- Review Price: £139.80
The DR19DT is the DVD recorder version of the RD99DT hard-disk combi we reviewed earlier this month. Without the HDD, this version is best suited to those with more occasional recording habits, or perhaps those who already own a separate PVR but want to archive recordings on disc. Whatever the reason, the DR19DT is making a play for your pocketbook with a decent range of functions at an affordable price, although we’re keen to find out if the frustrating operational issues we found on the RD99DT are present on this non-hard disk version.
The DR19DT comes with a single Freeview tuner and an eight-day EPG. Although it’s not classed as a Freeview+ recorder, it does boast the essential Series Link, Split Recording and Alternate Instance features. And although we know it was never going to happen, two tuners would have provided a lot more flexibility, but as it stands you can only record the channel you’re watching.
The list of supported disc formats reveals more limitations. You can record onto DVD-RW and DVD+RW, as well as write-once DVD-R and DVD+R discs, but dual layer recording isn’t supported. That means the most you can fit onto a single disc is eight hours as opposed to a possible 14, and to achieve that you have to use the lowest-quality recording mode (SLP), which we wouldn’t recommend. That space will soon fill up after you’ve series linked a few programmes, so you’ll need to keep a big stack of discs handy. If any of this sounds problematic, then we really would recommend getting your hands on a model with a built-in hard disk.
The unit itself shares the same styling as the RD99DT, with an all black finish and a silver stripe running along the centre of the fascia. It’s far from spectacular but it is perfectly tasteful and slim. The display panel is small and basic, however, and only shows the channel number when watching TV, not the name.
The lower half of the fascia drops down to reveal a few playback keys and DV, S-video, composite and analogue stereo inputs. Sadly you won’t find a USB port on the front panel, which makes this deck’s multimedia functionality even more limited than the RD99DT. To play DivX, MP3 and JPEG files you need to burn them onto a DVD or CD first.
It doesn’t take long to get to grips with the unit’s operating system but there’s definite room for improvement. The main setup menu is sparse and simplistic but friendly. Key settings are easy to locate and the cursor responds instantly to commands. We still haven’t been won over by the remote though, which is found guilty on two counts of crimes against intuitiveness – the channel change keys are too detached from the menu controls and there are rows and rows of similar-looking buttons that can make some functions hard to spot.
The EPG uses a similarly basic white-on-blue design and like the RD99DT, we found the seven-channel programme grid a little too squashed up – to get a clearer view, hit the red button and it switches to a daily view for a single channel. The list of instructions along the bottom means you always know which button to press next, and series linking is done at the touch of a button. We like the way it lists all of the broadcasts over the coming week, so you get an idea of how much disc space you’ll need.
A separate ‘now and next’ guide can be called up during TV viewing, which provides a helpful if not comprehensive amount of information, and it can’t be used to look ahead in the schedules – for that, you’ll need to use the full EPG.
Recordings are located in the Title Menu, which plays each recording in a small box when highlighted but doesn’t indicate which recordings are unwatched like the RD99DT. Most of the relevant info is given but only recordings made from the EPG are tagged with the correct programme name.
The lack of a hard-disk reduces the amount of editing functions at your disposal. Write-once discs can’t be edited (apart from punching in the title name or deleting a title, although that won’t free up disc space) and for DVD+RW and DVD+R recordings you can hide chapters, which acts as a basic ‘partial erase’ function. For any type of disc there’s an Auto Chapter mode, which adds chapter points at regular intervals (selectable from 5mins up to 60mins).
But for a more flexible range of editing features, you’ll need to load up a DVD-RW disc and format it in VR mode (which isn’t as widely compatible with other players as the alternative Video format). That way, you can delete parts of a recording to free up space and create playlists containing various titles that can be arranged in an order of your choosing. Chasing Playback and Time Slip (pause live TV) are only possible with a DVD-RW (VR) disc in the tray too.
If you’re planning on connecting a Sky box, then the deck’s RGB SCART input is invaluable. The DR19DT can also be programmed to start recording when it detects a signal on the SCART input, but you’ll need to programme your receiver’s own timer for this to work. It’s joined by SCART, component and HDMI outputs, plus coaxial digital and analogue stereo audio outputs. As you’d expect, the HDMI port can deliver upscaled pictures to your display in 720p, 1080i or 1080p.
Also on the spec sheet are a couple of dispensable features like a virtual surround mode and Block Noise Reduction, which someone out there might find interesting.
As for performance, the DR19DT falls foul of its hard-disk sibling’s foibles, namely the rather scruffy-looking Freeview pictures. They’re perfectly watchable and bursting with natural colours, but there’s just a bit too much noise in the picture for our liking, and fine details get a bit lost.
But like the RD99DT, the recording quality of XP mode is flawless, making pictures look identical to the live broadcast. SP mode also produces very strong results but in LP and EP the pictures become excessively blurred, making them useful only for programmes without a lot of movement. SLP mode should be avoided at all costs.
We can’t fault the DR19DT on its DVD upscaling prowess though – the 1080p images on offer with difficult movies like ”King Kong” and ”American Gangster” look surprisingly cinematic, with beautifully gradated colours, clean jaggie-free edges and tightly focused fine detail. There are a few twitches here and there, but nothing you wouldn’t get from a budget standalone player.
When recording in XP mode you have the choice of using Dolby Digital or PCM to capture stereo sound, the latter taking up more space but supposedly offering a slight increase in quality. In all honesty the two are indistinguishable, rendering the PCM option somewhat redundant. Whichever you use, the sound is consistently clear and audible, which is a real bonus when watching speech-heavy material like the news or chat shows, while movies are enjoyable when delivered through the digital or analogue outputs.
In an ideal world, we’d simply tell everyone to buy the award-winning Panasonic DMR-BS850 and be done with it. But it is pricey, which makes decks like the DR19DT a cheaper option for people who are happy sticking with DVDs. Trouble is, there are DVD recorders on the market from the likes of LG, Panasonic and Philips that offer more features, better operating systems and a superior picture quality, and they don’t cost a great deal more either. But if the DR19DT still takes your fancy, then rest assured it carries out its basic recording tasks well and makes a terrific upscaling DVD player to boot.
Score in detail
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