Philips HDRW720 Review

Philips HDRW720
“The beauty of the HDRW720 DVD recorder is that it's a perfect replacement for your aging VCR.”
Pros
  • Support component video input and output and FireWire inputs; easy to use
Cons
  • GemStar's TV GuidePlus+ features advertisements; does not have an ATSC tuner

More than eight years ago, DVD (called Digital Versatile Disc at the time) burst onto the scene and offered the best quality audio and video images available, all on a new shiny 5-inch disc that looked like a CD.  It was predicted that it would replace the aging VCR in just a few short years.  However, at that time it was perceived by some to have one serious or fatal flaw:  it could not record.  In the beginning, this was viewed as the format’s possible Achilles’ heel.  No recording ability was thought to be the death knell of any video format.  Well, times have changed and DVD recorders are finally starting to make inroads with consumers.  Philips, the leading proponent of the DVD+RW format, has come up with a terrific recorder; it includes an integrated personal video recorder with an easy-to-use on-screen guide that makes recording your favorite show a snap.

Introduction

Philips developed DVD Plus ReWritable (DVD+RW) for both data and video content as well.  Even though it uses a different recording method, it has been designed to work with DVD-ROM, and is also backwards compatible with most current DVD video players on the market today.  The DVD+RW format uses two types of discs: single-sided discs with a capacity of 4.7GBs, and dual-sided ones with a capacity of 9.4 GBs.  There are several recording speeds, ranging from a high quality (HQ) standard play (SP) mode of one hour with an image resolution of 500 lines, up to an extended play (EP) mode of up to eight hours at an image resolution of 250 lines per side.

Philips’ DVD+RW video technology is encoded in MPEG-2 with a variable bit-rate, which provides higher bit-rates as necessary so that no storage capacity is wasted; this allows for the optimum allocation of bits on the disc.  In real-time video applications, it makes a provisional analysis of the input video, creating a target bit-rate that is typical for a selected playing time or level of video quality selected.  Since DVD+RW uses a variable bit-rate, it can create longer recording times (up to eight hours) with superior image quality.  Maximum recording can be further improved by using a “lossless linking” technique.  Lossless linking simply means that there are no large blank spots on the disc, which can be up to 2kB wide between different video segments.  This technique allows the writing process to be stopped or suspended, and then resumed without making the discs incompatible with other machines.  Additionally, lossless linking makes it possible to replace any individual 32 kB (kilo byte) block (or recording unit) by a new one without losing compatibility with other DVD players or DVD-ROM drives.

Philips HDRW720
Philips HDRW720

DVD+RW video discs contain one or multiple menus (still images of recordings) that give information about each recording such as playing time, program name, data and time or recording, quality level, and a key frame display representing a recording (still image.)  The DVD+RW video recorder generates or updates the menus immediately after a recording has been completed.   DVD+RW discs offer complete interchangeability between home recorders and PCs with DVD+RW drives so that material can be edited on a home computer and then played back on a home deck.  Blank single-disc 4.7GB discs cost about $.72 for DVD+R and $1.99 or less for DVD+RW.

DVD+R is a “write-once” format that shares many of the same attributes as DVD+RW.  It is impossible to erase or overwrite a DVD+R disc.  Like DVD-R, DVD+R allows for home videos to be recorded so that they cannot be accidentally erased at a later time.  DVD+R is 100-percent compatible with Philips DVD players that playback DVD+RW, and 85-percent compatible with Panasonic and Pioneer DVD players that playback DVD-R.  In terms of editing, DVD+R discs can be edited until finalized, whereas a DVD-R disc cannot be altered after being recorded.  According to Philips, it will only take about 1-minute to finalize a DVD+R disc, but it can take between 4-minutes and 15-minutes for a DVD-R disc to be finalized.   Philips also notes that you can change Picture Indexes and apply Favorite Scene Selection to DVD+R, but cannot with DVD-R.

Features and Design

The Philips HDRW720 is about as full-featured as you can get with a DVD recorder these days.  First, it includes a 181-Ch. NTSC tuner so that it can act just like a VCR.  It’s clearly designed to replace the VCR, period!  Model HDRW720 also includes a full-featured 120GB Hard-Disc Recorder (or PVR) that can record up to 190 hours of TV programs.  It has all of the standard PVR features like Pause, “FlexTime,” which allows you to watch a program from the beginning as it is recording, “Instant Replay,” and a full-featured free 7-day electronic program guide (EPG).   What this means is that unlike other EPGs on the market (such as TiVo and RePlayTV), there is no monthly or lifetime programming fee attached to TV GuidePlus+.  This is a wonderful thing!  You do, however, get some advertising located on the left-hand side of the guide.  It’s a small price to pay for a free EPG.

The HDRW720 features GemStar’s TV GuidePlus+ electronic on-screen TV guide to facilitate the programming of your recorder.  It lists programming up to seven days out.  It could not be simpler to scroll over to a listing on the Guide, and press the red record button on the remote.  You can set it up to record up to 15 programs directly to the hard-drive or to a blank +RW disc.  Simply adjust your recording time from M1 (1 hour, highest quality) to M8 (8 hours, VHS quality).  If you record on the hard-drive, programs can later be transferred to disc for archiving by the touch of one button.  Neat!

A feature unique to the +RW format and the HDRW720 is that it offers both component video input and component video output on the same deck.  This makes it very easy to attach your satellite or cable box directly via component video to assure making the highest possible recordings (480p).  Also, this model includes a signal blaster that will quickly change channels on either your satellite or cable box to make recording quite easy.  During the initial setup, you simply tell the system the brand and model of your satellite/cable receiver.  Here again, it could not be simpler.  Progressive scan circuitry with 3:2 pull-down is also included for the highest quality recorded and played back DVD images.

This model also includes IEEE1394 inputs located on the front panel.  This makes it very easy to attach your digital camcorder using i.Link for the best possible audio and video quality.  Some basic editing capabilities also are also included.  If you are transferring home movies to DVD, it’s best to use DVD+R discs as they offer compatibility with most (if not all) DVD players.  Simply follow the on-screen prompts to preserve your family memories.

Evaluation

The beauty of the HDRW720 DVD recorder is that it’s a perfect replacement for your aging VCR.  It acts just like a VCR, but instead of fooling around with VHS tapes that degrade over time, a single DVD+RW disc can be used and HDRW720 Remote Controlerased hundreds (if not thousands) of times.  By adding PVR functionality to record your favorite shows, it’s the perfect medium to store transient TV shows.  It also makes recording your favorite shows a snap.  Simply press the Guide/TV button on the remote to pull up the TV GuidePlus+ program listing.  Using the centrally-located navigation or arrow keys, scroll over to the program that you want to record, and press the red button on the remote.  By the same token, you can press the Timer button and program your recorder manually.  Simply key in the date, on/off times, and channel.  You just have to remember to set the record quality via the SYSTEM-MENU.  While you can set up recordings manually, it’s much easier to use TV GuidePlus+.  And, with the pressing of one button, you can send any one of your pre-recorded shows directly to disk.  It could not be easier to keep all of those episodes of 24 and ALIAS for repeated viewings later.

On top of that, the 720 includes a front-panel i.Link connector, making it very easy to attach your digital camcorder.  Not every DVD recorder includes this type of connectivity.  Virtually all DV, Mini DV and DVD camcorders today include i.Link connectors that facilitate sharing your memories with friends and family.  It’s a single slim cable that easily attaches to the front panel of the HDRW720.  You can set up a Table of Contents, edit scenes, re-arrange scenes, and delete poor taping.  Once you have your latest and greatest family epic arranged like Cecil B. DeMille, put a DVD+R disc into recorder, sending those images from your camcorder to the DVD+R disc.  Even I could do it.

Conclusion

If you’ve been thinking about replacing your aging VCR, and have been thinking about a DVD recorder, look no further than the Philips HDRW720.  It includes all of the most desirable features required in a “state-of-the-art” DVD recorder today, and it adds PVR capability to make recording of your favorite shows a snap.  What more could you ask for?

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