DVD/HDD recorders review

A DVD recorder with a 160GB hard drive gives you hundreds of hours of recording capacity.
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The following models scored the best results in our test 

What to buy
Brand Price
Pioneer DVR-550H-S $549
LG RH277H $499
# Samsung DVD-HR753 $440
# Panasonic DMR-EH57-K $659

The models tested have their relative strengths and weaknesses, so we’ve profiled all of them so you can choose according to your needs and desires. All could benefit from a better cable than the composite supplied.

The 160GB hard drives of the four models we tested give you a maximum recording time of up to 477 hours (varying according to the model). But the image quality at this level of compression wouldn’t be very good. For a good (VHS-like) quality image you’re looking at more like 140-odd hours storage capacity.

All models scored equally for quality of recording of broadcast TV and its playback. However, the playback quality of each would be improved with an HDMI (around $60) or component ($30) cable, instead of the composite cable supplied.

The faulty DVD test (see How we tested) sorted the sheep from the goats, with the LG scoring very well, the others rather poorly — hence the LG taking top performance spot.

Generally speaking, ease of use was good, with menus that are easy to navigate and intuitive — there was little need to refer to the manual. Here, the LG didn’t score quite as well as the rest: the remote control is a little awkward and you can’t record direct to DVD (you have to copy across from the hard drive).

The Pioneer stood out (just) for copying and recordings management, mainly because it’s possible to set up a list of programs for copying or deletion (with others you can only do one at a time).


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Results table

Full results for all models are shown in the table below 

Brand and model Overall score (%) Ease of use score (%) Playback and faulty DVD score (%) Standby energy score (%) Price ($)
Pioneer DVR-550H-S
73 79 64 80 549
72 67 78 70 499
# Samsung DVD-HR753
71 75 67 70 440
# Panasonic DMR-EH57-K *
70 73 70 50 659

Brand and model Records TV direct to DVD? Plays DVD regions Plays DivX Maximum claimed recording hours Dimensions (cm, HxWxD) Weight (kg) Hard disk capacity (GB)
Pioneer DVR-550H-S
all 455 8 x 42 x 30 4.3 160
2, 3, 4 477 6 x 43 x 31 3.8 160
# Samsung DVD-HR753
2, 3, 4, 5 264 6 x 43 x 31 3.9 160
# Panasonic DMR-EH57-K
all 284 6 x 43 x 31 4.1 160


Table notes

Overall score

The overall score is a combination of the following:

  • Ease of use: 50%
  • Performance: 40%
  • Stand-by energy score: 10%
Ease of use score

A panel assessed the following:

  • Remote control: 25%
  • Recording direct to HDD: 20%
  • On-screen display: 10%
  • Recordings management (HDD): 10%
  • Copying from HDD to DVD: 7%
  • Initial set-up and tuning: 5%
  • Front panel controls: 5%
  • Front panel display: 5%
  • Recording direct to DVD: 5%
  • User manual: 5%
  • Copying from DVD to HDD: 3%
Playback and faulty DVD score

The performance score is comprised as follows:

  • Playback quality: 80%
  • Faulty DVD: 20%

Playback quality is based on technical tests of the recorder’s ability to produce good-quality images recorded and played back from visual test signals at the recorder’s lowest, medium and high (though not highest) compression for DVD recordings.

The faulty DVD test checked how well each model could handle a DVD with imperfections.

Standby energy score

We measured the power each machine uses in standby mode or equivalent (when it’s been turned off by the remote control but is still connected to the power). The higher the score, the lower the energy consumption.

How we tested

  •  The devices were used to record broadcast analogue TV programs to their hard drives and directly onto a DVD (if the unit allowed it).
  • We evaluated all of the ease of use components and the quality of the recordings.
  • We played DVDs with different region codes to check how the machines coped with them.
  • We also used a DVD with deliberately produced faults to test their ability to cope with discs that might be dirty and/or scratched — as you might encounter when renting from the local video store, say.
  • Digital viewing and recording was assessed using a digital set-top box and the supplied composite cable.
  • Stand-by energy consumption was measured.
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