DVD and Blu-ray recorder reviews

You can record, store and playback your favourite TV shows and other video.
 
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01 .Introduction

dvd-lead

Being able to record free-to-air TV releases us from the constraints of the networks’ schedule, and we've grown used to the convenience of being able to watch movies on DVD whenever we want. The products on test here offer the best of both worlds, as well as some additional benefits that come with digital TV such as timeshifting.

All except the Sony have twin digital tuners, so you can watch one digital broadcast program and record another on a different channel at the same time. The two Blu-ray players also offer increased picture quality, and with the Panasonic DMR-BW780GLK you can record to Blu-ray, which dramatically increases the amount of content you can store on a disc.

 

This report is free to view, as only a small percentage of the models reviewed are available
on the market. Alternatively, take a look at our Blu-Ray players review. For more information
about this test, email us at ausconsumer@choice.com.au.

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Models tested

  • LG HR599D - Blu-ray player with DVR (Twin HD TV tuners)
  • Panasonic DMR-BW780GLK - Blu-ray recorder with DVR (Twin HD TV tuners)
  • Panasonic DMR-XW480GLK - DVD recorder with DVR (Twin HD TV tuners)
  • Sony RDR-HDC500 - DVD recorder with DVR (single HD TV tuner, single analogue tuner)
 
 

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This report is free to view, as only a small percentage of the models reviewed are available on the market. As an alternative, you can take a look at our Blu-Ray players review. For more information about this test, email us at ausconsumer@choice.com.au.

Panasonic DMR-XW480GLK

Panasonic DMR-XW480GLKScore 73%
Price $899

Type DVD recorder with hard drive
This is the best overall performer by a clear margin. It cannot play Blu-ray discs and scores poorly for DVD upscaling (see What is Upscaling?), but this won't be an issue if your TV or AV receiver upscales well. Being able to access internet sites such as YouTube, Picasa albums, Weather window and Bloomberg TV stocks will appeal to some, as will the ability to change the thumbnail for programs you've recorded (it can be quite off-putting to have an image from an ad as the thumbnail for a program). Its informative and easy-to-read front panel display makes navigation easier, but the lack of ability to limit channels to your “favourites" is an unfortunate omission.
Similar products
The Panasonic DMR-XW380 ($699) has a smaller 250GB hard drive, but is otherwise technically the same.

 

This report is free to view, as only a small percentage of the models reviewed are available on the market. As an alternative, you can take a look at our Blu-Ray players review. For more information about this test, email us at ausconsumer@choice.com.au.

Instructions

Comparison table list

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Price ($)Overall ScoreEase of use (%)Reception (%)DVD upscaling (%)Standby energy (%)Annual running costDisc media typeUSB portEthernet portMemory card readerHard disk capacity (GB)Maximum recording time (approximately)Number of digital tunersDimensions (cm, HxWxD)Weight (kg)ContactGood PointsBad PointsBrand
                     
DMR-XW480GLK89973787063607.1DVD recorderPanasonic
DMR-BW780GLK99967777163606.6BD recorderPanasonic
RDR-HDC50069960656654010DVD recorderSony
HR599D899576067734010.6BD playerLG
Compare

Remote controls should have buttons that are sized, shaped and spaced so you can easily find and press them individually. They should be grouped so you can quickly go to specific functions, and the most commonly used buttons should be prominent. All should have clear English labels or obvious symbols.

Onscreen menus should be large, easy to read and with a logical structure so you don't have to resort to the manual to find settings and functions.

Written instructions should be detailed and in plain English so you can easily set up and use the recorder. Clear descriptions and pictures are often very useful, particularly if you're connecting it to a number of other devices.

Timeshift, timeslip or chase playback are all names applied to a useful function that frees you from waiting for a recording to finish before you start watching it – so if you come home halfway through a show you're recording, you can start watching it from the beginning while it’s simultaneously recording the end. You can even catch up by skipping or fast-forwarding through ads. As long as you have timeshift on while you're watching TV, you can hit the pause button while you answer the phone or make a cuppa. Then, when you're ready, hit play and the recorder plays from where you paused it, while continuing to record ahead. Timeshift also allows you to do your own instant replay; if you missed that last brilliant tennis shot, you can hit the back button and watch it, then fast-forward to where you were without missing a thing.

The number of recording events/types needs to match your normal recording patterns. Check how many events you can set and what type – individually by date and time, or also daily and/or weekly – and how many months ahead recordings can be programmed. It's also useful to have simple, quick or one-touch recording (OTR), and timer recording.

Regional coding is a vital issue if you're likely to play DVDs from other regions (for example, if you order DVDs from overseas). The Panasonic and Sony products play regions 1,2, 3, 4, 5, and 6; the LG plays only 2, 3 and 4.

Screen ratio options should be easy to use. Look for menu options for 4:3 (letterbox), 4:3 (pan and scan) and 16:9 ratio displays (but the availability of the feature can depend on the disc being played).

Bookmarking allows you to set markers at spots in the recording that you want to return to later.

Progressive scan output in PAL is the Australian standard to make the picture more stable, but you need a screen that can display it (most plasma and LCD screens).

AVCHD is a video format used by an increasing number of new digital video camcorders. Its very compressed format means you can fit lots of HD video onto a card, but requires quite a bit of processing to decode. All products on test except the Sony can handle AVCHD.

DivX is a file format commonly used for movies and TV shows that you can download from the internet. All recorders on test support DivX.

MKV Otherwise known as Matroska, MKV is an open standard file format for video that is becoming popular on the internet.

What is upscaling?

Upscaling is a term used to describe converting one video format to another of a higher resolution. In this test, we’ve used a normal DVD format (576i) and the recorders have “upscaled” it to 1080p, which is currently the best quality a TV can produce.

The main problem all products on test have with upscaling is that they lose some picture detail and introduce noise into the image. The Sony was the worst performer, because its image also has noticeably jagged edges on moving images with strong lines, such as a flag blowing in the wind. By contrast, the LG was able to produce slightly smoother motion than the rest.

Given the relatively poor performance of all products here, we suggest you try your TV or AV receiver's upscaling feature (if it has one) to see which delivers the best picture.

Panasonic DMR-BW780GLK Panasonic-DMR-BW780GL

Score 67%
Price $999

Type Blu-ray/DVD recorder with hard drive
Like the DMR-XW480GLK, this Panasonic scores poorly for DVD upscaling. It has the ability to access internet sites such as YouTube, Picasa albums, Weather window and Bloomberg TV stocks. You can also change the thumbnail for programs you've recorded. It has an easy-to-read and informative front panel display, but lacks the ability to limit channels to your "favourites". It scores very poorly for dealing with a damaged DVD.
Similar products
The Panasonic DMR-BW880 ($1199) has a 500GB hard drive, but is otherwise technically the same.

Sony RDR-HDC500 7-04-Sony-RDR-HDC500

Score 60%
Price $799

Type DVD recorder with hard drive
The Sony's ability to select "favourites" and its excellent faulty DVD handling are offset by some serious limitations. It has only one digital tuner, which means you can't watch one program while recording another without using your TVs tuner. However, it is the only product on test with an analogue TV tuner, so it could be a good choice if you don't have digital TV in your area and aren't scheduled to have it for some time.
Its timer is limited to eight days in advance, so setting up recordings when on holidays of longer than a week isn't possible. Copying to a DVD from its hard drive is more complicated than with the Panasonics, and its front panel display is dim with small characters. The remote control has small buttons, making it difficult to use. It also has the worst DVD upscaling performance on test and uses more than three watts in standby mode – more than three times higher than the other recorders on test.
Similar products

  • The Sony RDRHDC100 ($499) has a 160GB hard drive.
  • The Sony RDRHDC300 ($649) has a 320GB hard drive.

They’re otherwise all technically the same.

LG HR599D 7-01G-HR599D

Score 57%
Price $999

Type Blu-ray player/DVD recorder with hard drive

The LG can record directly to an external USB hard drive, as well as its own internal drive, which will appeal to people who record lots of TV. It can also handle MPEG4, which will be increasingly handy as free-to-air TV broadcasts begin to use this for EPGs and other extras. It can be wirelessly networked, connects to YouTube directly and has the best DVD upscaling score on test, but still only manages borderline performance.
Like the Panasonics, the LG lacks a "favourites" function, and like most Blu-ray players doesn't cope well with damaged DVDs. It doesn't play region 1(US), 5(Russia) or 6(China and Hong  Kong) DVDs, and once you've recorded to its hard drive you can't copy the recording to a DVD or Blu-ray disc, nor can you protect your recordings or crop or divide them. The front panel display is dim if you don't have the front cover open.
Similar products
The LG HR598D ($799) has a 250GB hard drive, but is otherwise technically the same.

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