Test Bench:Philips DVDR80 DVD+R/+RW Burner

$799

Philips Consumer

Electronics North

America Corporation

PO Box 467300

Atlanta, GA 31146

(770) 821-2400

The Philips DVDR80 is a lot like a traditional VCR, with such features as a tuner, a clock on the front panel, TV recording and delayed timer recording through a free electronic program guide. Though designed for the entertainment center as a replacement for the VCR, the DVDR80 offers video hobbyists the opportunity to burn simple DVDs.

First Look

The unit sports a somewhat flashy, yet sleek silver exterior. Other than the brief whir on power up when the unit initializes the disc mechanism, the box was very quiet. The spindle motor seemed almost silent compared to some DVD players.

For videographers, the best application for the unit is burning simple discs from either raw footage or already-edited material. While you can do some on-disc editing, it is limited to only the most basic tasks. Users can hide chapters, which effectively removes elements when the disc is played, though you can still access the footage later. This is about as much as you can do in the way of editing. You cannot completely excise unwanted material from the disc without erasing the entire title (on a rewritable disc).

To the Test

To test the unit, we burned some video to DVD+RW from a JVC GR-DV800U Mini DV camcorder through the unit’s front FireWire input. Note that this is an input only; you can’t record video from DVDs back to a camcorder. When the camcorder was connected, there was a slight MPEG-2 encoding delay between the camcorder and the video coming out of the burner. Once we saw our video, we stopped our tape and pressed the Record button on the remote. The unit offered a display showing the time elapsed in the recording and the space remaining on the disc. However, the unit didn’t actually record anything until we pressed play on the camcorder, at which point the unit began dutifully burning away.

The unit automatically places chapter marks every five minutes, although you can turn this function off with a menu option. We would have liked an option to insert chapters at scene changes (through scene detection), as most modern editing software can. Regardless, you can insert and delete chapter breaks later, which is a very nifty option.

Break it Up

Once you’ve brought in some video, it’s a simple matter to place a few finishing touches on your disc. When playing the footage, we pressed the FSS key (which contains a scissors icon) that brought up a menu allowing us to add or delete chapter marks (up to 99 per title, or up to 124 per disc). We could also change the program thumbnail that appears on the top menu and divide the current program into two titles (you can’t merge titles, however).

Edits and thumbnails are based on the closest keyframe (I-frame). The unit frequently substituted nearby frames in place of the ones that we really wanted. Frame advance is only available going forward. If you overshoot while looking for a particular frame, you have go back a few seconds and then click through the frames again.

For the disc’s top menu, the player encodes a Philips background image, thumbnails for each program, the total duration of the programs, the video quality setting used during acquisition, and the date of the recording. With a nice, clear font with upper and lower-case characters, the resulting menus look nicer than those generated by similar stand-alone burners.

You can lock entire DVD+RW discs with valuable content from future changes, much like breaking the tab out of a videocassette. You cannot lock portions of the disc while keeping the rest free for modification.

The unit also includes a disc management feature that catalogs material that the unit has recorded, allowing you to search for recorded titles.

When you’ve made all the changes you want, select "Make Edits Compatible" from the disc setting screen. It took the player about five minutes to rewrite the table of contents when we hid portions of a half-hour program we had recorded.

Player Compatibility

To our delight, we were able to play the disc in the other DVD players that we tried. The menu looked nice, and the program came up just as expected, with very good video quality. We were even more delighted when the Dolby Digital indicator illuminated on our stereo receiver. Stereo Dolby Digital encoded audio is ideal, as it is highly compatible with existing equipment and takes up only a fraction of the bits that uncompressed PCM audio consumes.

At the points at which we hid scenes, the player didn’t stumble a bit, and the chapter indicator on the front panel display incremented precisely where we set the chapter mark. The DVDR80 deserves high marks for delivering compatible discs.

Commercial Playback

We were less pleased when playing commercial DVDs from our library. We found that it took a rather long time for the player to read discs that were not DVD+R or DVD+RW. Another quirk is the lack of picture scan buttons on the remote or on the unit: to scan through material, you have to hold down the Track Up or Track Down buttons until the picture begins to move faster. We also missed having an Open/Close button on the remote.

A Simple Solution

We have to admit to a slight bit of skepticism when approaching the unit, having mixed experiences with rewritable optical media in the past. The Philips DVDR80 handily exceeded our expectations. Although you might want to use write-once DVD+R media, we found DVD+RW discs to be highly compatible.

The machine has a few usability quirks, but less of a learning curve than you might think it would. It took us (admitted tech monkeys) a mere three hours to feel mastery of the machine. And it is unquestionably easier to use than even the simplest computer-based DVD authoring software. Overall, the machine is competent for what it does, and hobbyists who seek quick one-off DVDs directly from a camcorder can get a lot of mileage from this unit.

TECH SPECS

Format: DVD+R/+RW

Dimensions (HxWxD): 3.0" x 17.2" x 13.3"

Weight: 9 lbs.

Rear Input 1: component video, analog stereo audio

Rear Input 2: S-video and component video, analog stereo audio

Front Input: FireWire, S-video and composite video, analog stereo audio

Digital Audio Output: optical, coaxial

Video Outputs: component video, S-video, composite video

STRENGTHS

  • Quiet operation
  • Compatible discs
  • Ability to hide scenes

    WEAKNESSES

  • No reverse-frame advance button
  • Slow in playing commercial DVDs

    SUMMARY

    An easy way for hobbyists to get video onto DVD.

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