The last place people would think of looking for cutting-edge technology is at their neighbourhood Fortress. Yet the electronics chain can spring a surprise every now and then. Two nights ago, while shopping for a DVD recordable drive at Fortress in Causeway Bay, I picked up a brochure for what appeared to be the ultimate recording device - if it did everything it claimed to do. Called the Malata VDR-R1, Fortress did not have a unit on display, but sales assistants said that if I ordered one, it would take three days to deliver. Priced at HK$3,690, the VDR-R1 sounds so cutting-edge it borders on the fantastic. According to the brochure, this device - which looks like an ordinary DVD player - records on VCD, DVD and CD-Rom discs. What is extraordinary is, according to the sales assistant, this miracle device plays vinyl records, video cassettes and MP3 files as well. I was baffled. The picture in the brochure showed only one disc tray and no videocassette drive, turntable or hard-disk drive were visible. To convince me of its quality, the assistant also claimed that the machine was made in the United States. There was a local phone number on the brochure for Malata. I called up and ascertained that VDR-R1 was made in Taiwan and recorded from vinyl, MP3 and VHS when connected to other devices. The Malata spokesman, however, did not know the device's recording speeds. There has long been demand for recordable DVDs. Each DVD disc can store up to 4.7 gigabytes of data (about three hours of high-quality video) against 650 megabytes on VCD. The first DVD recordable drives have finally hit Hong Kong, but the many competing DVD formats and specifications have caused much confusion. I'll do my best to explain the differences. At one time, there were six DVD formats. Now there are three. Consumers will finally decide which will be the winner. The three formats are DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-Ram. All three record to 4.7 GB discs, similar to those used in DVD movies. DVD+RW and DVD-RW are compatible with many DVD movie players and some drives also can record CDs. DVD-Ram beats the others to market, but suffers from compatibility problems with DVD players and DVD drives. DVD-Ram drives can read all formats, but can write only to DVD-Ram media. DVD-RW drives can read all formats except DVD-Ram, and can write to CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-RW media. DVD+RW drives can read all formats and write to CD-R, CD-RW and DVD+RW. Both formats can write data in a continuous stream, which is useful for storing content from TV or other video sources, much the way a VCR does. Though DVD+RW is not recognised by the DVD Forum ( www.dvdforum.org ), it has the least compatibility problems. There are two new DVD recordable drives using the DVD+RW format. The dvd100i from Hewlett-Packard costs HK$5,600 for the IDE/Atapi version. It can rewrite DVDs at 2.4x speed and reads DVD-Rom at 8x. It writes on CD-RW discs. The DVD+RW allows creation of movie DVDs, playable on consumer DVD players. HP's drive comes with a program called myDVD that allows the user to create movie DVDs with footage from a digital video camera or VCR attached to the personal computer. You need a FireWire or video capture card. A new DVD authoring system from Ulead, called DVD Movie Factory, costs HK$400 and worthwhile for home users who want to create interactive scene selection menus and transfer video footage to DVD discs. The software converts digital video on hard drives to DVD, SVCD or VCD formats. It also works with DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD+RW recorders (More on www.asiapac.ulead.com ). The other new DVD+RW is from Philips. The DVDR 1000 offers four recording modes: a one-hour mode (designed to make copies of digital tapes on DVD+RW disc), a two-hour mode which offers DVD picture and sound quality, a three-hour mode where the picture and sound quality is comparable to S-VHS and a four-hour mode which offers a picture and sound quality superior to VHS. Each side on a DVD+RW disc can contain 4.7 GB of data. The DVDR 1000 costs HK$15,990 and blank discs HK$139. Not spotted in Hong Kong yet, Japanese company Victor has released a product with an appealing concept. Billed as an alternative to the combined TV and VCR set, two 67-centimetre and and 49 cm flat-screen TVs - the AV-29DD2 and AV-21DD2 respectively - have built-in hard disks so owners can record programs to HDD. Both house 40 GB hard disks that will take up to 40 hours of recordings. Also, with the HDD simultaneous recording and playback feature, one program can be recorded while a different show recorded earlier is playing. (More on www.victor.co.jp/products/ tv/AV-29DD2.html). The ultimate recording machine, however, might never make it to the shops if TV networks in the US have their way. The ReplayTV 4000 from SonicBlue has a feature which lets owners automatically strip out commercials and send and receive programs via the Internet. (More on: www.replay.com ).