More and more Far Eastern companies are stepping up to take on the big boys of the consumer electronics world. Because they generally choose cheap, off-the-shelf components, companies such as Liteon can enter a market with a product set at the lowest price possible -- forsaking the advanced features to reach a bargain-basement price.
With subsequent generations, however, these same manufacturers come back with feature-packed upgrades that are still comparatively cheap. This was very much the case with the Liteon 5005B, a DVD recorder that sold for £250 a year ago, making it one of the cheapest on the market. Now, just a year later, the LVW-5045, equipped with a 160GB hard drive, is selling for just £300. It makes you wonder what we'll be seeing next year.
The LVW-5045 is a very attractive unit on paper. It offers support for all disc formats apart from DVD-RAM, a massive 160GB hard drive, and can copy unencrypted DVDs across to the hard drive, a very rare feature. While this is all very impressive, it doesn't quite manage to undercut the competition in a way that makes it a bargain. Toshiba's RD-XS34 sells for the exact same price online and has more to offer both the family and the power user.
In terms of design, the LVW-5045 overtly reveals its budget origins. The remote control is ghastly, with a large gap in the centre for no apparent reason. It houses nowhere near the number of buttons to be found on remotes from Philips and Toshiba. This means it can be easier to get started with the Liteon, but it offers fewer of the quick link buttons you might need in everyday use.
The box itself is adorned with logos that show off just what it can do. Notable by its absence is the DTS logo, but the LVW-5045 does offer both Dolby Digital and DTS output, along with WMA/MP3 playback. Liteon has left its front panel without a flap to cover the composite and DV inputs, which makes it look unfinished. However, the inclusion of the DV socket means you can plug your camcorder into the machine, copy everything over to the hard drive and then edit it for preservation on DVD. This feature should appeal to people who have found non-hard-drive recorders cumbersome.
Around the back, the connections roster is excellent. You get one RGB Scart input and one output, which you can use simultaneously. The box also features component outputs so you can provide your display with a nice, smooth picture. The same goes for audio, with both coaxial and optical audio outputs included to connect to a receiver.
Menu navigation is superb, and is designed for both the novice and expert user. A graphical user interface (GUI) called Easy Guider 2 lets you access the basic recording facilities, so the less technically able can make recordings after a few minutes of use. There are still plenty of options to edit and archive your recordings, though, so both types of user are catered for. It goes some way to explaining why the remote is so barren, as everything has been integrated into the menus themselves.
One of the best features of the LVW-5045 is its ability to record from DVD to hard drive, which is rare for a recorder. Before you get excited and think about the possibility of archiving a mass of DVDs for quick access, be advised that you can't record commercial DVDs. However, if you've produced your own DVD and want to copy it for your friends, you can rip and re-write it using the box, which is a very cool feature.
You can also unlock the box to use multi-region DVDs. Simply go to Exit on the the setup menu and press 2, followed by 9, 6 and 0. You can then make it multi-region by changing the setting to 0.
In comparison to the advances made by Toshiba, the Liteon LVW-5045 is limited in the number of recording modes it offers. There are the usual preset quality modes that you find on most DVD recorders, which range from 1 hour to 6 hours per DVD, or 33 hours to 198 hours on the hard drive. Naturally, the SLP setting that gives you 198 hours is sub-VHS quality, and we wouldn't drop below the SP level (2 hours DVD; 66 hours hard drive) which offers a decent length of recording and an excellent AV quality.
Also impressive is the LVW-5045's support of both DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW. You therefore have the option to plump for the slightly cheaper -R media or go for compatibility with +R. You can even record to CDR/RWs and create your own SVCDs, which is good if quality isn't an issue, or if you only want to record a short programme. This is a fairly unusual feature, so kudos for Liteon for including it.
The way the menus are presented deserves particular praise. Although there are a number of preset recording modes, the Liteon can also use a variable bit rate and produce a more efficient recording.
There is a button for TimeShifting on the remote, which makes it easy for you to access a recording from the beginning, even if it is still being made. It's really easy to edit a recording once it has been made. Setting chapters is fairly simple, although fast-forwarding through a recording was slower than we'd have liked. You can also split or combine footage to make a compilation of clips such as music videos or home movies from a camcorder.
DVD playback quality through component is pretty average, with around the same performance as you would expect from a mid-range player. Colour is natural and detail is present, but if you're watching on a high-quality digital display you'll notice more artefacting than you would with a £100-plus DVD player.
As for recording, the quality level offered by SP is excellent and more than adequate for everyday use. If you're using the RGB Scart input, which we would heartily recommend, you can barely tell the difference from the original programme. Sound recordings can lack detail, and even from commercial DVDs the LVW-5045 was found wanting in terms of depth.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide