On paper, Philips's new DVR-DVD recorder looks like the ideal combination. Boasting an 80GB hard drive, the HDRW720 pauses and rewinds live video and archives your shows to DVD+R/+RW. Unfortunately, the deck comes saddled with some crippling limitations, including needlessly arcane onscreen menus, and the inability to record directly to DVD.
The silver, mirrored front of the Philips HDRW720 (which measures a standard 431 by 76 by 330mm) looks pretty sleek. We especially liked the look of the two circular, five-way navigational keypads on the right side of the front panel; one of them lets you navigate the player's hard drive browser, while the other has playback controls and a one-touch record button. Just below the twin controls is a small panel; flip it open, and you'll find a set of camcorder and A/V inputs.
The deck's compact, non-backlit remote does a fair job. The five-way navigational control is right in the middle, just above the largish Play button and flanked by the hard drive browser and programming guide buttons. The one-touch Record button is on the top left of the remote. Some of the buttons are confusing (what's the difference between Select and OK, for example?) but we eventually got the hang of it.
Philips is notorious for its labyrinthine menus, and the HDRW720 is a chip off the old block. The hard drive and DVD menus are easy enough to work out, but the various system and settings menus are difficult to navigate and offer little help for beginners. After several hours of head-scratching trial and error and flipping through the poorly written manual, we finally worked the menus out, but novices are in for a steep learning curve.Features
The Philips HDRW720 has a nimble DVR. While it won't record two shows at once (indeed, only Sky+ and some dual-tuner FreeView boxes have that desirable feature), it will still pause and rewind live video. You can set the hard drive buffer to hold between one and six hours of video. Like what you're watching? Just click the Record button to save the programme to your hard drive.
Less impressive was the HDRW720's flawed electronic programming guide (EPG). The free guide gets points for letting you browse -- but not to search for -- programmes alphabetically or by genre, while warning you of recording conflicts. That's all well and good, but there's a catch: this EPG doesn't work with digital cable or satellite receivers. The included IR blaster will change the channels on your set-top box, but without the EPG data, it's a wasted feature.
Although recording shows on the hard drive is easy, burning programmes to a DVD+R/+RW (the HDRW720 won't record to DVD-RW or DVD-R) is a bit of a chore. Unlike other DVR/DVD combinations we've tested, the HDRW720 won't record video directly to DVD; you have to record to the hard drive first, then archive your shows to DVD later. Complicating matters is the fact that you can't change the recording quality while archiving. For example, if you recorded a show on the hard drive at the high-quality M1 setting (an hour of which fits on a 4.7GB DVD), you can't archive it to DVD at the two-hour M2 speed -- you're stuck with the one-hour mode.
Most other DVR/DVD recorders we've tested will let you change the recording mode when you archive, even squeezing the video to fit the remaining space on your recordable DVD. The Philips deck archives top-quality M1 recordings at a real-time speed of 1X, but archiving accelerates to 5X for the 2.5-hour M2x mode and 10X for the eight-hour M8 mode.
The HDRW720 has decent, if not exceptional, editing features. From the hard drive, you can add chapter markers to a title, hide specific sections, and chop up one title into multiple pieces. With a DVD, you can add chapter markers and hide chapters to edit out scenes or commercials. Not bad, but we missed advanced features such as the ability to edit scenes together in a playlist you can burn to DVD.
We can't complain about the HDRW720's excellent connectivity options. At the back you'll find a set of component-video, S-Video, composite and RF outputs, as well as optical and coaxial digital-audio outs. You also get an RGB Scart input too, always nice to see. Flip open the front panel, and you'll find another set of A/V inputs, complete with S-Video and FireWire connections for a digital camcorder.Performance
As expected, the HDRW720 scored high marks in our video resolution tests, capturing 450-plus lines of horizontal resolution in both the top-quality M1 mode (which gives you about an hour of video on a 4.7GB recordable DVD) and the two-hour M2 mode. We noticed some small artefacts around the edges of our test patterns when we switched to the 2.5-hour M2x speed, although video resolution held steady at about 450 lines. We were happy with the crystal-clear images in our M1 and M2 test recordings of Star Trek: Insurrection, although we saw some background blockiness in the 2.5-hour M2x mode. Unsurprisingly, picture quality dropped off to a much softer 250 lines at the four-, six- and eight-hour recording speeds, complete with blocky MPEG artifacts and juttery images.
The HDRW720's playback quality was excellent, especially in progressive-scan mode using the component-video connection. The deck passed our tests with flying colours.
Edited by John P. Falcone
Additional editing by Tom Espiner