Our introduction to Funai comes in the form of the very affordable DRV-B2737 DVD recorder/VCR combi.
The market for such combis is still strong, both for people who want to transfer their existing VHS collection to DVD, and for those who fancy a DVD recorder but aren't ready to sever all ties with the last millennium just yet.
As is often the case with these decks, style has to take a back seat to functionality. The VCR section means that the deck is a bit bulky, twice as high as a modern slimline DVD player. The VHS tape-loading slot sits to the left, with the DVD tray to the right and they share a rather basic LED display.
Front connections include an S-video socket, but there's no FireWire input for digital camcorder users.
At the back there are two Scarts, but only the output Scart is RGB capable and the input Scart can only handle regular composite video.There's no component video output, nor S-video input at the back. This is a blow to digibox users. If you have an S-video output on your set-top box you'll have to use the front panel inputs to get high picture quality on recordings.
More impressive is the provision of both optical and electrical digital audio outputs.
The DRV-B2737 will record on DVD-R and DVD-RW discs, and can offer VR recording on -RW platters for greater editing flexibility.
That said, you can only do serious editing in playlist mode on VR discs. You cannot simply delete unwanted material, like commercial breaks, although you can delete entire titles. This means that although you can set a playlist to skip over adverts, you cannot remove these unwanted chunks and free up the disc space. There is the ability to pause during recording, however, so you can manually cut out ads.
Recording modes come in six settings, with one, two, four, six, eight and a massive 10 hours of recording possible options. Dubbing from VCR to DVD is a very basic affair. You cannot pause the recording during dubbing, so everything on the tape will be transferred to the disc.
An eight-event, one-month timer can be used, or there is one-touch timer recording. PDC is offered on timer recordings, but there is no VideoPlus. Other features include a 2x zoom, but you have to select the area to be blown up before activating the zoom - you cannot scroll around in 2x mode.
There are all the usual trick-play functions, including slow motion and frame advance, and a 'commercial skip' button that whizzes forward 30 seconds.
Ease of use
The deck is fairly easy to handle, but the remote is not well laid out - a little enter key is offset above and to the right of the arrow keys.
The onscreen menu is nicely designed, and lets you set the required parameters for your system, such as the aspect ratio of your TV. We did, however, stumble across a rather serious problem. When connecting a Sky box to the input Scart, it totally overrode all onscreen displays from the deck.
Pressing the 'Record Speed' button should bring up an onscreen graphic to show what mode you've set - it did when we unplugged the Sky box from the rear panel but with the Sky box hooked up... nothing.
It was the same story when changing the channel on the Funai deck. Whatever we selected, the Sky signal came through instead (in glorious RGB, in fact).
When playing from the VCR or DVD sections the picture was as expected, but when dubbing from VHS to DVD the Sky input took precedence, making it impossible to monitor the process without unhooking the Sky box.
The Funai obviously has some handicaps, but considering the input signal from our Sky box was plain old composite video, the recorded image was pretty good. In one-hour XP mode the image captures is detailed and colourful, with any picture problems a symptom of the lower quality input.
The two-hour mode remains very watchable, even with difficult material like cricket and Sky Sports News. Reds stray more than they would with an RGB signal but are not too lively.
It isn't until you get to the six-hour recording mode that the strobe effect becomes apparent. It is fairly obvious when a fast bowler is charging in.
In the 10-hour mode the picture is surprisingly viewable. It looks a bit like a VHS recording in EP mode (that is, a step down from LP), but the fuzziness of a VHS recording has been replaced by the blocking of digital artifacts. You could make do with this for stuff like soaps. Regular DVD playback takes a big step up in quality because you have an RGB output. Progressive scan would have been nicer, but the image is nevertheless sharp and clean.
Home cinema audio is fair as well. When connected up to a decent sound system, CD playback is more than acceptable.
Getting on to dubbing (one of the main purposes of this deck) the Funai does a solid job of transferring tape to disc. More editing flexibility (both during and after dubbing) would be better, but if it's straight transfer you're after, this deck can do the job. Interestingly, although the VCR will play back NTSC tapes, it will not allow them to be dubbed.
Overall, then, a budget deck that does a decent job.The performance is perfectly acceptable and video playback of pre-recorded discs lend the Funai respectable credentials as a main DVD deck. Just a few tweaks to basic specifications (an RGB input, more editing options) would see this commendable UK debut become very tempting bargain. David Smith