Pioneer DVR-633H-S Review

If you are looking for a digital recorder to replace that aging VCR, then this is one to seriously consider.
If you are looking for a digital recorder to replace that aging VCR, then this is one to seriously consider.
If you are looking for a digital recorder to replace that aging VCR, then this is one to seriously consider.

Highs

  • Slim profile; burns to dual layer DVD; DTS output; progressive scan

Lows

  • G-Link hard to setup

DT Editors' Rating

Summary

In recent years, the popularity of the venerable Video Tape Recorder has waned in favor of digital recorders.  Pioneer’s recent entry into the fray, the DVR-633H-S, represents a leap forward in such devices.  This slim line recorder enables saving your favorite television shows to either its 160GB hard drive or burning them to DVD to add to your collection.  Besides the normal studio DVDs, you can play your home-burned DVDs containing TV content or home movies.  It also plays CDs and CD-R/RW discs with WMA and MP3 files, and its JPEG photo viewer is compatible with Fujifilm and Kodak photo discs and CD-R/RWs burned from your computer.  With its easy to follow menus, on-screen help system and numerous audio/video ports, the 633H-S will easily integrate into any home theater system.  With features like DTS output and progressive scan, this unit will also replace the need for a separate DVD player, saving some room in that growing stack of equipment next to your television set.  As one of the first dual layer DVD burners, the 633 H-S will let you get the most out of the media you use.  Overall, this is a purchase that will bring a lot to your home theater.

Installation

The most logical place to install your new 633 H-S is in replacement of your current VCR.  Most of the outputs and inputs required for basic function are the same as a typical video tape recorder.  If you still need to keep your VCR around for all those legacy tapes you’ve collected over the years, there are easy provisions to chain the 633 inline with the VCR.  This will also expedite transferring those rapidly deteriorating tapes to DVD.

On the input side, the most fundamental connection will be to your cable television box.  This can be made with either the standard coaxial cable or Audio/Video inputs 1 and 3 provided for the standard two connection audio inputs, and either composite or S-Video video inputs.  There is even an RF input to connect an external antenna so you can get broadcast channels directly.

For outputs, you have a wide selection of formats to choose from.  There is the coaxial output direct to the television, composite A/V, S-Video and component video, and digital audio output.

Full installation diagrams are provided for basic cable and satellite installations as well as through most modern audio/video receivers.  The provided instructions are easy to understand and follow.  With all the connectors available, you have enough room to also add a secondary input source such as a VCR, DVD player, your computer or DV camera.

One connector I found very clumsy to use is the G-Link that connects the unit’s on-screen programming guide to your cable box.  This is to allow programs selected on the 633 to be coordinated with the programming function of the cable box.  The problem is the G-Link depends on a wire that plugs into the 633, while the other end is a LED that flashes the cable box.  Unless this is almost perfectly aligned, it will not work properly.  A little jostling of this thin wire will throw the connection off.

After the physical connections are made, an initial on-screen menu comes up to allow you to select the proper operating environment and a few personal selections.  Among the required selections are:
• source of terrestrial stations cable/antenna;
• time setting automatic (if EPG is present) or manual; also basic clock settings;
• TV Guide program selection setup;
• select hard drive or DVD for playback and recording.

At this point, you are ready for your first recording.

Functions

Hard Drive Recording
The 160 Meg hard drive can be used for recording in several different modes.  As most out there know, there is a trade-off between storage space and quality.

Recording Modes:
XP+ HDD recording mode
XP Highest quality, about one hour on a DVD
SP Standard play (default mode), about two hours on a DVD
LP Long play, four hours on DVD
EP Extended play, six hours on DVD
SLP Super long play, about eight hours on DVD
SEP Super Extended Play, about ten hours on DVD

The highest modes will work best for programs that you want to save for posterity and burn to a DVD.  The middle modes like SP and LP were fine for time, shifting a television program for later viewing.  Modes at and below EP demonstrated an annoying amount of graining and loss of detail.  An hour-long program in the lowest (SEP) mode took about 35 seconds to burn to DVD, but the results where far from optimal.  It was better to take a little more time with transferring to DVD and use the highest mode.  Older black and white movies were fine with the SP mode, while most material with higher end audio like Dolby 5.1 were only acceptable with the XP or XP+ modes.  There is an auto mode available that will use the fastest bit rate possible for the space remaining on the hard drive.  At the highest bit rate, there is room for about 23 hours of recording on the hard drive.  Considering you can burn a DVD-RW along the way, this should be enough for anyone except those who watch television all day long.

Pioneer also provides a means to transfer non-copy protected content (such as your personal home movies) from the DVD to the hard drive, where you can transfer them to a computer for editing and re-burning.  You can use this to add family commentaries to the DVDs of your family vacations.

Another great feature here is the ability to double your DVD recording with the use of dual layer discs.  Please note that DVD+R discs are not compatible with this unit; version 3.0 DVD-R discs are required.  The optimal speed for dual layer recording is the 2X or 4X modes.

The typical features such as being able to pause, rewind, fast forward, etc. while still recording are present.

Copy protection is in the form of CPRM, Content Protection for Recordable Media.  This allows the recording of special copy once broadcast.  This is a new restriction that permits the user to only make one copy of program for personal use.  Recordings made with this restriction can only be played on the recorder that made them.

One of the nicest features presented is the online help function.  At almost any point in a process such as recording, you can activate help and get some informative screens describing exactly what to do next.  The instructions provided were typically clear and easy to follow.  Useful information such as space remaining on the drive is also available through this function.

While many similar units require a paid subscription to a programming guide service, Pioneer includes the TV Guide Interactive Programming guide.  This provides a nice graphic interface to select programming up to eight days in advance.  Since this function requires the G-Link previously found to be so touchy to use, I found it better to do most of the selection through my cable box.

Playback Options
This unit was able to handle just about every format I could throw at it.  It was able to handle WMF, MPG3 and JPG files nicely, including a navigation menu with little thumbnails of the material.  It was also able to read DVD-RW and DVD-R discs created on a computer.  DVD+RW and DVD+R were not supported.

Dolby 5.1 and DTS audio outputs are provided and worked well with my home theater receiver.  Overall, the playback was very clear and provided excellent results.

Conclusions

Overall, this unit performed very well, and with a price around $450 it is a good purchase.  At the most superficial level, the unit looks good with its slim profile, and it fits in with any home theater system.  For the more substantial aspects, the performance was above average.  On the pro side, features like the large hard drive and dual layer DVD burning support will make this the centerpiece of your home theater.  There was great attention to details and user satisfaction, as demonstrated by the online help and free inclusion of the TV Guide system.  The major drawback is that only a few of the recording modes are practical; most of the ones that provide a lot of storage do not provide great playback, but that is more a restriction of the technology than the unit.  The G-Link was just about useless in practical use.  If you have kids or pets, it will be moved to the point where it will not function (and taping it down just seemed a bit messy).

If you are looking for a digital recorder to replace that aging VCR, then this is one to seriously consider.  While a bit higher priced than other units, the performance justified the cost.