DVD-recorders with hard drives may be old technology, but they're commanding astronomical prices on the free market these days. Case in point: We reviewed the Panasonic DMR-EH75V about a year and half ago when it had a list price of $500. If you search for the DMR-EH75H on Amazon, you'll see three resellers (all with reputable ratings) selling them for insane prices:
New DMR-EH75V: $1,895
New DMR-EH75V: $1,899
Used DMR-EH75V: $1,498
Is it just a glitch with Amazon? You might think so, but that's pretty clearly not the case. Jumping over to eBay, we found some recent auctions for the same product.
Sure, that's less than half of the Amazon prices, but they're still very high. How often does the price of electronics increase after being used for a few years? What's going on here?
The answer is pretty simple--if you know the gritty details of consumer electronics and a little economics. The whole phenomenon is actually easily explained by one simple fact: almost* nobody makes DVD-recorders with built-in hard drives anymore. Just a few years ago, plenty of manufacturers made DVD-recorders with built-in hard drives, but if you walk into a Best Buy or Circuit City today you probably won't find a single unit.
Many products types are phased out as consumer interest wanes, but you wouldn't get that impression about DVD-recorders with hard drives--I get lots of e-mail from readers about them and there are active discussions on AVS Forum regarding their scarcity. Many of the older units can function as a DVR without subscription fees, and being able to burn a DVD from the same unit is a killer feature that people still want. And the high prices of these old units tells the whole story: There is still demand for them and the supply is very low. That's why two-year-old tech is being sold for basically 400 percent of the list price.
So why isn't anybody making a DVD-recorder with a hard drive and taking advantage of this underserved market? Nobody knows for sure, but I've read plenty of speculation and conspiracy theories. Some believe subscription DVR companies (such as TiVo and cable companies) have used their weight to restrict these free alternatives. Others claim that copyright holders (TV networks and movie companies) got antsy about people recording high-quality versions of their favorite programs onto a hard drive, especially now that digital ATSC tuners--which are capable of pulling in HD signals--are required on any DVD-recorder that includes a tuner.
Conspiracy theories are fun, but I think it's more likely that the increasingly small market for DVD-recorders with hard drives just wasn't worth it to manufacturers to keep producing them. DVR usage has boomed with cable companies offering them up for low monthly subscription costs, and that has severely limited the market for DVD-recorders with hard drives, which cost more than $500 upfront. It's possible that when manufacturers realized they would have had to spend extra engineering dollars to update the old models with an ATSC tuner, they figured it was time to cut their losses and stop producing the niche product. In fact, when the CNET home theater crew met with the Panasonic engineers and product managers responsible for DVD-recorders earlier this year, we asked them why they stopped making DVD-recorders with hard drives and their reaction was basically, "people still want those?"
So while there are still some very dedicated enthusiasts who are willing to pay big bucks for old DVD-recorders with hard drives, it seems likely that we've seen the last of them as a product category. That's tough luck for those who still want them, but I'm betting a lot of people are going to be checking their gear when they get home to see if they can make a quick thousand bucks.
Do you want to see DVD-recorders with hard drives return? Sound off in the comments.
*We are aware of only two current DVD-recorders with hard drives currently sold in the U.S.: the Philips DVDR3575H and the Polaroid DRA-01601A. We've requested a review sample of the Philips DVDR3575H/37 product several times without any luck, so we're unable to comment on its performance. DVD-recorders with hard drives are also widely available in Canada and outside North America, where the inclusion of an ATSC tuner isn't federally mandated.
Special thanks to reader Errol H. who pointed out the high price DVD-recorders with hard drives are fetching on eBay.