Basically, it's like a TiVo that can record programs straight to DVD or archive them on the hard drives. In the case of the Hitachi, you have a whole terrabyte of space available, which may sound like a lot right now, but won't be once high definition television is commonplace.
One of the exciting things to me is that DVD recorders generally have a firewire input, which would allow me to easily archive video from my digital camcorder, but what I'm wondering is whether I could also use it to record video from my computer. I'm still looking for a simple, elegant method of recording things like bittorrented fansub anime (or all those Doctor Who episodes that they aren't showing over in the states yet...) so that I can watch it on the front room TV, or while cuddling in bed, rather than on a computer screen. If I could go from firewire to a DVD recorder, that might do the trick.
I'm still a bit negative about recordable DVDs in general, however. As a recording medium, they're quite limited in space, as indicated by this article. It chafes at me that I can record a buttload of compressed video files on my computer, but if I want to make them viewable on a standard DVD player, I essentially need to convert those small files to a much larger DVD player-friendly format in order to see it. It's like going from a nice, small .mp3 to the bigass .cda format they use on standard CDs. If we're talking about just compressed digital files, I could digitally archive a whole season of pretty much any program onto a single DVD, but they wouldn't play on a standard DVD player, of course.
If I want to transfer files on to a DVD that is viewable on any standard DVD player, that means having to record no more than three or four episodes on to a single disc. At a dollar a DVD, creating an archive of a hundred episode anime series would cost you around $33... and if you were archiving something like an hour an episode TV show with 25 episodes a season, that would be $25.
That can get expensive really damn quick.
What I really *could* use is a consumer device that played compressed video files to my TV, in the same way that an MP3 CD player can play burnt MP3 CDs. Someone make one of these for me... and figure out a way for it to download all the latest codecs and video filters too, while you're at it.
That said, seemingly the best alternative for playing downloaded video to a TV would be to have a computer server (with accompanying fan noises) everywhere there's a TV that I would like to watch shows on. These servers would presumably use WiFi to download my video files to their hard drive, as I suspect trying to play a file from an external drive in real time over WiFi would be jumpy and tempermental. It would also tend to suck if the drive in question was being used for anything else at the time, such as recording another program using BitTorrent.
Of course, there's always the simple, dirty solution I loathe to do. Obviously, my house needs more *really* long cables running everywhere...