With the DVR-310, Pioneer has become the first of the big name companies to release a fully featured DVD recorder selling under $1,000 (although it has been very closely followed by LG). Although the list price is $899, you may find it in some stores as low as $799!
It’s worth drawing attention to the fact that, unlike the entry level models from Panasonic and Sony, this recorder includes a DV/i.LINK input for grabbing video from DV camcorders without needing a computer.
Pioneer enlists DVD-R and DVD-RW as its recordable media. 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 DVD players.
Pioneer’s ‘Chase Play’ function enables you 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. If you encounter an advertisement you can just fast-forward through it. Skip enough ads and eventually you’ll have caught back up to real-time.
While an on-board hard disk would be ideal, the smaller capacity of DVD-RW discs limits how much you can record ahead – but Chase Play still remains an extremely useful feature.
Pioneer has another strong thing going for it: a highly configurable trade-off between recording time and quality. There are four basic settings of one, two, four and six hours of 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 to record around 100 minutes and therefore optimise quality.
The quality of recording is good, although the analog inputs are limited to S-Video rather than RGB or component video. The compression scales back to a lower resolution rather more quickly than some other recorders, with the pixel count dropping from 720 by 576 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 assign text names (up to 32 characters) to your titles and to the disc itself. In addition, the finalising process lets you choose a disc menu from a selection of nine styles, which provide three, four or six chapters per page.
Overall, the Pioneer DVR-310 is a fine recorder and excellent value for money at the recommended price. Given that it can sometimes be purchased for $799, this can make the deal ever sweeter.