- Review Price: £109.99
This ultra slim DVD recorder from Philips is the only one in the company’s current range to feature a built-in Freeview tuner, which is surprising given the amount of people who will be upgrading their recorders in time for digital switchover.
But there’s much more to the DVDR5500 than a Freeview tuner; it also comes equipped with video upscaling to 1080i and 720p, which lets you upscale those digital TV pictures and watch them on a hi-def ready plasma or LCD TV. It’ll also handle your library of digital media files, with a compatibility list that includes DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG.
The list of supported recordable disc formats is also impressive – the deck can record onto DVD+RW/+R, DVD-RW/-R and DVD+R DL, which will make life easier when it comes to buying the right discs.
DVD recorders aren’t usually noted for drop-dead gorgeous design, but Philips has really made an effort to make the DVDR5500 as visually arresting as possible. For starters, it’s incredibly slim, which will makes it easy to slot into those awkward little gaps in your AV cabinet, plus the smart reflective black fascia and silver detail make it look sleek and stylish.
The unit’s connection line-up is surprisingly extensive for a deck with such slimline dimensions. Upscaled pictures can be delivered to your TV through the HDMI 1.1 output, while the component video sockets offer progressive scan output. These are joined by composite and S-video outputs and coaxial digital audio output to take advantage of the unit’s Dolby Digital and DTS compatibility.
The front panel offers more socketry options. Digital camcorder owners will be pleased to find a DV input for transferring footage to DVD quickly and in the highest quality, but even more exciting is the inclusion of a USB port, which lets you connect a USB flash drive or digital camera and play back music or view photos through your home cinema system.
There’s a whopping seven recording modes on board, ranging from the top-quality HQ mode (which offers one hour on a single layer disc or nearly two on a DL disc) down to SEP (8 hours single layer, 14 hours double layer). Aside from the usual five modes found on most recorders (HQ, SP, LP, EP, SEP), Philips has slotted in two extra modes, SPP and SLP, making it easier than ever to fit recordings exactly onto a disc in the best possible quality.
After you’ve made a recording, you can make some simple but effective edits. You can divide recordings in half and insert manual chapters to ‘hide’ parts that you don’t want to be played back, such as adverts. The section isn’t deleted permanently but will be skipped with only a minor pause in playback. Most recorders that use DVD-RW discs allow you to format them in either Video or Video Recording (VR) mode, but that’s not the case here – only Video mode is available, which means you can only make the basic edits mentioned above, not more advanced functions like Playlist Editing or chasing playback.
Elsewhere on the feature list is a 7-day EPG, which lets you set the timer quickly and easily. The layout is simple, showing ‘now and next’ programme info for eight channels at a time, and it’s attractively presented. You can scroll down the channels or along the timeline easily and it makes great use of the colour coded buttons on the remote. The deck also offers lightning quick access to digital text, which allows you to check the football scores without annoying pauses.
This level of slickness permeates throughout the unit, with all of the onscreen menus responding quickly to remote control commands, while channels change instantaneously. The user interface is also well designed, with menu screens that are instantly understandable and easy on the eye.
However, there are a couple of annoying aspects of the operating system: the deck puts an info display over the picture when playing back recordings (you have to press Info to get rid of it), plus you have to dig deep into the setup menu every time you want to change the recording mode.
In terms of picture quality, live digital TV broadcasts are bright and full of colour, but sadly not the cleanest we’ve ever encountered. There’s a visible dusting of digital noise that makes the picture look slightly grainy, and motion looks juddery at times. However, it’s no disaster, and certain channels do look better than others.
But in terms of recording quality, the DVDR5500 does a great job of reproducing the incoming signal. In HQ mode, pictures look identical to the source and aside from the niggles mentioned above, the picture quality is pleasingly crisp and vibrant. The two-hour SP mode also delivers the goods, looking almost identical to HQ with a virtually imperceptible increase in pixel noise being the only way of telling it apart.
The SPP mode offers 2.5 hours of recording time, the trade-off being some visible MPEG block noise – but nothing that makes the pictures look unwatchable. In the LP and EP modes however, these artefacts increase to the point where images look hazy and lacking in fine detail, plus diagonal lines look jagged. We don’t recommend using either of these for permanent archiving, but they’re fine for everyday timeshifting duties where recording time is more important than quality. We’d be surprised if anyone used the hideous SEP mode though – recordings look like they were shot underwater.
Pre-recorded DVDs look fine when upscaled to 1080i, as a run-through of Heat demonstrates. Michael Mann’s heist thriller is faithfully reproduced, from the life-like skin-tones to the beautiful blue-tinged shots of the LA skyline. Upon close inspection there is some noise in the picture and a few untidy edges, but not enough to distract from the crisp detail reproduction and solid black level. It’s backed up by a dynamic, glitch-free rendition of Heat’s fiery 5.1 soundtrack and enjoyable CD playback. Files played back from a USB flash device are also strongly reproduced, whether it’s MP3, WMA or JPEG – plus DivX files from disc look great.
The DVDR550 might not be the last word in Freeview or DVD picture quality and editing features are limited, but the inclusion of a digital tuner and 1080i upscaling on such an affordably-priced recorder is a real bonus. Also pleasing is the user-friendly operating system and slim, sexy design, which makes this a good, if not essential purchase.
Score in detail