If you're looking for a straightforward way to record TV and camcorder footage to DVD, then the Philips DVDR5500 might be just what you're after. It's a DVD player/recorder with a built-in Freeview tuner and a number of external inputs. This entry-level recorder can be found online for around £120.
We've seen plenty of ugly, chunky recorder decks in the past, but Philips has avoided such pitfalls with this model. It's a slim-line unit with a slick-looking black and mirrored chrome finish. The controls on the front are kept to a minimum, but thankfully there is a big red record button that you can quickly hit when something good pops up on telly, but you can't find the remote.
On the rear of the recorder, you'll find a decent range of connection options. You get a HDMI 1.1 port as well as component, composite, S-Video and dual Scart sockets. The onboard tuner can work in both digital and analogue modes, so if the Freeview reception is rubbish in your area you can always switch to using analogue mode instead. The Freeview tuner produced a good signal from our aerial and the onscreen programming guide was easy to use and made setting up recordings a cinch.
There are six recording modes, but most people will use the top four quality settings that allow you to fit between an hour and 4 hours on a standard single layer DVD disc. The recording quality in these modes can't be faulted and at the two higher settings you can't really tell the difference between the original signal and the recorded footage.
Hooking up a camcorder to the recorder is a piece of cake, as all the connections you need (DV in, composite and S-Video) are hidden behind a flip down flap on the front. There's also a USB port hidden here for connecting external devices like digital cameras and USB memory keys to play back JPEG pictures or DivX movies via your telly.
The player is DivX Ultra Certified and its file compatibility was excellent. It even played a few DivX movies that our Pinnacle ShowCenter 200 media player refused to handle.
The Philips supports most types of DVD discs including DVD+RW and DVD-RW types, as well as newer DVD+R dual layer discs that offer more capacity and hence more recording time. However, unlike Panasonic's range of recorders, this Philips -- or any other Philips recorder for that matter -- doesn't support DVD-RAM. The DVD-RAM format has never really gained wide acceptance so this isn't going to be such a big issue for most people. However, it does mean that the recorder lacks the ability to pause and rewind live TV, something that most DVD-RAM-compatible decks can do.
Also, although the recording quality of the Philips is excellent, its playback quality with pre-recorded discs is only so-so -- sharp-eyed viewers will notice noise around some edges in the picture, something which the built-in 1080i upscaling seems to highlight even further.
Another slight issue is that the machine pops up an onscreen info box every time you play back a DVD disc. The only way to get rid of this is to hit the Info button on the remote as the display box doesn't timeout of its own accord. The way you have to delve into the settings menu every time you want to change the recording quality is also awkward. Most other DVD recorders have a dedicated button to allow you to do this without entering any menu at all.
Despite some niggles over its picture quality and the annoying info bar, we still think this Philips is a good buy of the money. It makes excellent recordings, is easy to use and is none to shabby to look at either.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday