The Pioneer DVR-510H has been one of the most popular DVD/Hard Drive combination recorders on the market. It has virtually been on backorder since it came to market at the beginning of 2004. Bristling with features and with regular price drops improving its value for money proposition, this DVD recorder has been a market benchmark. One reason for this is the excellent interface that Pioneer has built into the recorder. It is very easy to navigate, edit and configure.
Pioneer employs DVD-R and DVD-RW as its recordable formats, and has further closed the gap with Panasonic by featuring ‘Time Slip’ recording. The DVR-510H shares this feature with Pioneer’s budget DVR-310, which is also part of this comparison feature. For the purpose of this review it’s worth focusing more on the DVR-510H’s hard disk features, since its main advantage is to allow you to edit your recordings before committing them to DVD. The hard disk also incorporates roughly half the cost of the unit.
Depending on the value you put on being able to edit your recordings, a hard disk may be well worth the money. Removing ads will certainly get you more mileage from your DVD media, and the ‘Copy List’ feature allows you to burn your edited version without changing the original stored on hard disk.
When editing, you can choose between two different levels of precision in the Setup menu. Cutting to the precise frame is possible or you can opt for less accuracy in the neighbourhood of half a second. The former speaks for itself in terms of getting the exact cuts you want, but in this mode you cannot do a high speed copy from the hard disk to a DVD. By way of comparison, 86 minutes of TV material took 86 minutes to write to a DVD, whereas with the ‘Half-A-Second’ granularity setting, the 86 minute video transferred to a 4x DVD-R in less than 13 minutes! However, the high-speed mode annoyingly eliminated my carefully specified chapter marks and substituted its own at ten-minute intervals.
On the other hand, the half-a-second frame setting means you’re likely to get just a touch of video you don’t want, or loose some you do. During editing you can see exactly where the edit point will be, so at least you’ll know what’s going to happen. The reason for this is that it edits at the nearest MPEG-2 anchor frame, which is only one out of every twelve (the other eleven frames only encode the differences from these anchor frames), so you could be as much as a quarter of a second away from where you’d like to be.
During testing, this mode also coded the resulting DVD titles as 16:9 aspect ratio, when they were actually 4:3. Oddly, there seems to be no way of explicitly setting the aspect ratio that you want.
During disc finalisation this unit creates a chapter menu with thumbnail pictures. If you’ve used a ‘Copy List’ to create the DVD, the thumbnail is the first frame of the chapter. One exceptional feature found with the thumbnails of recorded shows on the hard disk is that they play the selected recording thumbnail like a mini TV, showing both vision and sound. This makes it very easy to locate the correct recorded segment in a crowded thumbnail collection without having to play the recording and then navigate through the menu back to the recorded program register.