Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- Digital tuner, massive hard drive
- Expensive, very poor interface, only one digital tuner
The DVDR9000H offers a great deal on paper but is let down by it's interface.
Price$ 1,369.95 (AUD)
Philips' DVDR9000H represents a new generation of DVD/HDD recorders in Australia. As one of only a handful of recorders on the Australian market to boast a digital TV tuner, it offers substantially better functionality and picture quality than any of the multitude of analogue devices currently for sale. Philips has also thrown in a whopping 400GB hard disk, allowing for a truly massive 650 hours of recording at low quality. Other high tech extras such as 1080i video upscaling and digital 5.1 recording make the DVDR9000H sound irresistible. However, a high price tag and an almost unworkable interface detract from the overall package.
The primary reason to get excited about the DVDR9000H is the inclusion of a digital tuner. This feature, which is standard across much of the globe, is finally being offered to Australian consumers, and it's about time. We were keen to see what kind of implementation Philips had included.
The DVDR9000H in fact includes both digital and analogue tuners to accommodate those who have no digital reception. This sounds useful, though in reality it's a little frustrating, as it is likely that the inclusion of an analogue tuner was at the expense of a second digital one. Once the device has tuned into and locked in all the channels, the DVDR9000H can be quickly switched between digital TV, digital radio and analogue TV at the touch of a button. Digital reception was excellent, with beautifully clear pictures entirely free from any artefacts. Analogue reception was also of good quality.
All the features we have come to expect from digital set top boxes were present in the unit, but most were hidden away in hard to reach places. For instance, accessing the program description, which is always a helpful feature, involved flicking through several superfluous menus first. Try as we might, we also couldn't access a simple list of channels either. This feature makes navigating between shows far easier than having to flick through each channel in turn, so its omission definitely makes things more difficult. Also take note that while the EPG tab is present on this unit, it isn't active, as the current copyright laws in Australia prohibit companies from using the television guide listings for such things.
We could live with convoluted controls if they were also responsive. Unfortunately, the interface is so slow that doing almost anything requires the patience of a saint. Changing channels takes several, long seconds. On one occasion we attempted to change the aspect ratio and some other picture settings. Ten minutes later and after an inordinate amount of effort we'd managed to do so, but also missed half the program we were watching. Overall this is one of the most cumbersome digital tuners we have ever used and, while picture quality is definitely better than analogue, it negates some of the other benefits digital brings. Nevertheless, although cumbersome there are a lot of manual controls that aren't often offered, and incredibly precise picture controls.
Recording - the primary objective of the unit - is excellent. Like previous Philips models the DVDR9000H includes a large six hour buffer that constantly records what's being watched. Unlike many competing models the Philips continues recording when the user switches channels, keeping a long list of all the programs and timeslots in memory. A handy feature should you wish to navigate back a few hours. Other standard features such as timeshift are once again present, effectively allowing the user to 'pause' live television.
One of the clear advantages offered by the DVDR9000H's digital tuner is the way the unit stamps each recording with the program's name and a brief description of the genre and content. It's far easier to find old recordings when they have a name, and it's nice to be able to browse by genre too. Recording at the maximum possible quality gives 80 hours of clear, compression-free video. Even at standard recording mode, which gives 160 hours, the picture still looks crisp. Things don't start to look ugly until using the maximum compression possible. Once you've managed to fill up the huge 400GB hard drive then it's a simple matter to transfer your recordings to the DVD recorder, which supports DVD+/-R and RW.
DVD playback is a mixed bag on the DVDR9000H. Quality is excellent, with crisp pictures, good colour and upscaling to 1080i. We did however have some minor issues with disk skipping. We always use the same discs for testing home entertainment devices and while they exhibit minor scratches, we have never had problems with them in any other player. When using them in the DVDR9000H however, we experienced several instances where the image would skip or stutter.
When it comes to design, Philips has taken an unconventional approach with the unit. Two glowing circles adorn the front, one housing controls, the other an eight character display. Unfortunately, contracting the display into a circle means it's a lot smaller than it needs to be so reading programme titles from the other side of the room may not be possible. Philips has done a good job at making the DVDR9000H sturdy, in fact perhaps too good a job. The crisp metallic finish certainly looks professional, but combined with the bulky frame of the unit, makes it extremely heavy. The remote control is solid enough to be used as a lethal weapon, with a thick metal layer giving it a similarly weighty feel.
A full range of connection options can be found on the rear of the unit, including composite, S-Video, component, optical, coaxial and HDMI. This is pretty much every connection anyone could wish for. A drop down panel on the front of the unit offers access to secondary inputs with composite, S-Video and a DV/firewire input for camcorders.
Overall, the DVDR9000H ostensibly offers some great functionality but the unhelpful interface is a letdown, as it makes accessing all those useful functions seem like a chore. And while you do get a 400GB drive, the lack of a second digital tuner and the hefty price should be carefully factored into any buying decision.
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