6 dvds over a period of a few weeks, with every episode in sequence -- all in the set top unit. Since the eps still have not all been released commercially, & those that have are out of sequence, I have a unique personal collection. Once I subtract the potential cost of ownership from buying all of the commercial releases, & the value to me of my labor just finding the darn things, I have almost paid for the Panasonic unit just on those recordings, alone. And I can discard all of the video tapes that I had of the series, saving storage space, too.
Don't ask, the recordings are finalized & therefore not copyable. They are for my private collection, only.
The PC is used mostly for home video clips, & partial clips captured from the airwaves that need storage & assembly, along with some editing transitions to make the playback smoother. This is mainly because I, like you, hate the huge delays PCs need in order to render & burn video in dvd format.