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Foreign DVD recorders on sale to meet 'hidden' demand?

Manufacturers have essentially stopped making DVD recorders with hard drives in the United States, but some retailers have been selling foreign DVD-recorders with hard drives, possibly to meet unfulfilled demand.

The Panasonic DMR-EH75V still costs $1,000 on Amazon.com.

Last fall, we noticed that old DVD recorders with hard drives were selling for $1,900 on the Internet, because manufacturers basically stopped making them (with some exceptions) and people still want them. The continued demand for DVD recorders with hard drives isn't surprising--many people want a simple DVR they can own, without a monthly free, that can easy burn their favorite shows to DVDs. It's a killer product, but unless you're willing to set up a home theater PC, you can't have it.

We have noticed, however, that some electronics retailers have been offering foreign DVD recorders with hard drives in the U.S., potentially to meet this hidden demand. One of the interesting things about the disappearance of DVD recorders with hard drives in the United States is that they continue to be freely available elsewhere, such as Canada and Europe. For example, both J&R and B&H Photo are currently selling the Pioneer DVR-650HS, which has a 250GB hard drive, records to virtually all DVD media types, and can upconvert DVDs to 1080i over its HDMI output.

It also has a European-style Scart video connector, a region code of 2-6 (so it won't play any standard DVDs bought in the U.S.), and will probably default to PAL playback and recording, although the spec sheet says it's capable of handling NTSC. It's clearly intended for overseas use. And both retailers have other foreign models available as well (links: J&R and B&H).

The Pioneer DVR-650HS costs $600 and isn't designed to be used in the U.S., but it might fit the bill for some DVD recorder fans.

We have no problem with retailers trying to fill this gap, but customers need to have a sharp eye to catch that these aren't actually designed to be used in the U.S.

On B&H, there are two hints; one, it has a notice that it doesn't include an ATSC tuner, which is required for U.S. products because of the upcoming DTV transition; and two, a warning that says: "Note! Unit is configured with European AC Plug". Luckily it has a universal power supply, so you should be OK using it in the U.S. with a simple plug adapter. J&R is a little better, with a message at the stop stating: "Not designed for United States Market / This product does not come with Pioneer USA Warranty or Service Support / Intended for Europe Asia".

So are these foreign recorders a good option for those who still want a DVD- ecorder with a hard drive? Probably not. They won't play standard commercial DVDs because of the region coding issues, which means you'll really only be able to watch home-burned DVDs.

Also, as J&R warns, you won't get the standard Pioneer warranty, so if something goes wrong, you're out of luck. And if you intend to use it for over-the-air broadcasts, note that the internal NTSC tuner will pretty much useless after the DTV transition in February 2009. If you're willing to live with those limitations--and the $600 price tag--it might be a workable option, but we'd recommend against it unless you're a gear junkie comfortable using a product intended for another market.

We get a lot of e-mails about DVD-recorders with hard drives, so I'm always interested: how many people out there actually still want one? Is this a compelling option for hard drive DVD-recorder evangelists? Let us know in the comments.