Liteon has manage to quite cannily distinguish itself from the deluge of Chinese AV manufacturers by adding high-end features to its low-price DVD recorders. The LVW-5055 is the ultimate example of this ethos, and an admirable wake-up call to the major manufacturers who have only been putting token improvements on their recorders of late.
More than capable of competing with high-end models from the bigger manufacturers, the LVW-5055 has a huge 250GB hard drive, a DVD recorder with near-universal format compatibility and all the other quality features, such as progressive-scan video, DV input and DivX video playback.
While the front-end required to pull all this functionality together suffers somewhat from a typically budget 'bare bones' approach, the Liteon will still do everything you'd expect it to, and then some. It's multi-region out of the box, it will copy DVDs to hard drive at the touch of a button, and it even has dual-layer DVD+R write support. With all these features, we feel churlish pointing out the LVW-5055 doesn't feature a Freeview tuner. If you can live without that, and want an otherwise excellently featured recorder, the LVW-5055 is a real treat.
The Liteon LVW-5055 looks far nicer than its predecessor, the LVW-5045, and it could no doubt fool an unsuspecting user into thinking it was a more premium item at first glance. The fascia is a nice mix of silver and clear plastic panels, with a fold-down bottom half that hides some connectivity. Most of the AV connections are tucked away on the rear, but if you only want to hook up a camcorder occasionally, it's good to have access to the front.
If you're connecting a Freeview or Sky box, you'll want to plug into the RGB Scart input as it gives the best quality picture. Likewise, if you have a flat-screen or projection-based display, you'll want to use the component video outputs for a solid, detailed picture on your TV. Only as a last resort will you need the internal TV tuner, as the analogue reception gives smudgy, washed out pictures.
If you're not a flat-screen owner, the RGB Scart output gives detailed and solid pictures, plus a composite video output is available if your television is really old. There's also an RF loopthrough, which is fairly redundant in this day and age. There are both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs -- both give the same sound quality, but it's great to be given a choice as different users will have different connectivity on their amps. Front connectivity is excellent, with a DV input to make digital copies of your camcorder footage, as well as S-Video and composite video for older camcorders or even a games console.
The menu system is antiquated and the remote control isn't the most elegant that we've used, but it's easy to find your way around. The major features have their own button on the remote, so you don't have to fumble around too much, and each option (such as 'Copy DVD to HDD') is displayed with huge text and graphics. The buttons on the remote are way too small, though, and there's a huge, inexplicable gap in the centre that could have been used to spread them out, but it's light enough to be comfortable in the hand.
The Liteon LVW-5055 may have a bare-bones appearance but the company has packed plenty of stuff into the box. The DVD recorder has support for DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW discs, which leaves only DVD-RAM discs off the support list. The other great feature of the recorder is that it supports dual-layer DVD+R. The price of these discs is falling all the time and they're now cheap enough to use frequently (around £1.50 each at time of publication). If you're a quality purist, you'll want to use these to retain the highest quality for backing up, or to fit more onto one disc if you're backing up a movie. Of course, with such a large hard drive, you can keep plenty on there before you have to even think about archiving.
The LVW-5055 has five main recording modes -- HQ (1 hour per disc, or 52 hours on the hard drive), SP (2, or 104), LP (3, or 156), EP (4, or 208) and SLP (6, or 312). If you're using a dual-layer DVD, you can roughly double the recording times for each of those quality levels, although the formatting of dual layer discs means that it's slightly less -- 1 hour 50 minutes at HQ, for exaple. There's also a 'Just Fit' mode, which will judge the amount of time you want to record and the space left on a disc and come up with a recording level to fit.
It's certainly a versatile DVD recorder, but the high capacity of the hard drive means that you'll have to spend plenty of time filling it up before you need to start archiving. If you do want to make the most of that space, the Liteon has a couple of cool features that we haven't seen from the major manufacturers. It can copy a DVD disc to the hard drive in under 20 minutes, and it can also copy other media across such as DivX video and MP3 music. The catch? It won't copy commercial DVDs to the hard drive, because they're copy protected. However, the player is multi-region out of the box and capable of PAL/NTSC output -- just another one of the little features that makes the LVW-5055 such an attractive machine.
What's missing from this long list of features? An integrated digital tuner. Expect to see Freeview become standard on ranges from the major manufactrers this year -- Sony already has a model with Freeview and Panasonic's upcoming range boasts digital as standard. When we see these, we'll be moaning that they don't have dual tuners, but for the time being one digital tuner is better than none -- and the Liteon has none.
The machine has plenty of other features, such as timeslipping (watching a programme as it is still being recorded), and the interface for recording on the Liteon is fairly simple. You set the recording quality levels in the main menu, and while they don't have the exhaustive audio/visual quality options of the Panasonic recorders, they are tucked away so they won't confuse the novice. All you do is tell the device where it is recording to (DVD or hard drive) and then press the 'Easy Guider 2' for more options, or the record button to start the recording.
While the interface on the Liteon is weaker than those from Panasonic and Sony, the recording quality is definitely on a par with anything from the major manufacturers. The HQ and SP quality levels are excellent, and the dual-layer functionality means that you can fit a full movie at HQ onto one disc. Although, to be fair, using the SP mode and using a single-layer disc is just as good in most instances.
AV performance is also excellent, particularly thanks to progressive-scan video output and digital audio outputs. A couple of cheaper players and recorders we've reviewed haven't supported DTS audio, but this does, meaning it's no compromise for DVD playback. Many standalone players upscale video to HD resolutions these days, and the Liteon is certainly no match for a £100+ standalone player, but it holds its own in the recording market.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide