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Digital Video Recorders: Take Control of TV

Pioneer DVR-520H

Pioneer was one of the first manufacturers to offer a DVD recorder in Japan, but it was a long time before they were available elsewhere. Since then Pioneer has caught up, and now has a full catalog of products. The DVR-520H is in the 80 GB category. This model's design is very well done, and it's only 2.4" (6 cm) high.

The Japanese manufacturer has chosen to use only the DVD-R/RW format, so you'll have to take care when using rewritable disks. On the other hand, in VR mode (incompatible with standard home DVD players), you'll be able to record and play back at the same time. With its 80 GB hard disk, the Pioneer is capable of storing 100 hours of programs at maximum compression and 35 hours in DVD quality. You can also play disks containing MP3, WMA, and JPEG files.

The recording quality was among the best we tested, and the output was beyond reproach, as is the case with the brand's DVD players. The remote control is particularly ergonomic, but navigation in the menus has a slight learning curve, so you'll have to keep the user's manual handy at first.

To keep you from getting lost in your video library, the device has a disk history that can tell you what you've recorded on each disk and the amount of space remaining. Of course you'll have to at least number your disks to be able to match them up with the history.

Connectivity includes composite video, S-Video, and YUV inputs and outputs. The only audio output is optical digital; it would have been nice to have coaxial, too. There's also an iLink (DV) connector on the front panel.