- Review Price: £130.00
There are several reasons why you might buy a DVD recorder instead of a combined DVD/hard-disk unit. Perhaps you don’t watch TV enough to justify a large hard-disk capacity and can make do with the smaller storage space offered by DVD. Perhaps you already own a hard-disk PVR and want a way of archiving programmes or making copies for friends and family. Or perhaps you simply have no use for the complex features found on DVD/HDD combis and want to keep things as simple as possible. Whatever the reason, Toshiba’s latest DVD recorder could be just what you’re looking for.
The DR18DT is basically the RD-98DT with the hard-disk stripped out. It supports two rewritable disc formats, the most useful of which is DVD-RW, which can be formatted in Video Recording mode (which allows you to edit your recordings afterwards) or Video mode, which makes the disc more widely compatible with other DVD players but rules out advanced editing. The other rewritable format is DVD+RW, which offers a basic set of editing features, while the supported write-once formats are DVD-R and DVD+R, but sadly it doesn’t accept dual-layer DVD-R and DVD+R discs, so the maximum recording time you’ll get is eight hours.
Toshiba has crafted a very sleek-looking unit featuring the company’s classic all-black finish with a silver strip running across the middle. There’s an LED display panel that gives all the relevant information, but it’s fairly hard to read from a normal viewing distance and could have done with being a bit bigger. Build quality is solid though, and its slimline dimensions won’t take up too much room on your AV stand.
The unit features a built-in Freeview tuner, with full support for Freeview Playback features such as series and split recording. This makes life a lot easier when recording your favourite programmes as you don’t have to set the timer every time – it records the whole series automatically and recognises when a programme has been split into two parts. However, the lack of a hard-disk makes this feature more problematic, as you have to make sure there’s enough space on a disc every time it’s about to record – with a hard-disk you can set it and forget it.
If you want to make recordings from external cable or satellite set-top boxes then the DR18DT comes equipped with two SCART sockets for this purpose. However, neither socket accepts RGB video signals, which offers the best-possible picture quality, and therefore your recordings won’t look as good as they could. We checked this by running the RGB-capable SCART output of a Sky HD box into both inputs and the resulting pictures show the unmistakable signs of composite video (tizzing edges and paler colours than RGB). On the plus side, the SCART inputs support Sat Link, which works in tandem with a timer-equipped external recorder and starts recording when it detects a signal.
There’s also an HDMI output, and because it’s specified as version 1.3 it supports Deep Colour, though with Deep Colour content only likely to be found on Blu-ray we’re not sure how useful this will be. Of greater interest is the built-in video upscaling to 576p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p, all of which are available from this socket (and can be selected using a handy button on the remote). This makes it an ideal pairing for a Full HD TV, particularly if you intend to use the Toshiba as your main DVD player.
Other connections include component video output, coaxial digital and analogue stereo audio outputs plus antenna input and loopthrough sockets, but if we’re being picky an optical digital audio output would have been nice. On the front panel are DV, S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs but no USB ports, which is a missed opportunity given the unit’s DivX, MP3 and JPEG support. As it stands the only way to play these formats is from CD or DVD.
Before recording you can choose one of five recording modes – XP offers the best picture quality giving one hour of recording time on a DVD, while the SP mode offers two hours at a slightly lower picture quality (but in our experience the difference is hardly noticeable). To increase the time further, you can select LP, EP or SLP, which offer four, six and eight hours respectively, but you will notice a big drop in picture quality using these modes.
After you’ve made a recording, it’s stored in the well-presented Title List, which uses moving thumbnails to help you identify recordings, but sadly doesn’t display the name of the programme for Freeview recordings. From here, you can access a range of editing features that allow you to rename, delete or add/remove chapter markers to your recordings. When using a VR-formatted DVD-RW disc, you can additionally add the title to a separate playlist or chop out unwanted scenes. When doing the latter, there’s a really useful feature that lets you view your edit before deleting the section. The equivalent feature for DVD+RW or DVD+R is the Hide Chapter mode, which skips chapters during playback but doesn’t delete it completely. Overall this is an excellent selection of editing features.
And the lack of a hard-disk doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy some of the same features – as long as you’ve got a VR-formatted DVD-RW disc in the tray. The Time Slip mode does the same job as pause live TV, allowing you to pick up where you left off if the phone rings – but as it just creates a title on the hard-disk, you might as well just press record. Additionally you can watch a recording from the start while it’s still recording (chase playback) but both of these are only available when the recording mode is set to LP, EP or SLP.
Just like the RD-98DT, the DR18DT’s operating system has been tweaked since the previous generation to make it a lot faster and easier to use. Now you can change channels or navigate the setup menu with no annoying pauses, and the onscreen design is a lot more attractive.
The EPG is clear and functional, unusually giving you the opportunity to view a list of all the upcoming broadcasts of a particular programme (thanks to the series recording feature). You can also switch between a single channel view and a weekly timeline layout. All of the other displays and menus are logically arranged and attractively presented – the only flaw is that the now/next on screen display doesn’t give you details about the programme, which means you have to enter the full EPG to find out more.
The remote isn’t very inspiring either, sporting loads of similar-looking buttons that makes it hard to find certain functions quickly.
We can’t fault the unit’s Freeview recording capabilities however. XP mode takes the strong colours, plentiful detail and sharp edge definition of live Freeview broadcasts and transfers it to DVD without any visible difference in picture quality. The picture quality does fluctuate depending on the channel (BBC channels tend to look the best) but on the whole the XP encoding is flawless.
SP mode recordings are similarly impressive, but when you get to LP the quality takes a sudden dip. It’s not unwatchable by any means but you wouldn’t use it to archive your wedding video. Likewise, EP and SLP look blurry and juddery, with a smudgy halo of pixel noise surrounding every object on the screen. However, this is par for the course – it’s simply the price you pay for longer recording times and is no worse than any other DVD recorder on the market.
The recorder’s edits are fairly accurate, but do cause a long pause at the edit point, which could frustrate when watching heavily chopped footage.
With the unit’s upscaling set to 1080p, it does a sterling job with movies on DVD. We took ”The Sixth Sense” for a test drive on our Toshiba 40ZF355D and were impressed by how well it presents the movie’s blend of bright and moody visuals. The overall image is pleasingly sharp and boasts a wide contrast range and deep, fulsome colours. The image is also free from unwanted noise or block noise artefacts, which shows that the unit’s MPEG-2 decoding is every bit as good as its encoding.
Sound quality is also impressive. Dolby Digital-encoded stereo recordings are dynamic and easy to hear at low volumes, while bitstream playback of 5.1-channel Dolby Digital soundtracks (in this case via the HDMI output) is superb. Music playback from CD is also more charismatic than you might expect, rounding off a solid performance.
The DR18DT is a solid all-rounder that delivers excellent recording quality and a very useful range of editing features. It’s also easier to use than its predecessors and the inclusion of Freeview Playback adds to its all-round user-friendliness. But just like its hard-disk equipped sibling, the RD-98DT, it lacks certain features that would have taken it to the next level, namely dual-layer DVD-R/+R recording, a USB port and RGB input. But if none of that matters to you, then the DR18DT makes a competent and surprisingly affordable replacement for your VCR.
Score in detail
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