Do you like to record certain TV shows? For pausing until you’re ready to watch them, or to keep? Then of course you need a DVD recorder. And not just any old DVD recorder, but one that can help you create high quality, good-looking DVDs. An essential element of this is having a hard disk drive built into the recorder.
Pioneer has manufactured a number of different hard disk recorders, and in recent months, launched its latest versions. There are two, actually. The DVR-630H features a 160GB hard disk drive, while the DVR-530H makes do with just 80GB. While this review concerns the latter, it applies also to the former with the exception that it simply has a bigger capacity.
Reliability, recording time and editing
So why do we like it? First, all the models we have used over the years have been rock-solid in their reliability. They produce disc after disc with seldom a reject.
Second, they provide a good range of recording times. Some recorders only allow you to choose between one, two, four and six or eight hours per disc. That’s a problem. What if the program you are recording is just over two hours long? There is a huge reduction in picture quality between the two and four hour modes. Pioneer recorders have 32 settings. There’s one for two hours and ten minutes, another for two hours and twenty minutes, yet another for one hour and 25 minutes. And so on. You can finely tune this to optimise your recording quality.
Third, they provide great editing facilities. DVD-R/RW recorders offer two different modes: Video mode and VR. Video mode is logically indistinguishable from commercial DVDs, and so is perfectly compatible with just about every DVD player out there. But it has a problem. Whenever you cut an advertisement, or insert a Chapter marker, the editing point must be on one of the MPEG2 anchor frames in the video stream. Only every twelfth frame is an anchor frame, so there are only about two of these per second. When you’re editing video on the hard disk of the DVD-530H, you will see precisely where your editing point is, so you can choose the best one in every case.
You can add chapters, combine them, delete sections (ads), divide titles, combine them, and specify a thumbnail image from within the video to appear on the menu. When you dub it to a blank DVD-R, all this is carried through precisely as you’ve created it. The professionalism of the result is entirely up to you.
Formats and connections
Recent Pioneer DVD recorders have supported widescreen signalling. Let’s say that you really don’t want to waste DVD quality on recording analogue broadcast TV, but instead plug in a standard definition digital TV receiver. Many of the programs you receive, including movies, will be in widescreen format. Many DVD recorders pay no attention to the format, and mark the final recording as being in 4:3 format. Consequently when played back on a regular DVD player, the picture will be formatted incorrectly, and all the people will be tall and skinny.
The analog inputs on Pioneer DVD recorders are restricted to composite and S-Video, but these connections carry the widescreen identifier when appropriate. So the Pioneer recognises that the picture is in widescreen format, and marks the video with a 16:9 flag. Later, when you play your DVD-R back on another DVD player/TV combo, it will be formatted just right.
Also, the Pioneer recorders have a DV input, so you can plug in your digital camcorder and transfer your own home movies with the best possible quality.
So what’s new with the Pioneer DVR-530H on top of this already extensive list of virtues?
The first is that it has added a new type of recordable DVD to its repertoire. In addition to DVD-R and DVD-RW, it can now record to DVD-R DL, the new 8.5GB dual layer blank DVDs. If you have a long movie that you want to put on one disc, but keep the quality up to a high level, this is just the thing for you.
Next, it has extended its recording times in both directions. There’s a super high quality hard disk-only mode called XP+, which is equivalent to 41 minutes of video on a blank DVD. And there are new super long play modes, extending out to 13 hours for a regular DVD. The picture quality is lousy, but if you need to economise on your archiving space and picture quality is unimportant, this one is for you. This also allows the capacity of the hard disk to reach some 230 hours, useful in case of very long absences.
Third, Pioneer has eliminated the pain of entering text via the number keys (or worse, the arrow keys) on your remote control. To label your DVD Titles, you can now plug a computer keyboard into a USB port and just type away. This may not seem like much, but it’s actually a huge timesaver.
The USB port has other functions as well. You can plug a memory card reader into it and import your digital snaps to the unit for display or for creating a slide show on a DVD. Or to print out to a PictBridge compatible colour printer plugged into the USB port.
You can also use the hard disk as a jukebox. The recorder can extract audio from CDs and encode them in Dolby Digital format on the hard disk, from which they can be played. This new feature may suit some, but we should note that the extraction is in real time, and you have to enter track and CD titles yourself, so setting it up would be a tedious process.
Nevertheless, with the brilliant set of core features provided on the Pioneer DVR-530H DVD recorders, such things are merely nice extras. And since the whole thing sells for just $899 ($1,099 for the DVR-630H), it satisfies that other important consumer need as well: a low price.