Zenith HDR230 HDTV Receiver-Digital Video Recorder Page 2
Depending on the aspect ratio and display format you use, you can change the shape and size of the displayed image. In 480i or 480p modes with a 4:3 TV, you can letterbox, crop, or squeeze a 16:9 image. If you're using the 720p or 1080i output with a 16:9 display and a 4:3 SDTV program comes on, you can stretch it, blow it up to fill the screen, or engage two different zoom modes. There's nothing to adjust with true 16:9 HD programming on a 16:9 screen, unless you engage the 4:3 mode, which compresses the picture.
You can custom-name your favorite DTV channels, delete channels you don't want to watch, and manually enter channels that a scan may have missed. In fact, manual channel entry is the only way to save what's in memory and add to it. Selecting another channel scan wipes the channel memory clean each time.
The HDR230 is equipped with parental lock, with which you can define the allowable program ratings for younger viewers—assuming the broadcaster is actually including the Rating Region Table (RRT) information in the signal! You can lock unauthorized users out of the tuner section to varying degrees, and/or protect it with a password.
Timeshifting and Recording
Timeshifting DTV programs isn't a new concept—enterprising home-theater enthusiasts have been doing it for a few years now with custom-built PCs and plug-in DTV tuner cards made by PC-DTV, accessDTV, Hauppauge, and Telemann. The decoded MPEG video and audio data are simply streamed in real time to a high-capacity hard drive, then played back with full pause, slo-mo, fast-forward, and rewind functions.
The problem is, most people don't want to install a PC near their TV and have to boot it up to do all of this. The HDR230 is a simpler, more elegant, user-friendly solution that doesn't need Windows to run. And with an 80GB hard drive, you can record almost 9 hours of HD programming.
You can timeshift in two ways. If you know when a program you want to record is coming on, hit the Reserved Recording button and navigate to the DVR section of the menu. Here you select the DTV channel you wish to watch by entering both the major (main channel) and minor (specific program) integers. (If the station sends EPG information with its signal, the program information will appear in the DVR menu, but if not, you must enter the station numbers manually; see sidebar, "DTV and Program Guides.")
Many major-market DTV stations transmit only one minor channel. For example, CBS affiliate KYW-DT in Philadelphia sends out "3-1" as its major and minor channel. However, since DTV allows multicasting, some stations have two, three, or even four minor channels. WLVT, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, carries four SDTV PBS programs as major-minor channel groups 39-3, 39-4, 39-5, and 39-6.
Once you've set the channel info, scroll across and enter the date and start time, then the duration of the program in minutes. The last selection box will ask if you'd like to make this recording once, daily, or weekly. When done, depress the center Enter key.
To record manually, hit Record, then set a time interval of 30, 60, 90, 120, 150, 180, or 210 minutes. This is not a timeshifting mode, in that you can't pause or shuttle around during recording. To do that, you must hit the Timeshift button, whereupon you can pause a program while still recording, back it up, or fast-forward and catch up to real-time recording.
The rewind and fast-forward buttons work at 2x 5x, 20x and 50x speeds; you can also advance one frame at a time through a program. The Replay button returns you to a user-definable "bookmark" as many times as you want. To escape from this mode, hit either the Stop or Live TV button. In either case, you'll return to real-time programming.
The HDR230 was much easier to set up and operate than a two-piece D-VHS system. That approach is daunting to my wife, but I did a quick demo of the HDR230 menu structure and she picked up on it right away. And why not? It's essentially a TiVo system for DTV, without the TiVo EPG and message menus.
Like Zenith's HDV420 terrestrial DTV set-top tuner, the HDR230's DTV tuner was quite sensitive and happy with a high degree of multipath interference. In fact, it located and pulled in three DTV stations that were quite a bit off-axis from my rooftop and attic antennas, and it even found some tiny DTV broadcasters north and south of my home.
That means you might be able to pick a sweet spot for your antenna and not have to move it very much, or at all, if the DTV broadcast stations near you have towers scattered all over the place. The Philadelphia stations are all pretty much south-southwest of my home. But Allentown is almost north, and Trenton is southeast—almost 90° away. It didn't matter. The HDR230 found all the available stations in one pass, which means it has a topnotch 8VSB demodulator and dynamic multipath equalizer circuit. My older Panasonic TU-DST51 set-top comes up way short in that department, and even my Samsung terrestrial tuners can't pull in the Trenton signals at that angle to the antenna.
The picture quality was as good as any set-top I've tested in the past two years, and to my eyes and ears, the recordings coming off the hard drive were identical to the original high-definition broadcasts. The front-panel output-format button (which doesn't display onscreen, a bit of a flaw) scrolls through the formats with repeated pushes until you find the right format for your display. For example, if you have a direct-view CRT TV with 1080i input, use that output format.
Got a plasma panel or DLP/LCD rear-projection set? Select 480p/60 output for smaller plasma screens or 720p output for those rear projectors, plasmas, and 15-inch-and-up LCD TVs with HD resolution. Still waiting to invest in an HD-ready set? You can always use the composite and S-video outputs with your current TV.
There weren't many things I didn't like about the HDR230. I wish the output-format selection would register onscreen, even briefly. The lettering on the remote could be more distinct. A DVI connector would be a plus, although its absence at this point may have more to do with High Definition Copy Protection (HDCP) than anything else.
Still, for all the HDR230 does, I find its price of $999 to be a bit steep. To get the full benefit from this set-top box, you need to live in an area where several DTV stations are broadcasting, many or all of them carrying HDTV programs. Currently, that would include such markets as Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and Dallas.
The cable-input mode is pretty much useless at this point, since the entire cable industry is using the QAM format for digital programming, and the HDR230 won't recognize it (although future DVRs probably will). The HDR230 doesn't support analog NTSC either, which would make it more attractive for all-around timeshifting and recording.
On second thought, if the HDR230 did support NTSC timeshifting, within a week my hard drive would likely be filled with Lizzie McGuire, Kim Possible, Sister, Sister, and all kinds of Disney Channel programs . . .