Pioneer Elite DVR-57H DVR/DVD recorder
For those few readers who might not understand what DVRs can do for them, here's a brief summary:
A DVR is a device much like a VCR, in that it can record video signals with their associated audio information from an antenna, cable feed, or other A/V source. However, instead of using tape, a DVR has an internal hard-disk drive on which the material is recorded digitally. This allows the user to instantly access any part of any recording without having to shuttle tape back and forth, making it much easier to select the desired program and to skip commercials. (Hallelujah!)
In addition, DVRs provide an electronic program guide (EPG) that lets you see what's on each channel; most also let you select what to record by name or genre rather than by channel, time, and duration. As a result, DVRs are far easier to program than VCRs. And like VCRs, DVRs offer several record modes that trade image quality for recording time; the higher the quality, the lower the amount of time that can be recorded on the hard disk.
Actually, DVRs are always recording up to half an hour of whatever channel they're tuned to, usually at the highest-quality/lowest-time setting. This lets you pause, rewind, and replay live TV as you're watching, one of the most touted benefits of DVRs. It also means you can capture an entire show even after it has started, as long as you had the DVR tuned to that channel from the beginning of the show, and the show hasn't been on for more than half an hour. In addition, you can record one show while watching another that's already been recorded.
Admittedly, VCRs do have a couple of advantages over standard DVRs. For one thing, hard disks have a finite capacity, so you must eventually erase already-recorded shows to make room for new ones. With a VCR, you simply use a new videotape (which can give rise to another problem: huge piles of old tapes that you may never watch). In addition, DVRs don't let you share recordings with others at different locations, or even in different rooms. It's easy to take a videotape from one VCR to another, but DVRs use internal hard disks, which can't be extracted from one unit and inserted into another without a degree in electronic engineering and several hours' work.
Well, my friends, praise be!—these problems have now been solved. Pioneer has teamed up with the folks at TiVo and introduced a device that combines a DVR and DVD recorder. Now, after you've TiVo'd a program, you can copy it to a DVD-R or DVD-RW disc for permanent storage. You can also play that disc in most DVD players, allowing you to share your favorite shows with family and friends.
For this review, I got Pioneer's top-of-the-line DVR-57H ($1800), a member of the company's Elite line. Also available is the DVR-810H ($1199), which is identical to the 57H except for its 80GB hard disk (the 57H has a 120GB hard disk), single-layer chassis (the 57H has a double-layer reinforced chassis to reduce vibrations), and one-year warranty (the 57H has a two-year warranty).
The DVR-57H's gloss-black front panel is simplicity itself. The center is dominated by a good-sized display with a large, 10-character, dot-matrix alphanumeric status indicator that provides relevant information about whatever activity the DVR-57H is currently engaged in. Other fixed indicators reveal which recorder/player is operating (hard disk or DVD), record or play mode, quality settings, etc. Most of these are rather small, but not nearly as small as some I've seen.
Immediately above the display is a thin translucent strip that indicates the current activity: the right end glows red when the hard disk is recording, the left end glows orange when the DVD is recording, and the center glows blue when anything (hard disk, DVD, or CD) is playing. Directly above this indicator strip is the disc tray, which slides out to accept an offering.
Because the 57H is a DVR, it's designed to be on all the time—there's no front-panel power switch. On the left, where a power button would normally be, is the DVD button, which activates the unit's DVD mode. To the right of the display are buttons for Open/Close, Stop, Pause, Skip Forward and Back, and Play.
The rear panel is similarly straightforward. A polarized two-conductor power receptacle accepts the included power cord, and a standard RJ11 phone jack connects to a phone line to allow the DVR-57H to update the EPG. Inputs include two composite-video, one with an S-video input as well, and both with analog stereo audio inputs. An RF input lets you connect an antenna or cable feed, and an RF bypass output sends the signal back out to another device.
The primary outputs include component video, two S-video, two composite-video, two pairs of analog stereo audio, and one optical digital audio. There are two controller jacks, one that connects to certain cable or satellite receivers, and another that connects to an IR blaster. Either one of these provides the means to change channels on the external device for recording onto the 57H.
Finally, there is a USB port that lets you connect the DVR-57H to an Ethernet home network with an optional adapter. The Pioneer is a TiVo Series 2 device, which lets it use TiVo's Home Media Option to connect multiple TiVos and computers to a home network and share content among them. I didn't test this aspect of the 57H for this review, but I intend to; look for a detailed report in an upcoming issue.
The remote will be completely familiar to TiVo owners. It does have a few additional buttons, including DVD, Top Menu, Menu, and Stop, as befits its DVD-player functionality. Also, the Channel Up/Down button does double duty as a DVD chapter-skip button. You can also configure the remote to control the TV's power, volume, mute, and input selection, as well as the receiver's power, volume, and mute.