Equipment Review No. 1 •  November 2002

Philips DVDR985 DVD Recorder/Player
SRP: $999
Philips Consumer Electronics
64 Perimeter Center East
Atlanta, GA 31146
8700-531-0039
www.consumer.philips.com
Specs:

Records & Plays both DVD+R & DVD+RW discs
Plays: DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD-Video, SVCD, Video CD, Audio CD, CD-R & CD-RW
DVD-RW+ capacity: 4.7 GB on one side
Recording options: HQ = 60 min.; SP = 120 min.PP; LP = 180 min.; EP = 240 min.
Digital Compression: MPEG 2 for DVD & MPEG 1 for VCD
Video Resolution: HQ & SP options: 720 pixels horiz., 480 lines vert.
LP & EP: 360 pixels horiz., 480 vert. lines
DA Converter: 10 bit
AD Converter: 9 bit
Video Output: 1 Vpp into 75 Ohms
Audio Formats: Records & plays back 2-channel 48K/16 bit Dolby Digital multichannel & also plays back DD stereo; also DTS multichannel, MPEG 1 2-channel, MPEG 2 multichannel, & uncompressed PCM two channel at 96 or 48K

Audio Performance =
DA Converter: 24 bit
AD Converter: 16 bit
DVD: fs 96K, 4 Hz - 44 K; fs 48K, 4 Hz - 22 K
Video CD: fs 44.1 K, 4 Hz - 20 K
Audio CD: fs 44.1 K, 4 Hz - 20 K
S/N at 1 K: 105 dB
Crosstalk at 1 K: 110 dB
Distortion/Noise at 1 K: 90 dB
Power Supply = 100-120v AC, 50/60 Hz
Power consumption = Normal: 35w; low power standby: 3w.
Dimensions: 17”w x 4.3”h x 13”d, Net weight: 5.5kg

Intro

When the DVD format was first introduced (only 1997!) there were questions from both within the industry and from ordinary consumers about the fact that the new format was for playback-only, with plans for DVD recorders off in the distant future perhaps. It was felt that users familiar with VCRs would expect that not only could they rent and buy movies and other material pre-recorded, but they also could use their machine to time-shift TV programs and copy footage from their home video cameras. Surprise - this lack didn’t affect sales of the new format a bit and it racked up the fastest penetration of any new electronic item in history due to its vastly improved picture quality vs. VHS.

It took a while, but DVD recording first became a possibility in connection with computers. This was handy because the tremendous capacity of a recordable DVD - nearly 5 GB - would enable users to easily back up the data on their hard drives to just one disc, as well as recording video and music DVDs. Costs are also been quite low in the computer field. But there are disadvantages in having your DVD recorder in your computer rather than a separate component in your home theater area, including the lack of a timer to record TV programs automatically, and some technical expertise being required in their operation.

DVD recorders began at over $50K but now Philips has introduced in the DVDR985 the first stand-alone model to break the $1000 price barrier. There is more than just one type of format for recording and playback back DVDs, but it’s not as bad as was, say, the VHS vs. Beta battle. There are three basic systems: DVD-RAM is used mostly for computer data storage though Panasonic has used it for video. Most standard DVD players won’t handle these discs. DVD-RW (with a minus instead of a plus) has been around for a few years and is used by Pioneer as well as Apple and Compaq in the computer world. It can be played on some but not all standard DVD players, whereas its companion non-erasable format DVD-R is playable on perhaps about 75% of present machines. Philips’ system (also supported by Sony, Thomson, Mitsubishi, Yamaha and others) of DVD+RW and DVD+R is said to be more compatible with various players, but that really hasn’t been well tested as yet. The safest route with the Philips recorder would be to use the erasable DVD+RW discs (which also cost more) for time shifting of TV programming with the built-in timer, and use DVD+R for video content you are keeping permanently, such as your home movies or unique broadcast video you want to share with others.

Recording Process

You must record the entire DVD+R at once and there are more steps to go thru in the process. Once the disc is full you must “finalize” it and after that you can do no more editing of it. With the DVD+RW you can play it on a compatible player the moment you take it out of the Philips recorder. You can also start and stop, recorded to different sections of the disc at different times. For example if you have three hour-long TV programs spaced over a week you want to time-shift using the LP mode, you can set the timer clock (very similar to a VCR timer) to record one hour each time and then turn off. I found the Daylight Savings automatic option in the timer setup failed to work, and I had to set it manually. If you are recording manually, you don’t even need to fast-forward or reverse to the beginning of the blank area - there is a Safe Record option that directs the recorder to access the point following the last recorded portion, and you can begin recording from there with the display showing how much time remains. When the disc is full, the warning End of Disc appears on the recorder’s display.

A helpful feature is the Index Picture, a single small frame which comes up on the DVD navigation screen automatically at the start of each recording segment on DVD+RWs. It operates while you are in record-pause as well as on playback, showing you visually just where you are on the disc. It also allows you to title that particular segment and indicates the available blank disc space remaining after the last of the recorded segments. The unit’s front display always shows the remaining recording time on the disc.

The different speed options are similar to VCRs. The HQ settings is the highest quality, giving just an hour on either type of recordable DVD. It is suggested for transferring from a digital camcorder and is said to be the equal of Superbit DVDs. It also has the highest sampling rate for audio of 385 kbps, whereas the other three options reduce that to 256 kbps. The next down setting is SP (for Standard) and is said to be about the equal of standard DVD; it allows two hours on a disc. The two slowest settings are about as bad as with VHS, though the faster LP mode (3 hrs.) is said to be similar to S-VHS. EP (4 hrs. On a disc) is pretty bad, though if you choose the Sports setting rather than normal you’ll get a little less pixelisation when anything moves. Since this option has the same audio data rate as the much faster SP speed, I would recommend using it to shift FM programs when you aren’t using the video - you can put four hours on one disc. But of course you would need to listen to it back only on the Philips or on another player that is not only compatible to your DVD+RW, but also to the slowest EP speed.

Any defects in the recording using the SP speed are really not noticeable with standard TV fare. If you could make, say, a video compilation of favorite scenes from commercial DVDs, the HQ setting would be the way to go, but due to copyright protection that’s not possible - you’ll get a visual display saying that on the recorder’s front. Also, if you are recording via dish, cable or off the air and the movie you want to time shift is also copy-protected, a little briefcase icon will come up on the video display next to the icon for reception via the built-in tuner, telling you that’s also a no-no. When you are recording, all incoming signals - whether from the recorder’s built-in tuner or from an outside video source - are subjected to the same MPEG 2 compression and that is what you see on your monitor while you are recording. So it’s something like a three head tape recorder - you are seeing pretty much what you will get when you play back the DVD. You have a choice of manually adjusting the recording volume with an easy-to-read dB display on the front of the unit, or you can select the automatic volume control option, which works fine for most telecast sound.

Hooking Up

The rear panel has the expected trio of composite video in and out, S Video in and out, and component (Y Pb Pr) video in and out. It also has a third component set of jacks marked Progressive Scan Out. There are two 75 ohm antenna jacks and two separate sets of stereo in and out jacks for audio - one labeled Ext 1/2 and the other Ext 3. The digital audio outs are both Toslink and Coax, and there is also an RC-6 jack for a wired remote control (not supplied). The front of the player has the following five jacks behind a small removable protective cover: a DV I-LINK or Fire-Wire jack for digital 8 camcorder input to the recorder, an S-video IN jack for other camcorders or VCRs with that option, and the usual trio of one video and two audio RCA jacks for composite-style video plus stereo sound input. Using the Monitor button on the remote you select the particular jack activation you require; the Ext 1/2 and 3 selections are in the same series as the manual TV channel tuning, down below Channel 2 tuning. There is no USB port so you cannot download still images from your USB-compatible digital camera to the DVDR 985. With the FireWire input, it appears you could back up your computer (if it has a FireWire port) to a DVD or burn a DVD from a QuickTime Movie you created on it, although I haven’t yet tried that option and the manual didn’t mention it. That would be a marvelous added attraction for those of us with only CD-ROM recorders in our computers and constantly running out of space for backup to a single disc.

Playback of Discs

There aren’t many formats that the DVDR985 will not play back, possibly only MP3 CDs and DVD-A DVDs. It plays both the recordable formats of DVDs with the “-” in the middle as well as those with the + in the middle, plus the recordable CD formats with the “-” in the middle. (There isn’t a CD+ format.) There are evidently both standard video CDs and Super Video CDs now, so if you bring some back from your trip to China, for example, you’ll be able to play them. As a matter of fact, if you bring back some PAL-format DVDs from Europe, you’ll also be able to play them providing your TV monitor is PAL-compatible. (You’ll also have a higher resolution picture because the recorded-DVD PAL TV system uses 576 lines vertically vs. our NTSC’s paltry 480 lines.) While the manual says nothing about it, a sheet enclosed with the recorder explains that it is a multi region player designed to work with different color formats available worldwide. You must use either the component of S-video out jacks, however, because the standard composite video out does not output the PAL signal. Image quality was as good as my reference Sony 9000ES; boasting an excellent progressive scan system and a Motion Adaptive System, using a Faroudja chip, that corrects image artifacts and optimizes the image for sharper picture performance. The 985 also has a built-in Dolby decoder plus an encoder so that your stereo feeds from camcorders can be played back (in stereo only) just like the tracks of a commercial DVD.

Operation

The IR remote control is has different shapes for the buttons but lacks a backlight. It is quite powerful and seems to work no matter where you point it. The four blue buttons for selecting items on the on-screen display are not as easy to work with as the joy-stick type of control on some other remotes. The primary buttons that you wouldn’t see on a player remote control are of course the Record button, which is also the button for one-touch recording; the Disc Menu button which allows viewing the Index Picture Screen on your monitor to check the small still images identifying the various selections on the disc you have recorded; and the Favorite Scene Selection button which allow you to either display or remove a section which you have set aside with markers earlier.

When you first insert a DVD, the menu will appear if it is a commercial DVD, or the Index Picture Screen if it is a recordable one. For Audio CDs or 96K audio DVDs, you just press play to start. If you have inserted a blank DVD+RW or DVD+R, the display on the Philips will say Empty Disc. When you first begin recording on a brand new DVD+RW, there will be a pause of a minute or so while the disc is formatted. If you want to start recording immediately, just press the REC/OTR button twice to begin a half-hour recording and then shut off. For an hour, press a third time, etc.

All sorts of extra options are provided for playback of the unit, including language settings, various screen and player front displays, “night mode” (compresses the dynamic range for better low-level listening), option for beeps when you press each remote key, access control for parents’ use, use of the recorder’s remote to control your TV monitor as well, VCR+ for easier setup of the timer to capture programs, and accessing the SAP (second audio program).

Editing

Neither the DVDR985 nor its remote control are really designed for serious video editing, but some basics may be carried out. Chapter markings are the key to this. You can apply them manually or if you select auto chapters it will insert one every five or six minutes while recording. They let you move easily through the recordings by pressing the Next or Previous buttons to take you to the next marker. You press the FSS (Favorite Screen) button to manually insert a chapter while recording. You can also add the marker during playback - in this case pressing FSS brings up the FSS Menu on the screen over the current video image. You use the up and down buttons on the remote to select Insert Chapter Marker wherever you want.

A frequent use will be on TV programs that you are keeping for future viewing. You place markers as the beginning and end of all commercial breaks, then for each of those “chapters” you choose Hidden. When the program comes to the first marker they may be a brief image freeze but the program will then continue from the end of the commercial. Suppose you have laboriously dubbed off all of what you felt were the best shots from your recent vacation camcorder footage. Now, viewing it from start to finish you have serious second thoughts about some scenes in there. You don’t need to do the whole thing over - just bracket them with two markers and choose “Hidden.” Of course if you loan that DVD to someone else that feature probably won’t work on their player and they’ll see you making a fool of yourself or whatever it is you edited out.

Wrap Up

The DVDR 985 is a very welcome replacement for the obsolete VHS recorder. It’s almost as easy to use, the picture quality is 100% better, and there’s no more winding and re-winding or cleaning heads. It’s still more than double the cost of a hard-drive PVR but the big attraction here is that either of the types of recorded DVDs from the Philips unit have a good chance of being compatible with the DVD players owned by friends and family, so you can hand off a TV episode or special that you thought was special and they can view it with similar quality to the original telecast. And the same goes for family video footage. You soon discover you can’t just blithely copy anything that strikes your fancy. Some of the navigation and setup for recording is a bit arcane, and there appear to be a few firmware bugs. Hopefully the next DVD recorder from Philips will come up with a simpler and more smoothly-working process for DVD recording, and undoubtedly the price will be even further reduced - making it a contender in the mass market vs. VCRs and PVRs.

- John Sunier

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