Sony's DVDirect ($299, www.sonystyle.com) knocked my socks off like no product I've seen in years. Billed as a product that combines the capabilities of standalone and desktop DVD recorders, DVDirect's best feature is its ability to record live video to DVD as you shoot it. It boasts excellent image quality and limited but functional DVD menu creation. It's also a rock-solid desktop burner, promising and delivering state-of-the-art high-speed DVD±R/RW and 4X double-layer DVD+R DL.
Sony bills its new DVDirect as the first DVD recorder to combine "standalone and computer-attached DVD-Video recording." That's accurate enough, but somehow it sounds like an engineering feat without an application, and DVDirect is anything but. Of course, it does fit that bill: you can use it to transfer video directly to disc from your camcorder or VHS by connecting it via S-Video or composite, or connect it to your PC's USB 2.0 port and enlist it as a fully functional, high-speed, dual layer-capable DVD recorder.
But DVDirect is also something much more exciting: the missing link in the chain of live DVD recording. Until now, if you wanted to shoot live to DVD, you had to use a DVD camcorder. Most DVD camcorders are consumer devices, single-chip models with few advanced controls that convert to MPEG-2 on the fly and record directly to miniature DVD-RAM discs. Hitachi makes a "pro" model, but it carries most of the limitations of its consumer cousins. Some videography projects call for quick-turn DVDs, and DVD camcorders do offer a certain convenience for those tasks, but it's hardly worth a videographer's hard-earned dollar to invest in a camcorder that's good for little else.
Enter DVDirect. With Sony's new "Video Recordable DVD Drive," videographers can make quick-turn DVDs—and for those who edit "in-camera," nearly effortless same-day edits—in two ways. First, they can shoot the event with their usual camera (any camcorder with S-Video or composite outs can connect to the DVDirect), capture the event on tape, and then transfer the tape's contents to DVD. Alternatively, if shooting from a tripod or some other stationary position, a videographer can shoot to tape and DVD simultaneously. You can even create DVD chapters live, either at preset timed intervals or by adding a chapter point every time you hit pause. Because the disc is recorded in VR format, with a post-shooting transfer you can also do an easy (if crude and linear) on-the-fly edit.
None of Sony's competitors in the DVD burner market can make such claims for any product they offer. Pioneer's PRV-LX1 offers way more pro-recording functionality in a standalone recorder, but it costs $4,000 and stays in the studio. DVDirect sells for a consumer-friendly $299—just $100 more than other top-speed, DL-capable recorders with none of the standalone or live recording features.