TOSHIBA RD-XS35SU Hard-Drive and DVD Video Recorder

by | Jun 4, 2006 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

TOSHIBA RD-XS35SU Hard-Drive and DVD Video Recorder
SRP: $399


 
 

Video

3D Y/C Comb Filter
3D-DNR Video Noise Reduction for Recording
Digital Video Noise Reduction Playback 3 D, Block and Mosquito DNR
JPEG Viewer
160 GB Hard Disc Drive (HDD)
Multi-Drive Playback and Recording
ColorstreamPro® Component Video Out (All Source)
Digital Cinema Progressive (3:2 Pulldown)

Audio

LPCM/Dolby® Digital (2Ch) Audio Recording
WMA & MP3 Playback
24-Bit/192kHz Audio Digital/Analog Converter
QSound™ 3D Surround Sound

Convenience

Satellite Programming and STB IR Control
Time Slip, Chase Play and Live Chase Play “Pause Live TV”
Disc Play: DVD-Video/DVD/CD/CD-R/CD-RW/VCD/SVCD/DVD-R/DVD-RW/DVD-RAM
EASY NAVI Menu
TV Guide On Screen™ Interactive Program Guide
IR Blaster for Cable Box Control (G-Link)
Front Panel A/V & IEEE1394DV Inputs
ColorStream Pro® Progressive Scan Component Video Output
Optical TosLink® Digital Audio Outputs
Front Panel S-Video Inputs

Specs:

Video outputs: Component, S-Video, Composite (RCA)
Dimensions: 17″ x 2.5″ x 13.25″
Weight: 4.7kg
Laser wavelength: 650nm/780nm
MPEG 2 image recording system
12 hour digital clock display


Intro & Setup

The current standard for time-shifting of TV programming seems to be recording on a hard-disk drive unit which also includes a DVD burner so that any programs of home movies you want to archive and/or share with others can be copied onto DVDs. Since we’re facing two entirely new DVD formats and concomitant recording devices for time-shifting HDTV programming, I thought this would be a good time to see what the latest in such units for standard NTSC video has to offer.

So many possibilities and complexities as to be mind-boggling, to summarize.  This is a fairly universal disc player and could serve as your basic CD player as well as commercial DVD player – though a player specifically designed only for that would probably offer better sonics.  It also plays discs containing WMA and MP3 files as well as lets you look at CDs or DVDs filled with JPEG still images.

Installation and connections are straightforward.  You connect a 75 ohm video cable from your cable system, satellite disc or roof antenna to the VHF input on the rear of the XS-35. The best audio connection is probably from the optical out on the XS-35 to an optical Tos-Link input on your AV preamp or receiver, and for best image quality you should use a component 3-wire cable set between the three RCA jacks on the back of the XS-35 and the component input on either your AV processor or your TV directly. For copying analog videotapes from a VCR to the XS-35 you should use the S-Video out on the VCR if there is one.  If not, you will be restricted to the composite video jacks.  It would be better to use a good-quality stereo audio cable for the audio connections and a separate quality video cable for the composite video connection, rather than using the 3-wire cable furnished with the recorder. ( I copied some original films from both VHS and Beta tapes I had converted some years ago, but since neither player had S-video outs I had to use the single RCA composite video out connection.)

Using the Internal HD for Time-Shifting

If you have either cable video or are using just an OTA (Over The Air) connection, you need to first set up the recorder to download the TV Guide On Screen data.  If you have a dish system this will not work and you will have to refer to the printed TV Guide or your local newspaper for program listings. You go thru the setup sequence described in the 56-page Installation manual, and leave the set turned on for 24 hours to completely download all the TV Guide information.  You can also set up languages, what audio output you want, the aspect ratio of your video display and other parameters. The manual has a lit of codes by brand name for TVs, and chances are you can also set up the Toshiba’s remote control to operate your TV as well.

Next we move to the 172-page (!) Owner’s Manual. (It has no Index whatsoever.) You can record to the hard disk anytime you want – manually or using the timer. With the displayed on screen TV Guide selecting programs to time-shift is simplicity itself.  You just navigate to the upcoming program you want, select it, and either set it up for a manual, one-time recording or weekly at the same day and time if a series. In setting up the first time you will want to select a recording mode, keeping in mind that the highest video and audio quality requires more space on the HD and as you try to cram more onto the 160 GB disk you must lower the bit rate and audio codec in order to et more recording time.  The very highest quality would be XP at a bit rate of as much as 9.2 mbps, plus Linear PCM stereo without compression for the highest audio quality. Next down would be EXP, then SP, MP, LP, EP and finally SEP, which uses a 1.0 bit rate and allows squeezing about eight times as much length into the same area as the 9.2 rate – but with a very noticeable loss of both video and audio quality. There are two different Dolby Digital audio options: D/M1 and D/M2 – M1 uses 192 kbps bit rate and M2 uses 384 kbps.

The easiest way to view time-shifted programs is to bring up the on screen TV Guide again and click on Recordings. It will display all the programs recorded on the HD. You select the one you want and press Enter on the remote. After viewing you can select that program again and delete it to make space for more time-shifting on the HD.  I found both video and audio quality to be just about identical to the sources at the higher bit rates.  The Fast Space button on the remote allows forwarding past commercials. The TV Guide provides 8-day program listing,  the flexibility of recording directly to DVD or the HDD, the ability to perform keyword searches for locating favorite programs and includes the G-Link IR Blaster for controlling cable boxes. When recording TV programs, the name of the show, along with the channel and date, are automatically captured. The Timeslip button on the remote allows the user to begin watching a recording already in progress from the beginning. A Time Bar button shows you how far you are into the current telecast. The Live Chase Play feature lets you ‘pause’ a live recording and then return to it later. A bar graph can be displayed on-screen depicting the ‘progress’ or location of the playback signal with regards to the realtime recorded signal.

Editing on the Internal Hard Drive

There are many editing operations which can be carried out working with video material after it is recorded on the hard drive.  You can title it, divide it into chapters, set up a menu for the various chapters, eliminate scenes that don’t pass muster to be included in your final show, even change order to the scenes.  Thumbnail images for each chapter can also be selected for the Menu screen.  While some of this can be done on a recordable DVD prior to finalization, it is much easier to do serious editing on the HD and then copy to a DVD at a higher speed. However, I found all of this extremely complicated and the manual was thoroughly confusing on many points.

For example, on page 55 of Deleting Recorded Contents on a DVD-R, it states in the middle: “Press DVD to select a disc with chapters you want to delete.”  But at the bottom of the same page it states: “Chapters on a DVD-R disc cannot be deleted.”  If the manual was actually written by someone whose first language is English (which I doubt), that person is an idiot. It seems to me that at least some of the complexity comes about due to attempting to do on the hard drive of the XS-35 what would be better done on a computer using software designed for that purpose, such as iDVD or Final Cut Express on a Mac.

Another source for video to edit on the HD would be digital video from a DV camcorder.  Not owning one I didn’t check out that option. I presume all readers are aware that it is impossible to copy commercial DVDs due to their built-in copy protection.

Selection and Burning of Optical Discs

There are several different optical discs which can be recorded on this unit.  The DVD-RAM option was developed originally to offer more capacity and editing options than recordable/erasable DVD-RW.  It requires special DVD-RAM blank discs, which can be recorded and re-recorded many more times than DVD-RWs, but they can only be played back on special players which accept DVD-RAM discs.  They also need to be initialized before use, unlike DVD-Rs and RWs. The format is complicated and since the internal hard drive in the XS-35 offers most of the DVD-RAM features, plus a much larger capacity and speed of operation, it seems to me that the need for DVD-RAM is now passed. At least the XS-35 doesn’t get into the yet additional complexity and lack of compatibility of Philips’ DVD+R format.

While it is nice to have the ability to use, erase and reuse CD-RW and DVD-RW discs, with the much lower price today of DVD-Rs and the fact that they are likely to play properly on a much wider variety of DVD players than will DVD-RWs, I have switched to using only the record-one-time DVD-Rs, and did so in testing this recorder. I didn’t try to record JPEG or MP3 files, but did play back a disc with some on them and it worked fine. You access then using the Frame button, which is one of the four buttons on the outer rim of the “joystick” area of the remote control. (The Skip button across from it takes you forward or back on the chapters.)

If you have finished videos on analog videotape and want to copy them directly to a DVD-R, that can be done with the XS-35. There are some operations that can be carried out after the copying but before the finalization of the disc (which sets it up for proper playback on most DVD players). These include selecting a thumbnail still image for the Content Menu which identifies the particular film or chapter, also the actual chapter commands so that the sections of the DVD can be accessed easily on any player. One of the reasons I wanted to review a current DVD burner was to see if the problems had been corrected which I had experienced a couple years ago with a Philips unit in setting chapter headings.

I must report that they haven’t. After many hours of struggle with the manual and the remote I ended up with three chapter headings for five separate short films on a DVD-R, and they were for the last three – with no chapter starts for the first two films. The Menu displayed eight thumbnails, but three of them were just black screens and it proved impossible to delete them. I was attempting to do this prior to Finalizing the DVD-R, which takes a few minutes and after which no further changes can be made on the disc.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that an interior hard disc drive is the way to time-shift TV programs – whether NTSC or HD.  You won’t have to worry about locating a recordable disc or tape with the proper amount of memory at the last minute.  The setup for time-shifting with the TV Guide on screen is fairly simple and less prone to forgetting a setting and ending up without a recording at all. The 160 GB drive in the XS-35 should be plenty of storage for most users, even using the least data reduction.  And if you are taping daily or weekly series and begin to fill it up fast, you can always quickly copy the digital files at high speed to a DVD-R or RW for later viewing.

It is also clear that recording directly from an outside source to a DVD is more prone to confusion than going to the interior hard drive first.  The complexities of the various functions and procedures are mind-boggling.  The remote has far too many buttons – many never used.  The entire bottom section of a number pad lifts up to reveal even more buttons for editing, setting chapter heads and deleting. I’m not singling out Toshiba here, but most offshore manufacturers of home entertainment components are cramming their products with more and more complicated features, with no thought about ease of use by the consumer.  Jakob Nielsen, cofounder of the Nielsen Norman Group – a usability consulting firm – recently said “In reality, more is less – more hassles, not more enjoyment.” He says electronics companies are sacrificing usability for marketing advantages.

The explosion of remote controls for various equipment is making the couch-potato dream a nightmare. At least more universal remotes (such as the Harmony 880 we just reviewed) are making a stab at a solution to that, and the Consumer Electronics Association is working on a standard for a special browser window which would be generated by each component on the video display, and could be navigated by a single simple remote. But that may be some years away. If we’re patient, perhaps eventually all these features will be easier to figure out.

 – John Sunier

 

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