DVD recorders with DVR review

At last, the replacement for the venerable VCR has finally gone HD.
 
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01 .Introduction

Please note: this information was current as of October 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Test results for four DVD recorders with DVR, priced from $599 to $1979

CHOICE looked at the latest selection of digital solutions that not only record TV programs to an internal hard drive, but also play DVDs and record to a DVD. Unlike a standard digital video recorder (DVR), where programs are recorded onto an internal hard drive, watched and then erased, the DVD digital video recorder (DVD-DVR) allows you to move a program off the hard drive and onto a recordable DVD. This disc can be played on most standard DVD players.

Until recently these DVD-DVRs were not available with an HD tuner, and even now Panasonic is the only company producing them for the Australian market. In fact, Panasonic is the only company to produce a hard-drive recorder that’s able to record to either DVD or Blu-ray discs, as well as play DVD and Blu-ray movie discs.

Even though it seems inevitable that Blu-ray will replace DVD as the standard optical disc for watching movies at home, as it provides much higher resolution and storage capacity, for now DVD remains the most popular option.

Models tested

  • Panasonic DMR-BW850
  • Panasonic DMR-EX79
  • Panasonic DMR-XW450
  • LG RH399D

TV with built-in DVR

  • LG Time Machine 50PS80ED
 
 

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DVD recorder performance
Brand / model (in rank order within groups) Overall score (%) Ease of use score (%) Digital tuner performance score (%) Faulty DVD playback performance score (%) Standby energy score (%) Price ($)
Panasonic DMR-BW850
www.panasonic.com.au
72 73 86 26 80 1979
Panasonic DMR-XW450
www.panasonic.com.au
72 73 83 35 80 1319
Panasonic DMR-EX79
www.panasonic.com.au
64 72 77 35 20 659
LG RH399D
www.lge.com.au
53 56 77 33 0 599


DVD recorder features
Brand / model (in rank order within groups) Overall score (%) Plays AVCHD Plays DivX Claimed recording hours (highest quality) LAN connection HDMI inputs HDMI outputs Digital audio output Card reader USB port Price ($)
Panasonic DMR-BW850
www.panasonic.com.au
72 Yes Yes 110 Yes 0 1 SDHC 1979
Panasonic DMR-XW450
www.panasonic.com.au
72 Yes Yes 110 Yes 0 1 SDHC 1319
Panasonic DMR-EX79
www.panasonic.com.au
64   Yes 55   0 1 none 659
LG RH399D
www.lge.com.au
53   Yes 85   0 1 none 599


DVD recorder specifications
Brand / model (in rank order within groups) Overall score (%) Dimensions (cm, H x W x D) Weight (kg) Hard disk capacity (GB) Disc media type Number of digital tuners Price ($)
Panasonic DMR-BW850
www.panasonic.com.au
72 6.5 x 43 x 33 4.2 500 BD 2 x HD 1979
Panasonic DMR-XW450
www.panasonic.com.au
72 6 x 43 x 33 4.4 500 DVD 2 x HD 1319
Panasonic DMR-EX79
www.panasonic.com.au
64 6 x 43 x 32.5 4 250 DVD 1 x SD 659
LG RH399D
www.lge.com.au
53 5.5 x 43 x 29 3.8 320 DVD 1 x SD 599


Table notes

Scores The overall score is made up of:

  • Ease of use 55%.
  • Digital tuner performance 25%.
  • Faulty DVD playback performance 10%.
  • Standby energy 10%.

Price Recommended retail, as of September 2009.

na Not applicable.

How we test

  • Ease of use Our tester, Scott O’Keefe, looks for an auto-tuning system that is informative and simple to use. He makes instant and timer-set recordings and checks the menus for ease of understanding, navigation and clarity. He also plays recordings to check the quality and range of functions.He programs each model to record three one-hour events, with starting times 30 minutes apart (if the product has twin tuners). After the end time of the third event, he checks to see which events were successfully recorded on the internal hard drive.
    He assesses each remote control on how easy it is to use for common functions. He also rates the front panel controls for how many tasks can be performed without using the remote control, and the quality of information conveyed via the front panel display.
  • Digital tuner performance Each model is initially provided with a perfect digital TV reception signal using a Rohde & Schwarz broadcast test system. Various forms of interference are then introduced to replicate problems likely to be accounted in a home, such as signal reflection from objects (aircraft, buildings, hillsides, etc), wireless home networks and even a microwave operating nearby.
    All models include the latest firmware upgrades available at the time of testing.
  • Faulty DVD playback performance He uses a DVD with deliberately produced faults to test their ability to cope with discs that might be dirty and/or scratched.
  • Standby energy He connects the DVD recorders to a regulated power supply and meter and records standby energy consumption. Products that don’t achieve a standby power rating of 2W, score 0%.

Profiles - What to buy

Panasonic DMR-BW850

Price $1979
01-PANASONIC-DMR-BW850
Good points

  • VIERA CAST provides access to YouTube and Picasa albums via broadband.
  • Very easy to set up and tune.
  • Excellent score for timer recording.
  • Good remote control.

Bad points

  • Can only record TV directly to HDD, BD, or DVD-RAM (Not standard recordable DVDs).
  • Digital tuners only – not suitable for areas without digital coverage.
  • Timer recording is limited to one month in advance.
  • Only a borderline score for the front panel controls – don’t lose the remote.

Panasonic DMR-XW450

Price $1319

Good points 03-PANASONIC--DMRXW450

  • VIERA CAST provides access to YouTube and Picasa albums via broadband.
  • Very easy to set up and tune.
  • Excellent score for timer recording.
  • Good remote control.

Bad points

  • Digital tuners only – not suitable for areas without digital coverage.
  • Timer recording is limited to one month in advance.
  • Only a borderline score for the front panel controls – don’t lose the remote.

Profiles - the rest

Panasonic DMR-EX79

Price $659 02-APNASONIC-DMR-EX79

Good points

  • Supports WMA playback.
  • Very easy to set up and tune.
  • Excellent score for timer recording.
  • Good remote control.

Bad points

  • Timer recording is limited to one month in advance.
  • Only a borderline score for the front panel controls – don’t lose the remote.

LG RH399D

Price $550 04-LG-RH399D

Good points

  • Supports WMA playback.

Bad points

  • No S-video input.
  • Can't play DVD regions 1, 5, or 6.
  • Front panel controls rated borderline.
  • Timer recording is limited to one month in advance.

 

  • Built-in digital tuner All models on test have digital tuners, however the Panasonic DMR-BW850 and DMR-XW450 have twin HD tuners allowing you to record two programs while watching a third (if your TV has an HD tuner). The Panasonic DMR-EX79 and LG RH399D have a single SD tuner only.
  • On-screen menus should be easy to read and understand without needing to resort to the manual.
  • Time shift feature is a great way to catch an instant replay when you want it while watching live TV, then fast-forward through an ad break so you don’t miss anything. All models on test, including the LG Time Machine TV, have this feature.
  • AVCHD is a video format for recording and playing back HD video and is used on many new video cameras. DivX is a compression format used to reduce the size of movies and video footage, and is very popular for sharing video over the internet.
  • Claimed recording hours This is the maximum number of hours of the highest quality recording, however, it is not an absolute figure, as the actual time depends on the subject matter in the video. The figures in the table give a good indication of the amount of video you can store.
  • Network connection Even though a connection is not essential and not often available in the same room as your main TV, if you have a lot of video content on your PC and the network connection supports reading video from a networked PC, it can be a handy way to watch movies in your lounge room rather than your study. Some models also allow you to view photos and video content from the internet.
  • HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is a digital connection for sound and video in one cable; the latest DVD, Blu-ray and HD set-top boxes should have one.
  • Audio outputs are usually at the back of the device. All models on test have at least one analog (stereo) and one digital audio output.
  • Controls The remote control should be easy to read, with large, well-spaced buttons and clear labels. Don’t lose the remote as all these DVRs have minimal front panel controls.
  • Input connections Check there are enough connections for all the devices you want to attach at the same time.
  • Card reader or USB connection This can be useful for reading photos, video and music from your digital devices. All models on test have a USB connection to play some video and image files, while the Panasonic DMR-BW850 and XW450 can also read video and photo files straight from an SD memory card or the high performance Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) card.
  • Hard drive capacity shows the storage capabilities of the internal drive in the DVR.
    Timer limits: programs/period Most models indicate how many recordings you can cue at once. Some models allow you to set a timer to record a program years into the future, while others only allow you to plan ahead by a month.

Internet on the big screen

Our two top performers allow you to upload your own online videos and still photos using YouTube and Picasa. You can either set protective barriers to allow only family and friends to access your online folders, or let the whole world see your latest creative efforts. The process is relatively easy; simply connect a network cable to a broadband internet connection, make a selection on the remote control and watch your own video or search for videos and photos from the internet.

LG DVD recording 50-inch TVLess clutter in the loungeroom

If you’re looking to update your TV and video recorder but don’t want yet another device in the lounge room, the LG Time Machine may be a good option. The LG 50PS80ED is a 50-inch Plasma TV with an inbuilt DVR. From the outside, it looks the same as any other flat-panel TV, but inside is a 250GB hard drive that can record up to 35 hours of HD video.

Our tester rated the timer recording very easy to use — a record button on the remote is all you need to start recording, or you can use the electronic program guide to record shows up to a week ahead. The TV also has a very good digital tuner and a Time Shift feature to ensure you don’t miss anything you’re watching live. However, it doesn’t include a DVD recorder.

LG 50PS80ED

Price $3199

Good points

  • Recorded programs each have 11 thumbnails and you can use any to commence playback.
  • Excellent score for timer recording.

Bad points

  • Recorded programs don't show channel and time on the main screen – you need to access another screen to see them.
  • Thumbnail screens can’t be changed.
  • No recording protection ability.
  • No recording division ability (not possible to split a recorded program).
Your say - Choice voice

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