Philips was first on the Australian market with a DVD recorder. This was initially only a DVD+RW model, which was later upgraded to support the write-once DVD+R. Since then Philips has resolutely remained in the ‘+’ camp, so this model provides no support for any of the ‘-‘ formats.
The weight of opinion amongst technical people is that ‘+’ is a superior format to ‘-‘, but what matters in a consumer recorder is how well it works. Philips has pulled off a good trick here; its recorders do not actually use the standard DVD-Video format, but a variant called DVD+VR (not to be confused with the editable DVD-VR used on the ‘-‘ formats). DVD+RW is indeed quite editable, and a ‘make compatible’ setting allows things like hidden chapters to remain hidden when played on a standard DVD player.
But the +VR format does have one significant flaw when recording widescreen material: it does not support the 16:9 aspect ratio, so all your discs are coded at 4:3. If you?re playing back on widescreen equipment, this isn’t a problem because you can compel a widescreen TV to display 4:3 as widescreen. But on most 4:3 TVs, the picture will be distorted or vertically stretched, with no way to correct this.
Other features include a PC Card slot so you can view your digital photos or even turn them into a DVD-Video compatible slideshow. This feature has some basic photo editing capabilities as well, including the ability to rotate a picture so it’s the right way up. A Disc Manager can hold details for a couple thousand discs that you’ve recorded, listing all the titles and the free space.
Eight hours of video is an awful lot to stuff into 4.7GB, so it isn?t surprising that the picture quality in the DVDR77’s ‘M8’ mode is fairly poor. The video bit rate averaged around 1Mbps, while the picture resolution dropped down to 352 x 288. The M6 mode is much better, producing respectable VCR quality video with 352 x 576 pixels of resolution and a bit rate averaging above 1.5Mbps. M4 keeps the same resolution as M6, but data rates are above 2Mbps. Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is also increased from 192 to 256kbps.
Unfortunately, the M3 mode retains this half-horizontal resolution, so it’s best to squeeze movies into the M2x mode, which delivers full resolution, 3-4Mbps and a picture quality that you’d be hard pressed to distinguish from the original. M2 is better yet, at 4-5Mbps, while M1 delivers around 9Mbps and bumps up the audio to 384kbps Dolby Digital.
This recorder is much more responsive than Philips’ older models, with immediate action on key presses. Monitoring a program through the unit seemed to introduce minimal delay, despite the way a picture is displayed after running through the MPEG2 encoder. This means that during monitoring (or even without recording) you can see what effect the different recording time/quality settings have on the picture, and decide whether you can tolerate one of the lower quality settings.