It is worth drawing attention to the fact that, unlike the ?entry level? models from Panasonic and Sony, the Pioneer DVR 320 recorder includes a DV input for grabbing video from digital video cameras, making it excellent for those who want to save their home videos for posterity, without having to use a computer.

Pioneer uses DVD-R and DVD-RW as its recordable formats. Both can be used in standard DVD Video format, while the latter can also be used in the more versatile VR format. This allows a certain amount of on-disc editing, but VR mode discs are largely incompatible with regular players.

On this recorder, however, there is an extra reason to have at least a couple of VR formatted discs: what Pioneer calls ?Chase Play?. This is the ability to record and play back at the same time. Basically, if you?re watching a TV broadcast and are interrupted by a phone call, you just hit the Record key. When you get back you hit the Play key, and playback begins from where you left off, even while the rest of the show continues to record.

Pioneer has another strong thing going for its recordings: highly configurable trade-offs between recording time and quality. There are four basic settings of one, two, four and six hours for recording time, but it also has a manual mode with 32 settings between one and six hours. So if you know your program is just, say, 100 minutes long, you can set the recorder for this to optimise quality.

The quality of recording was good, although the analog inputs are limited to a best of just S-Video, rather than RGB or component video. The compression tips over into lower resolution rather more quickly than some other recorders, with the resolution dropping from 720 by 576 pixels, down to 352 by 576 when you exceed 140 minutes, and even further to 352 by 288 beyond 270 minutes. The audio is recorded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 256kbps regardless, except for the one-hour ?Fine? setting, when it goes into full bore linear PCM (consuming over 1.5Mbps).

When you?ve finished recording in DVD Video format, you can give text names (up to 32 characters) to your Titles and to the disc itself, and as part of the process of finalising, choose a disc menu from a selection of nine styles, which provide three, four or six titles per page. Unfortunately there doesn?t seem to be any way to specify the thumbnail that?s shown for each entry: you?re stuck with the first frame, even if it?s black!

The Pioneer DVR-320 is a fine recorder, and excellent value for money at the recommended price.

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