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Just before Christmas and having recently had a Sky system installed I decided it was about time we entered the 21st century properly and retired our old and clunky VCR. At the outset let me explain I?m not a techie person and although I can hold my own on a computer the vagaries of digital recording were a black art to me. After 7 months of playing, fiddling, screaming and only then resorting to the owners? manual the mist is clearing and I can at last see the light. The Toshiba web site has a downloadable version of the manual and is very well laid out. In general I?ve found Toshiba to be an excellent company, both in the product and the customer care available, but more of that later. Prices vary for this machine but in general it isn?t cheap. After years of being a skinflint and suffering from poor quality and poor service I have gradually come round to the way of thinking that says ?you get what you pay for?. My wife has been using this premise for years as an excuse for shopping at M&S; I?ve just adapted it to suit larger items and better toys for myself. In this case though it definitely is true. FORMAT: What?s all that about? I had already acquired a few DVDs for use on my PC and was impressed by the extra features available, such as the documentaries and games on many commercially released films. When the kids started to push me off my computer to watch the latest Harry Potter film things came to a head and it was time to act. We have a large archive of home movies on Video Cassette along with my wife?s collection of history programs recorded over the years so a hard drive recorder was out of the question. Whilst they are great pieces of kit, what happens when they?re full? The answer then was a machine that recorded to a relatively inexpensive media and could be used as a time slip device. In the long distant past Betamax and VHS formats were available at the same time and eventually the technical
ly inferior VHS won the war. There was, however, no mistaking the two. It was impossible to load the wrong cassette, it was also impossible to swap cassettes with a friend if you didn?t have compatible machines. These days the format war is less important and the differences between DVD-R and DVD+R a little less crucial. There are some compatibility issues between the two but I seem to be able to take a DVD+R from my PC and play it on the Toshiba, supposedly a DVD-R machine. The DR-1 is a ?R/-RW/RAM machine and so far the discs are more expensive by up to 50% in the shops. A quick trip to the local computer fair proved quite helpful and I managed to save a considerable amount by buying them on a spindle. Once recorded I keep them in a standard CD case and so far they haven?t come to any harm. In conclusion then I would have to say that the format war isn?t at the top of my priority list, more the quality of the equipment and exactly what I can do with it. The DR-1 records directly from terrestrial, digital terrestrial, and Sky. As it has its own tuner, timer and Video Plus it can be used as a replacement for a VCR. A point to watch out for though is copyright protection. The first time I tried to record from Sky Movies the DR-1 politely informed me that as the film was copy protected it would temporarily stop recording. The minute the trailers had finished it was happy to resume. A bit nannyish, I suppose, but with the money being lost to piracy you can understand the reasoning behind it. IT?S A LOOKER! The style team certainly have gone to town on this one. The mirror-finished fascia slopes backwards from the top which is studded with only the minimum amount of controls. Don?t be fooled by thinking you can operate it from these though as the remote control is an essential part of the package, not merely a labour saving device for couch spuds like me. I like the styling; it?s one of the first things that attra
cted me to it in the shop. We?ve gone for a modern light and silver look in our house and this compliments it perfectly. When it?s turned on the green and blue LED is clear and easy to understand and the lack of buttons give it a lean clean look only spoiled by Toshibas decision not to put a cover over the front AV sockets. A piercing blue power-on light suits the look, but I?m not sure whether the disk whine is there as an audible reminder or merely a design flaw. The remote is well thought out, with the main controls laid out around a central circle. You can fumble for the most commonly used controls in the dark and they?re exactly where you?d expect to find them. My first reaction to the remote is unprintable here ? I?m sure the obscenity laws would forbid it. After a fortnight however it had become second nature to perform some quite advanced editing without a glance or a second thought. A word of warning though ? don?t lose it. During the post Christmas day clear up one of our happy household ? it may even have been me ? managed to put the remote out as a seasonal gratuity for the bin men. Annoying, I thought, but not the end of the world. As soon as the shops opened I went straight back to Comet and feeling a little foolish, confessed what I?d done and asked to buy a new one. That?s when the fun started. To cut it short, they couldn?t be bothered and referred me to Toshiba. The first 7 or 8 ?customer support representatives? I spoke to at Tosh had never even heard of the model. An enthusiastic and very knowledgeable technician congratulated me on buying what he thought was the best DVD recorder on the market, but couldn?t help either. I was referred back to Dixon?s third party spares supplier, where a young chap informed me that they didn?t sell that model. As I had the receipt in my hand with ?Dixon?s? proudly displayed on the top I begged to differ, and after some debate, not all of it calm and business-like, he took the details, took my c
redit-card number and promised one would be in the post to me as soon as possible. A fortnight passed and a letter arrived from Dixon?s. Would I please supply them with full details of the part I wished to buy as it was not on their stock list. Biting my tongue and doing my blood pressure no good at all I rang them to provide all the necessary details. No, I was told, they definitely did not stock that model and I would have to take it up with whoever I bought it from or Toshiba directly. Nearly in tears, mainly of frustration and rage, I tried Toshiba one more time. You have to appreciate that in all this time ? nearly 4 weeks by now, the recorder had been practically unusable. Eventually I was passed to yet another customer service rep. ?Oh yes?, replied a very helpful girl,? we?ve got one in the office now for evaluation ? aren?t they good?? ?How would I know, I can?t use mine?? was the bitter reply. I went on to give her my tale of woe. After a brief conversation with her boss a miracle of kindness and customer care occurred. Free of charge, delivered the next day, Toshiba sent me the remote from the only demo model in the entire outfit. 10 out of 10 for that one Tosh, even if you did release an expensive machine onto the market without putting any kind of support in place first. 0 out of 10, Dixon?s ? your attitude stinks and I would rather push pins into my eyeballs than use you again. OPERATION After a few months the normally silent disk drive has started to whine a little. I don?t think it?s anything significant and to be honest I only ever notice it when everything else is turned off and I want to sit in silence with a book. DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD RAM and cd?s ? it?s a lot to ask all of one machine so I suppose it?s only to be expected that a disc takes quite a while to load up. Timeslipping is a godsend in our house but as it takes a good minute to initialize we always make sure that we start it in plenty of time. By the time
you?ve loaded one disk up, checked the contents and found it?s a disk you wanted to save, unloaded it and found a blank one, loaded it up etc etc you?ve missed the first five minutes of Corrie. I suppose we could put it on the timer but that implies a degree of organisation we?ve yet to master. MENU AND SETUP Setup is straightforward. There are 3 manuals, quick, normal and an in-depth power-user guide. It took about 25 minutes to get exactly where I wanted to be on the quick setup and even my technophobe wife got to grips with the basics after only a few beatings. Be Aware! This is a very technologically advanced machine with some very powerful features. As such, the menus are very in-depth, confusing to a novice and at first bewildering. What you do get from this is an unparalleled amount of control and a complete video editing suite in a box. My knowledge has grown with use and the finished results I produce now are good enough to start circulating around the family without a shred of embarrassment. PLAYBACK QUALITY As you would expect from a machine of this price the playback quality is 2nd to none. I do notice the difference when I see one of the cheap and nasty 30 quid supermarket specials at friends? houses. Pre-recorded material especially benefits from the pin-sharp picture and natural colours. No pixelation, no wobbly pictures and sound that?s cinema quality make all the difference. I had heard that the quality of cables would improve performance too, but with an older TV the supplied scart cables are more than adequate. After all the recent furore about Dixon?s salesmen and their dodgy practices with scart lead selling I think I?ll keep the ones I have. RECORDING QUALITY As I mentioned earlier, I?m no techie and I don?t intend to give you a point by point guide on how to use the DR-1. Suffice it to say that the first time I connected my old VCR and the DR-1 by scart lead, pressed play on
one and record on the other I was up and running and not disappointed by the results. As time has passed I have learnt to divide recorded material up into chapters, each with their own thumbnail heading and with a text explanation for each one. It makes for very impressive menus and a polished, professional look to all those baby videos. I have started video editing on my PC but, to be honest, I can do just as well on the DR-1 at a fraction of the price of a modern PC and all the associated software. RECORDING MODES A standard 4.7 Gigabyte blank DVD will give about 1 hours recording time at maximum recording quality and up to 6 hours at minimum recording quality on the DR1. I?ve found that at the maximum possible length there is a little degradation in picture and sound quality but for day to day use and Timeslipping it?s barely noticeable. One feature of the DR-1 that wins plaudits all round is the ability to fill a disk with one recording. By that I mean that if you are going to record a piece of a set length let the DR-1 do the work and it will fill the disk with that one item recorded at the optimum quality. If the recording were only one hour long it would record at the highest possible quality, two hours long and a slightly lower quality etc etc. To date I?ve had no failures even with cheaper disks but of course this is probably just a matter of time. SUMMARY I haven?t scratched the surface of what this machine can do but I hope these personal experiences might help you navigate the minefield of choice. It isn?t an easy machine to use and in this plug?n?play age it may well be too much for some. I persevered, read the manual and now I?m reaping the rewards.