I bought a Toshiba DR570 DVD Recorder to be my poor man’s DVR. After theorizing about saving money by giving up cable TV, I quickly learned that I missed having a DVR after living without cable. I love having fewer channels, but I do miss the on-screen guide and being able to record one show while I watch another, or to record a show when I’m not home.
DVD Recorders aren’t popular like the old VCRs once were, but they function in the same way – the media you record on, the DVD, is just different, but the setup and operation is the same. You have to program the timer to record a future show, or go to the show and hit record to snag what’s showing on screen now. It’s no where near as convenient as a DVR – but if the DR570 had an electronic programming guide, it would be close.
A DVD recorder works just like the old VHS machines, and the switch to digital TV has affected them too. You can no longer use old VHS or DVD recorders with analog tuners. I had a perfectly good Samsung DVD recorder that worked with analog signals and my Comcast DVR, but doesn’t work with over-the-air digital TV – and that’s why I had to buy the DR570 – it has a tuner to receive over the air digital signals.
Because the DR570 has a digital tuner and my Samsung DLP TV has a digital tuner, I can record one show and watch another. One antenna works for both. The indoor HDTV antenna plugs into the DR570 DVD Recorder, and then a second coax cable goes from the DR570 to the Samsung TV. This pass-through arrangement doesn’t interfere with the reception on the TV when the DR570 is off or while recording. The DVD Recorder has a HDMI output, so switching to it just means pressing the Source button on my TV remote.
There is a picture quality difference between the two tuners which makes me think there might be a lot of variation in the electronics to digital tuning of over-the-air signals. The DR570 picture seems softer than what I get from the Samsung TV, but quite nice. The recorded quality varies greatly between the 5 recording modes (1, 2, 4, 6 and 8 hours). Two hour mode is OK, but one hour mode is so impressive that I try to use it exclusively. I can accept two hour mode, but four, six and eight hour modes are unacceptable by my picky standards. Now my wife wouldn’t complain about four hour mode, but at the four hour mode I see artifacts from fast moving elements of the picture – even people’s lips moving when they are talking, I find this annoying.
I’ve also learned that turning on progressive mode within the DR570 settings menu greatly improves the recorded results. One hour mode is as good as a DVD on a high definition TV, but not Blu-Ray quality, about equal to HD DVR output. The output fills the wide screen HDTV and looks like high definition TV.
Neither of my two digital TV tuners comes with the over-the-air TV Guide. My friend Mike just got a new digital HDTV with a TV Guide brand on-screen guide built in. I wonder why neither of my digital tuners has this feature because it would make living with over-the-air TV so more of a luxury. It would also make recording a show on a DVD Recorder a snap, like using a DVR. The David Pogue article I link to above suggests that manufacturers don’t want to compete with the cable TV industry, and this might be true. The broadcast of a electronic program guide is required by the FCC, but the display of the guide by TV makers is not. Bummer.
If free over the air TV came with an electronic program guide that worked with a cheap hard-disk recorder I wouldn’t miss cable TV at all. A TiVo would be the perfect over-the-air DVR solution, except TiVo wants $12.95 a month for their program guide, which jinxes the deal for me. Many people make their own TiVo by building a Home Theater PC and using one of the many Internet program guides. I might do this in the future, but for now want to avoid complexity and cost. My goal is to stay on the path to simplicity – if you can call our high tech world simple.
The DR570 has turned out to be a good solution as my poor man’s DVR, but if it had come with the TV Guide On Screen feature it would have been fantastic. DVD disks clutter my TV stand and are annoying to keep up with, but they do the job – I don’t miss my TV shows, and I can record now and watch latter (and skip commercials). The TV purist in me wishes I’d only watched TV in real time and just let go of the anguish of missing TV shows. My Zen mind tells me to let go, and let time flow naturally, but I’m still a grasshopper.
DVR +R or –R discs are dirt cheap. Recording isn’t as convenient as a DVR, but if you don’t do a lot of recording it’s no big deal. Recording three or four shows from one evening on one disk in four hour mode is possible, but it’s work, and the quality of the results is poor. An electronic programming guide would reduce the work, but not improve the video quality. Four-hour quality is OK if you don’t want to miss your shows, but not to save them or show off high definition TV to your low definition TV friends.
The DR570 cost me $159.95, or ten months of DVR service on Comcast. I selected this Toshiba unit at Amazon sight unseen because many customers gave it positive reviews. However, I agree completely with all the complaints about the terrible remote. The buttons are small, oddly arranged, with hard to see labels. Engineers working on the next model should overhaul the remote and add TV Guide On Screen. A killer device would be to add a DVR drive to the mix with a dual digital tuner. That way you could record to disk for convenience, and burn to DVD when you want to save a show or make sure your friends didn’t miss something cool. Content creators will be horrified at this idea. A DVD Recorder/DVR combination designed to work with over-the-air broadcasts and over-the-air TV Guide would probably convince a lot of people they really don’t need their cable/satellite services. I have no desire to see these businesses go under, but there’s a lot of people out there that don’t want or need the fire hose blast of hundreds of TV channels.
One nice side-effect of the DVD Recorder is if I record a show and want someone else to watch it, I can just give them the disc. That’s better than a DVR. Or I can save it to watch again in the future. I keep a Sharpie by the TV and mark my discs as I record them and store them on an empty DVD spindle. The DVD Recorder can use DVD-RW discs if you want to watch, erase and record again, and I have some of those, but I’ve found in my quest for watch less TV, to also try and record less. The DVR made TV watch too easy, encouraging the bad habit of cramming huge amounts of TV into my life. Moderation is now my goal. I like to think before I record any show: Is it DVD worthy.
JWH – 9/26/9