Price (RRP): $899
Reviewer: Anthony Fordham
Testament to the pace of change in this segment of the CE market, this slim, powerful device from LG nevertheless feels old-fashioned because of its lack of a high definition tuner. No matter how effectively LG has implemented its many other features, you’ll keep getting hung up on that little detail – all your recording and viewing will be in standard definition.
Here in Australia we don’t really have ‘proper’ HDTV broadcasting, so the disadvantages aren’t as massive as you might first think. And being able to compress that ever-growing stack of components in your entertainment into a single sexy silver unit is definitely worth considering.
Don’t throw away your DVD player yet though: the DBRH197 is primarily a recording device. It includes a DVD burner, a 160GB hard drive (the bigger DBRH1979 has 250GB), and a single SD digital tuner. This allows you to time-shift live TV, set up timed recordings, keep a buffer of daily TV on the hard drive, and even engage in some more fiddly editing to prepare a selection of recording for burning to DVD.
It’s also possible to rip the contents of a DVD to the hard drive in MPEG2 format, which means no further compression from the DVD, allowing you to make a lossless backup of any disc without a copy protection system.
Since the circuitry is so cheap now, the unit also includes a progressive-scan DVD player. Naturally, it outputs the regular set of digital audio formats including Dolby 5.1 and DTS. There’s no support for newer formats though, so you’ll have to rely on your AV receiver to up sample the signal if you have more than five speakers.
The other important thing to realise is that with only a single digital tuner on board, you can’t watch one digital channel while recording another.
Devices of this type seem to be falling into one of two camps: either they come almost ready to go out of the box but limit you in configuration options, or they give the user lots of tweaks and controls, but take the best part of an hour to set up. The DBRH197 is one of the latter.
It’s a long way from the bad old days of VCRs, but you need to sit through a tedious automatic tuning process before you can access other controls (although you can cancel it if you know all your channels by heart) and it will take you a little while to figure out how to swap between digital and analog TV mode.
Using the recording system is simple, thankfully. Just push one or two buttons and the device takes care of everything. Each recording is kept in its own file, and a frame from the recording will be shown on the playback menu. You can edit recordings prior to burning material to a DVD. It’s pretty fiddly, but the manual is clear and comprehensive.
DVD playback is acceptable for a progressive scan unit, although, unlike what you’d expect from a dedicated recorder, it does feel like DVD playback is an additional feature rather than core functionality.
We had a bit of trouble sorting out aspect ratios between the unit and our TV. The TV usually automatically detects the aspect ratio of the output device and swaps modes accordingly, but we had to configure this one manually.
The real problem with the DBRH197 is that when you plug it in you think you’ve found a single device to take care of all your AV needs, but you quickly discover it works best as a recorder that you mostly only ‘watch’ when playing back TV you missed earlier in the day. You’ll still want a separate TV tuner (HD naturally) and if you love your movies, a dedicated high-quality DVD player with support for the full gamut of audio is a must, otherwise everything is functional and well-designed.