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 and easy to read, with a logical structure, so you don't have to resort to the manual to find settings and functions. It's an advantage to have some control over how opaque the menu settings are, so you don't miss anything (on the TV or the menu) if you need to change a setting while your favourite show is on.
Written instructions should be detailed enough, 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 watch it from the beginning while it records the end. You can even ‘catch up’ by skipping ads.
In addition, as long as you have timeshift on while you're watching TV, you can just hit the pause button while you answer the phone or make a cuppa. Then, when you're ready, you hit play. The recorder plays from where you paused it, while continuing to record ahead.
Timeshift also allows you to do your own instant replay. With it switched on, if you missed that last brilliant tennis shot, you just hit the back button and watch it, then fast forward to where you were and you don't miss a thing.
The number of recording events/types needs to match your normal recording patterns. Check not only how many events you can set but also what type - individually by date and time, or also daily and/or weekly. Also, see how many months ahead recordings can be programmed.
It's also useful to have simple, quick or one-touch recording (OTR), and timer recording. You can’t use the remote control to adjust the time when using the Panasonic’s OTR function.
The ability to play DivX files can be useful. DivX is a file format commonly used for movies and TV shows you can download from the internet.
Regional coding is a vital issue if you're likely to play DVDs from other regions. In our test:
- The Samsung and LG models don’t play DVDs from regions 1 (the US/Canada) or 6 (China).
- The LG doesn’t play Region 5 DVDs either (this region includes the former Soviet States, Eastern Europe, India, most of Africa, North Korea and Mongolia).
- However, both LG and Samsung point out there are websites that provide codes to enable your DVD player to play all regions — but use them at your own risk.
- The Pioneer and Panasonic models have no regional restrictions.
Screen ratio options should be easy to use. Look for menu options for 4:3 letterbox, 4:3 pan & scan and 16:9 ratio display (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 do need a screen that can display it (mainly plasma and LCD screens).
G-code is a very handy feature. TV programs are coded with special numbers for each program, which are published in TV guides. To record a program, you type in your chosen program's number into the DVD recorder, and the machine automatically records the right channel at the right time.
If you want to play your recorded DVDs on other DVD players, be aware that different discs won't always work in different machines. That's because of the way data is distributed on DVD, which has been dictated by two competing groups, the DVD Forum and the DVD Alliance. Unfortunately for the consumer, these dictates don't always match. Here are some of the formats you might come across, and a guide to what it all means.
- DVD-R – A write-once disc format (you can only copy onto it once) with 4.7GB capacity, which is supported by the DVD Forum.
- DVD-RW – A rewritable DVD format that can be erased and rewritten up to 1000 times, supported by the DVD Forum.
- DVD+R – A write-once disc with 4.7GB capacity that's supported by the DVD Alliance.
- DVD+RW – A rewritable DVD format supported by the DVD Alliance.
- DVD-Video – A read-only format commonly used for movies.
- There's also a Panasonic-format DVD RAM, which is physically different from the others and not always supported by non-Panasonic products.
- None of these models can play Blu-ray discs.
Can't tell composite video from component? Don't stress: here's a guide to the different kinds of video connection and what they're used for. They matter because your DVD/HDD needs to have connections that match the ones on your TV and any other device you want to connect it to. Note that, apart from SCART and HDMI, they all require separate audio connections.
Composite is found on most modern TVs. The brightness and colour signals are combined into the single video signal.
S-video is identifiable by a small, round, four-pin plug. It provides better picture quality than composite because the brightness and colour signals are kept separate.
Component separates the picture further into brightness and colour signals, providing even better quality. Three video cables are required.
DVI (digital video interface) can carry digital video signals to a screen that can display them. It's often used to connect a digital camcorder.
HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) is an all-digital connection for both video and sound in one cable. HDMI connections can accept DVI input, if you have a special cable, but you have to connect sound separately.
SCART (syndicat des constucteurs d'appareils radiorécepteurs et téléviseurs) is also known as a Euroconnector. This is a 21-pin connector for analogue video and sound. Some of the tested models have multiples of any one type of connection, but they may not be available all at once. To avoid any problems, tally up the number of devices you might want to connect to a recorder at the same time and check with the retailer that this is possible before you buy.