I've had a Philips DVDR 610 for about one year now. Unfortunately, digital technology has not prevailed over analogue if this attempt is anything to go by. It's slower, more fiddily to use, and is less reliable than any VCR I've previously had.
The menu system is slow and unpolished, the interface of the machine is not as intuitive/consistent as it should be. And to round things off, it's not reliable. This is despite going through the trouble of upgrading the firmware recently.
The system often works. It will record a few times onto quality branded DVD-RW disks, then every now and again I return to find that it only recorded roughly the first 10 minutes before canceling the recording by itself, despite being a blank disk. It works 9 times out of 10, but I expect it to work 10/10 - as I came to expect from my plain VCR beforehand.
I have only experienced this DVDR from philips so can't say if others are better. Personally I'll wait for a reliable harddisk based recorder to come on the market and purchase one of those.
10 Jan 2004 - Dixons announce they are to stop selling video recorders
11 Jan 2004 - After giving the news due consideration I officially begin to panic
There is no doubt about it. The humble video recorder has begun to stride down the long and slippery path to obscurity. Of course its not going to disappear overnight but for someone like me with several bookcases groaning under the weight of all those videotapes it doesnt hurt to start thinking about the future.
The DVD format had been one of the major success stories in home entertainment and is recognised as the fastest growing home entertainment format ever. Recordable DVDs were always going to happen and indeed DVD recorders have been available commercially for many years but its only in the last couple of years that standalone DVD recorders have started to drop to a price thats more in line with those of a decent video recorder.
DVD recorders promise a great deal but with some of the more advanced features only just starting to appear on the more expensive machines it may be another year or two before my ideal machine becomes available at a decent price. However my very large video collection demands that I get into the DVD recorder scene sooner rather than later. So with that in mind I started to look at what was around.
Unfortunately for the average person who just wants to record a TV programme to watch later choosing a DVD recorder is not quite as straightforward as buying a video recorder. There are different formats of DVD to consider, do you want a model with a hard drive inside, what are you going to connect it to. Why is it that with all the technology around we cant simplify things a bit more? Oh well
To fully explore all the different options would take much more space that I have here but the best bit of advice I can give you is to try and find out (on the internet or though friends) a little about what all the options are before making your purchase.
In my case I have a DVD writer on the PC and a stack of DVD+R and +RW discs to go with it so it made sense to look for a machine with supported the same discs. My connection needs are also fairly basic so I didnt have to worry too much about specific audio or video connection beyond the basic scart connections. Primarily it will be used for transferring videos onto DVD.
The model I eventually honed in on was the Philips DVDR610, mainly because it met my criteria but also because I found it on offer for £99. I did a little research and initially I was put off it. There were not many positive reviews and lots of people seemed to have the same problems the clock suddenly losing time, the unit stopping recording by itself, the remote not working well and a general lack of response from Phillips after sales support. However many reviews also stated that the picture quality was excellent and Id found what I thought was a very good price so I did a little more digging and found evidence that a promised fix for many of these problems was already available so I decided to buy one.
The first thing you notice about the unit is its size. Its quite a bulky machine (more technical details as well as size are at the end of this review) and youll need a fair bit of space under your TV to accommodate it. Installation is as easy as setting up any video recorder using a basic scart connection. Once connected set the time then use the automatic channel tuning option to set your programmes. I was recording onto a DVD within fifteen minutes of opening the box.
For those who have never created a DVD at home before as well as the various formats - plus (+) and minus (-) being the most common two - there are two flavours. R are one use only whereas RW are rewriteable. You can find all the specs of the machines towards the end of this review but essentially this machine will only record to the plus format (+) although you can playback plus or minus discs.
My main use for the machine is to transfer footage from my videotape collection and Ill be wanting to keep the finished discs so I mostly use DVD+R discs however for the odd recording off TV which Ill want to watch and then delete I use RVD+RW discs.
The browser button on the remote switches between TV input and a display showing you the contents of the disc currently in the machine. To record you simply pop your disc in the machine, switch to the TV input to choose your channel and press record. The machine display will tell you how much time you have remaining. When recording has finished if you browse to the disc contents you will now see two columns. On the left will be details of the programme including the time, date and channel of the recording and on the right youll see a still from the beginning of the programme similar to the thumbnail pictures you get when you choose the scene selection option on a DVD movie.
You can edit both the text and change the image used. Being able to change the image is particularly useful and easy to achieve. All you do is play the program and pause it on the image you want to use (such as when a film title appears on screen) then, with the press of a button, it takes a snapshot of the screen and uses that as the static image on your DVD menu.
Recording length can be varied meaning that you can fit more on a disc but in order to do this the quality of recording is reduced. This is similar to the long play or extra play functions found on video recorders. Recording times vary from 1 hour at highest quality to 8 hours at lowest and there are six increments to choose form. As far as my set up is concerned (and keep in mind that I dont have digital or high definition TV, its just a standard 28 inch colour TV) I cant tell the difference between the two highest settings which offer one or two hours per disc. I usually record at the half way mark which fits 4 hours on a disc. As far as I can tell there is very little difference between this mode and a videotape recorded on long play.
Obviously it depends on how fussy a person you are and what sort of kit you have but I can only really see myself using the highest quality modes for particularly valued home video footage. At the lowest quality settings the image does become noticeably blocky and while watchable I honestly dont think Id use it on a regular basis.
Once youve recorded your disc you can play them back on other machines. Be aware that any machine you want to use to play back the discs needs to support the plus format. That said I have recorded DVDs and played them back on several machines without problems.
Also to play back a DVD+R (write once) disc on another machine youll need to finalise it first. This is just a matter of selecting the option from a menu and waiting for a few seconds but it does mean that you cant record anything else on it even if you have space left on the disc. There are no such problems with DVD+RW (rewriteable) discs so once youve watched your recording you can delete it and re-use the empty disc.
But for every silver lining there has to be a big dark cloud. This machine is not without its fair share of problems. The biggest problem Ive found is that when using +R (write once) discs unless you finalise the disc before removing it from the machine when you re-insert it you cannot read or playback what is on the disc. As Im mainly transferring programmes from video I dont have that much of a problem letting it record for four hours, finalising it then removing the disc. Now image that you wanted to record (and keep) a weekly series of hour-long episodes. Using the four hour mode youd need to record four episodes before finalizing and removing the disc. So thats four weeks youd have to leave the disc in the machine which just doesnt make any sense at all. There are no such problems with +RW (rewriteable discs) but because they are more expensive than +R discs that would be a waste of money.
There are other issues. Whereas video recorders are very mechanical devices, DVD recorders are more like a computer and rely increasingly on the software installed on the machine to operate. This dedicated software is known as firmware and just like a piece of software on your computer it can be updated. If youve ever created a CD on your computer and you have access to the internet its a very simple process. Simply go to the Philips web site, download the new update which arrives in the form of a zip file. Uncompress this file and burn the contents to a cd. Then you simply pop the CD into the DVD recorder and the machine will do the rest within a few minutes.
The danger with this is when you change the firmware you change the way the DVD recorder works which can mean that procedures described in the manual may change. Perhaps you have a different option on screen or the menu looks different to what the instruction book tells you you should have. Usually these are not drastic, instead they fix bugs and problems that customers have reported, but unfortunately it seems to be used as a convenient way to release products onto the market that are clearly not ready. There is no excuse for not testing the product thoroughly before it went on sale and that seems to be exactly what happened here. Okay, Phillips will send you the CD containing the updated firmware if you dont have access to the internet, but this simply isnt the way to do things.
Elsewhere there are other annoying aspects. The remote control itself must take some criticism. Small fiddly buttons, badly laid out and not particularly intuitive.
The settings menu on the recorder is tucked away and its a time intensive process to make any changes. For example changing between record modes should be done at the press of a button. In this case you have to call up the menu, then navigate through two submenus, hardly intuitive.
The manual needs a lot of updating. It implies that you can edit programmes on +R disc whereas you cant. Those features are only available on +RW discs, which makes sense when you think about it but could really frustrate the novice user. Additionally there are sections that seem to bear little resemblance to the actual options you have on screen.
As for the criticism Id found in reviews on the internet before buying it I have to say that Ive never encountered most of the problems although I did make of point of loading the very latest firmware as soon as I got the machine. Ive now been using the machine for about eight months. The clock has never lost time, the unit has never stopped recording by itself and the remote, layout aside, does work fine as long as you havent switched it onto TV operation by mistake which admittedly is a little too easy to do. Having not had to use the Phillips support line I cant comment on its after sales support.
Picture quality is excellent even at the lower settings and Im happy to use it to transfer my video recordings onto DVD and at a DVD per videotape thats an awful lot of weight off my shelves.
So how to sum it up. While having this Ive appreciated the step forward that DVD recorders are especially for heavy TV and film addicts like myself. Its like the first time you played a CD after being used to cassette tapes. No more rewinding, no more tapes being chewed up. It really is something of a revolution.
But the promise of new technology aside, I find it hard to recommend this specific model. Having updated the firmware I can honestly say that many of the bugs have been ironed out. Its excellent picture quality is a major plus point although obviously, as with a video recorder, its only as clear as the incoming signal. However there are still too many major flaws. The apparent inability to reinsert a partially used DVD+R disc and continue recording is my biggest complaint but the menus and remote control could do with some work as well. Overall its just too much hassle for the average user. The best price I can currently find is £179 and at that price I really wouldnt bother. Even if you find it for under £100 and dont mind messing about with firmware there are now several other machines on the market that easily give it a run for the money.
For my needs the machine works very well and Im perfectly happy with the completed DVDs but as a direct replacement for the family video recorder this falls somewhat short of the mark simply because its not user friendly enough. For all those people who still struggle to program the timer on the video I doubt that they will enjoy the prospect of updating the firmware and struggling with the menus.
Despite the excellent picture quality I just cannot recommend this and with a constant stream of DVD recorders coming onto the market at ever falling prices there should be plenty of alternatives to choose from if you decide to take the plunge.
Thanks for reading.
© Nomad 2005
Weight - 3.5 kg
Recording support DVD+RW/+R
Playback support DVD Video, Video CD, SuperVCD, Audio CD, MP3 CD, Picture CD, CD-R/RW, DVD-RW/-R
6 Recording modes between 60 mins and 480 mins per 4.7Gb DVD
Rear - 2x scart, S-Video out, Video out, Audio left/right out, digital audio out, RF antenna in, RF TV out, main
Front Ilink DV in (IEEE 1394 4-pin), S Video In, Video In, Audio left/right in
Video editing functions including automatic/manual chapter marking, append and delete