The JVC DR-MH50 DVD/HDD recorder seems, on first glance, to have everything going for it. It looks beautiful, has a massive 250GB hard drive and offers progressive-scan video output. But it has one monumental problem: it's lacking an RGB Scart input, meaning that recordings never look as good as they should.
The situation echoes that of Sony's Network Walkman series -- until recently, the company steadfastly refused to support the MP3 format. So no matter how good the audio quality, battery life or design, this one basic omission crippled the device. The DR-MH50 is exactly the same -- no matter how big the hard drive is, the lack of RGB video input is a travesty, especially at the price. At the beginning of the year, there were still some budget machines being released without an RGB Scart input, but even budget manufacturers like Liteon now include them as standard. It's just plain mean not to include it.
It's a shame, because anyone looking past this oversight will enjoy never running out of memory, and will find that the device is easy to use and looks great sitting underneath the TV. The parts are all in place for a decent follow-up machine, but for the moment it's only an AV curiosity.
We love the understated cool of this player, and we'd proudly put it on show in our living room. The main body is silver and graphite, with a few blue lights adorning the fascia as flourishes. It looks yummy without being flashy, even if the over-abundance of badges and logos make it cluttered. It's not too bulky or heavy and remains eerily quiet, even when accessing the hard drive or a DVD.
Connectivity is adequate, but not extraordinary. First, the good news: the component outputs are fully PAL progressive-scan compatible, so flat screen owners are in for a real treat. Otherwise, it's standard stuff, with aerial inputs and outputs in addition to S-video or RGB Scart outputs to link up to your TV. If you opt for either component or S-video outputs, you're free to use the second Scart socket as an input as well. We're not sure what you'd use it for -- perhaps to hook up an Xbox and record an outstanding Warthog jump in Halo 2 -- but at least you're given the option. On the audio side, you can send a digital signal to a receiver using either coaxial or optical connections, and the player supports Dolby Digital and DTS.
Now, the bad news. While AV inputs on the front (including FireWire) are perfect for linking in a camcorder without fiddling round the back, the main AV input isn't RGB video compatible. This means that your Sky or Freeview recordings lack that RGB shine, which we think is a serious problem for a £550 recorder -- more on this later.
As this is a premium recorder, the package also includes an infrared sender, allowing the DR-MH50 to directly control your satellite box. It works by having one end of the sender plugged into the back of the recorder, while the other sits pointing at the infrared receiver on your digibox. When you go on holiday or set up a recording schedule across multiple channels, the JVC will then be able to change channels by sending a signal through to the box. All you do is let it know which manufacturer made your digibox via a simple code. It's a nice feature, although one we'd reasonably expect given the price.
If you're happy to put up with sub-standard recording quality, you'll be in heaven with the size of the hard drive. Panasonic boasts a 400GB model, but we can't think of many people who would feel hard done by with 250GB storage, which equates to over 473 hours of low-quality recordings, or over 100 hours at high quality. And with DVD format support across DVD-R/RW/RAM media, there are plenty of archiving options. With the hard drive available as a scratch disc, it's unlikely you would want to timeshift or archive using -RW or -RAM, so most users will prefer to choose what they want to keep, edit it down using a playlist to chop out breaks, and archive to DVD-R. Strangely though, -RAM discs have to be taken out of their caddy to be placed in the tray, which misses the whole point of the format's robustness.