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.