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With prices starting at $300, there's plenty of reason to pick up a DVD recorder to satisfy your TV time-shifting needs. If you want to avoid format wars by getting a machine that records on all disc types except DVD-RAM, then the LiteOn LVW-5005 may be the best choice. But if you're inclined to take a partisan position toward DVD+R/RW because of its recording flexibility, then investigate Yamaha's DRX-2. Finally, if a hard-disk drive for storing tons of programming, with the option to burn keepers to DVD, sounds appealing, then you'll be well served by the Toshiba RD-SX32. No matter which choice you make, I can say for sure that you won't miss your old VCR.
In the Lab
As with all the other DVD recorders we've tested, the horizontal resolution of these three decks gets cut in half, from full 540-line DVD quality to a decent-looking but distinctly less sharp 270 lines, at some point as you change recording mode to increase maximum disc recording time. With the Yamaha DRX-2, this happens with its 3-hour mode, and it occurs with the 4-hour modes of the LiteOn LVW-5005 and Toshiba RD-SX32, though the Toshiba allows you to fine-tune the tradeoff between recording time and image quality. While the recorders can produce excellent results in their 1- or 2-hour modes, all three machines produced images riddled with artifacts, including mosquito noise and blocking, at their highest-capacity (lowest-bit-rate) settings. The artifacts from each machine looked slightly different due to differences in their MPEG encoding, but the overall deleterious effect on the image was about the same. Movements looked somewhat jerky in the LiteOn's 6-hour mode because of its switching to MPEG-1 encoding, with half the horizontal and vertical resolution. The other recorders maintain MPEG-2 encoding throughout but with increasing levels of visible glitches.
The Yamaha and Toshiba had generally fine progressive-scan performance, but the LiteOn produced jagged diagonal edges in many images. The LiteOn's playback of movie DVDs was slightly hampered by a rolled-off luminance response (down 2.5 dB at 4 MHz, reaching -4.4 dB at 6.75 MHz), which gave it a slightly softer image than the others. Of course, this also affects playback of the DVDs it makes. Discs made on the LiteOn actually looked better when played on the Toshiba and Yamaha! Finally, the LiteOn's CD-recording performance suffers from its not having a digital audio input, which puts any CDs created on it at the mercy of its higher-than desirable analog-input noise level (-68 dB). Still, it's useful to be able to record DVDs and CDs on the same deck.
- David Ranada
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