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Pioneer DVR-560HX DVD/HDD Recorder - Pioneer DVR-560HX
The Pioneer shares one of Panasonic's killer features: internal CD ripping. It's simple but brilliant - load up a CD, let the Gracenote database find the track, artist and album info (from a built-in database - no Internet connection needed) and then rip them directly to the hard-disk, turning the deck into a jukebox.
The deck also boasts all of the flexible recording features we've come to know and love from digital recorders. But what separates Pioneer's models from other brands are its manual recording settings. Whereas Panasonic offers four set recording bitrates, Pioneer offers 32 ‘steps' that give you more flexibility to squeeze recordings to a given amount of space.
But if you want to keep things simple, you can turn off manual mode and select one of six presets, ranging from the XP mode (offering 34 hours on the HDD or nearly two hours on DVD-R/+R (DL)) down to SEP mode (340 HDD/18hr DVD-R (DL)).
If you select manual mode you can also select a 15Mbps XP+ mode, which is useful for making faithful copies of DV camcorder footage - but it's only available for hard-disk recordings. You'll also find a separate XP mode that uses LPCM instead of stereo Dolby Digital. As if that wasn't enough, the Optimised Recording feature automatically adjusts the quality during timer recordings if you haven't got enough space - a little like Panasonic's Flexible Recording mode.
Elsewhere there's a pause live TV feature, but unlike other recorders it actually starts recording the programme on the hard disk when you press the button, as opposed to using a buffer memory. The downside is that the picture is displayed in the currently selected recording mode when you resume playback - not good news if you've left it in SEP.
Other features include series recording (although it's not Freeview Playback badged); KURO Link support via HDMI, which lets you control the recorder using a Pioneer plasma remote; and the Video Adjust menu that offers an unfeasibly detailed range of picture adjustments.
Digging around in the setup menus, the amount of tweakable options is staggering, making this deck best suited to more experienced users. But the deck's onscreen presentation is impeccable across the board and there are a few concessions to beginners, such as a range of helpful info boxes that describe various functions, or warn of potential recording clashes.
The process of copying from HDD to DVD or transferring files from USB is well signposted and can quite easily be worked out without the help of the manual. The onscreen jukebox menus are top-notch too, while the remote provides direct access to video, music and photos stored on the hard-disk.
Hit the Direct Navigator button and it brings up a list of all your recordings, each beautifully presented in a box with a moving thumbnail on the left. The details are clearly displayed, and to the right is a list of editing options where you can erase a section (with frame accurate results), change the thumbnail, divide a title, rename titles using a keyboard connected to the USB port, and fiddle about with the chapter points. The latter are added automatically when the unit detects a black screen to help you skip adverts.
The brightly-coloured Freeview EPG is tidy and easy to follow, and the colour coded options along the bottom allow you to skip forward 24 hours and search the entire guide for programmes of a certain genre. It's much preferable to the alternative Guide Plus EPG, which is clumsy and inconvenient but it does allow you to make timer recordings from external receivers and the built-in analogue tuner.