I recently bought a pair of football boots for more than £100. For slightly less money, I could've picked up a DVD recorder. It wasn't too long ago that the concept of recording video onto a shiny disc was nestled firmly in the realms of science fiction and, yet, they're now affordable to all.
Until recently, even a half decent VHS deck would cost more. But the old adage 'you get what you pay for' rattles uneasily around my sceptical mind. Surely, at this price, something like a DVD recorder would be made of old bits of tin and aluminium foil. Not so, it seems, as the one thing that's surprising about both the machines featured here is the build quality on each. As for performance, well, that's an entirely different story...
German manufacturer CyberHome is synonymous with the budget end of the market, and has already enjoyed a modicum of success in the cheap and cheerful DVD player/recorder market. Just over a year ago, we reviewed the respectable £250 CH-DVR750. The major difference with the DVR 1600 though, is that it's £150 cheaper!
It's also the smallest DVD recorder I've come across at only 350mm wide. And while its diminutive dimensions make it ideal for transportation it's too small for a regular AV rack. But it looks smart when nestled on a suitable stand and there's a certain charm in its simplicity.
The fascia reveals composite video, analogue stereo and DV-link (IEEE 1394) inputs. Many recorders way above this price point have no such ingress. It almost makes up for the scant connectivity on the rear. Two Scarts are on offer, but only the output is RGBenabled, thereby resigning your input signal to be composite at best.
The only other connections are outputs for S-video, composite video, analogue stereo audio and coaxial digital audio. Of course, there's RF loopthrough for the analogue tuner, but that really is your lot. No component. No progressive scan.
Features are fairly thin too. There's five record modes for use with DVD R and DVD RW discs; HQ (1hr on a single-sided disc), SP (2hrs), LP (3hrs), EP (4hrs) and SLP (6hrs). An automatic switch-off function is also offered, which allows you to record 30, 60 or 90 minutes of footage by simply pressing the record button a requisite number of times - handy if you're nipping out to the shops. And, on the editing side, things are also simplified drastically; deleting both titles and sections in titles and renaming them is all there is to play with.
However, as basic as this all is, if you're just after a deck to record TV shows you can do much worse. Through the analogue tuner, the images captured at the top two bitrates are very good, with few obvious picture problems. It's only when you input a set-top box signal at composite level that you realise why this machine is so cheap: a lack of detail, poor contrast and artefacting is apparent even at the highest recording modes (the lowest is truly horrid).
Playback of prepackaged DVDs is reasonable, although the lack of progressive scan limits the output quality somewhat, but the RGB Scart output retains colour and detail well. Sound, too, is acceptable throughout (on movies and recordings) - there's no audio drop out or popping sometimes associated with budget decks.
Overall, this is a prime example of 'you pays your money, you makes your choice'. The DVR 1600 works well enough to replace a VHS deck, but little else.