Hitachi has taken the wraps off four new digital video recorders, including one model that has 1TB of hard-disk storage space.

Such capacity is sufficient for over two months of continuous television in the unit's lowest quality recording mode, which is clearly too much space for even the most avid TV addict. So, why the large capacity? The answer is high-definition (HD) television. Compared to a conventional analogue broadcast, an HD program requires much more storage space, so many current recorders have been able to store only a handful of HDTV shows before the disk is full.

Japan ready for HD TV

That's going to become more of a problem in Japan as the digital HDTV (high-definition TV) rollout continues and more homes switch to the crisper and clearer HDTV signal. In Tokyo that switch will gain momentum in October when high-power terrestrial HDTV broadcasting begins. Low power broadcasts have been available since late 2003 to homes in central Tokyo only.

In HDTV mode, the 1TB of recording space works out to a much more sensible 68 hours to 128 hours, depending on the quality mode selected and whether the signal comes from terrestrial transmitters or satellite.

October debut mooted

Features of the DV-DH1000W include two tuners, so that two broadcasts can be recorded simultaneously, and the recorder comes equipped with an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface), which is an emerging standard developed for interconnection between high-definition capable home electronics products.

The new recorder will be available from late October and Hitachi is planning to produce around 5,000 units per month. It will cost around ¥230,000 ($2,087).

The company also announced three other models, one each with recording capacities of 500GB, 250GB and 160GB. Those three models have broadly similar features and will be available from late September, the company said.

Format wars challenge big sales

Consumers thinking about buying a product like Hitachi's new recorder are currently in a difficult situation. At present, no HD-compatible optical disc system is available. That means that programs recorded in HD have to stay on the hard disk, slowly eating into the available recording space as time goes by and their number grows. Users could copy them onto DVDs but they'd lose the high-quality.

Later this year, Toshiba plans to start selling a player based on the HD-DVD standard, one of two new formats being pushed as a replacement for DVDs for high-definition content, but the unit will only play discs, not record onto them. Recorders are already available for Blu-ray Disc, a rival format, however they're big, bulky and not compatible with prerecorded HD movie discs that are due out next year, so represent a poor proposition to customers.

All-in-one hard-disk recorders with the ability to move programs to optical discs could be available sometime next year, so consumers could put off such purchases until then or until a victor emerges in the battle between HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc.