Toshiba has impressed of late with its higher-end HDD/DVD recorders, but just how good are the brand's budget boxes?
The corporation's latest entry-level recorder is the basic non-HDD D-R150, which sells for around half the price of its hard-drivin' brother.
Solo DVD recorders continue to sell well in the UK. Apparently, not everybody wants or needs HDD recording; they may already have such a facility built into a PVR (see our Humax review, on page 72). DVD-only recorders like the D-R150 allow their users to dump prized programmes or movies onto discs at the lowest possible cost.
But the D-R150 does pack in some interesting features, such as multiformat recording (DVD-RW - albeit only the 'compatible' video mode - DVD-RAM and DVD-R) and a progressive-scan capable component output.
Slimline by design, the D-R150 is attractive in appearance with its no-nonsense LED display and a strip of operating controls that provide basic transport functions. Among them is 'timeslip' - the useful ability to start playing a recording that's currently in progress, providing you're using a DVD-RAM. Setting the timer, changing the recording mode - and, unfortunately, accessing more than one self-made recording - requires the handset, a somewhat poorly-designed example that crams plenty of inadequatelylabelled buttons into a small area.
The D-R150's rather flimsy build quality is also disappointing. Indeed, the review sample's front-panel controls would only work when it was placed on a flat surface.
Economies also parade themselves in the connectivity; front-panel AV inputs, hidden under a flap, cater for composite video and stereo audio only. Rear-panel connectivity is limited. Whereas Toshiba's most recent DVD/HDD recorders sport an RGB-capable auxiliary Scart input, the same is not true of the D-R150. But the output (TV) Scart will deliver RGB, composite or S-video if you don't have a display capable of taking advantage of that aforementioned component connection. Alongside these are discrete composite/S-video and analogue phono audio outputs. Digital audio feeds to an external decoder are restricted to a single coaxial output.
In use Much of the D-R150's functionality falls under the remit of the 'navigator' - a series of onscreen menus provided for, amongst other things, timer programming, disc formatting and finalisation, access to recordings, editing, titling and setup. As far as the latter is concerned, the D-R150 will automatically find (analogue) TV channels and set the clock; these tasks can also be conducted manually. Note that you cannot make recordings if the clock isn't set! The navigator's first option sets the 32-event timer, which lacks VideoPlus and thus must be set manually. PDC is, however supported.
My preference would be for the navigator's first option to select self-recorded disc contents - surely this would be required more frequently than timer programming?
Instead, you have to select 'navigator', move the cursor to 'play contents' and press the 'enter' button to bring up a list of your recordings. The remote's traditional DVD menu buttons only work with commercial and 'finalised' DVD-RWs/-Rs.
The remote does feature a 'quick menu' button, but this doesn't provide a short-cut to your recordings. It has a variety of function-dependent uses, though; in playback, for example, it will provide information such as bitrate and remaining time. During recording, meanwhile, the button will allow you to specify a OTR-style stoptime, check remaining disc-capacity and so on. It has to be said that the menus are slow, and as a result it's infuriatingly easy to shoot past the option you're after.
Loading discs is also tardy, with a wait of over 30 seconds before you can start using a rewriteable (longer if formatting is necessary).
The D-R150 gives you a choice of five recording modes, which, unlike those of Toshiba's HDD models, cannot be customised. The top two offer full-res recording times of 1 or 2 hours per disc; the other three halve the horizontal resolution for VHS-like detail levels but up the capacity to 3, 4 or 6 hours.
During recording, I discovered that the picture zoom works with live TV or an AV input; in fact, the machine doesn't have to be recording at the time! Captures appear in the 'play contents' alongside a changeable thumbnail. These thumbnails are also displayed in the menus of finalised DVD-RWs and DVD-Rs, which also benefit from a choice of eight attractive layout designs. Such discs can be unfinalised via a 'disc management' option, should changes be envisaged.
If you're working with video-mode discs, the only editing options available are rename, change thumbnail and delete. Chapters can't be changed, so you're best off using automatic chaptering (at 5-minute intervals). The same limitations don't apply to DVD-RAM; here, you can partially erase content by enclosing the unwanted material within chapters and then delete that chapter. You can also merge two or more chapters together.
There's also playlist editing, which allows you to specify multiple recordings or chapters in any order. This may be a 'DVD-only' recorder, and so I was surprised to see a high-speed dubbing facility. Exclusive to DVD-RAM, this lets you losslessly-dub a playlist to another section of the disc in the same recording mode. The original contents can then be deleted. It's not possible to 'downconvert' to a lower mode as a capacity-saving measure.
In terms of AV quality, the D-R150 is acceptable rather than groundbreaking. SP and the somewhat-pointless XP (given the lack of i.Link or RGB inputs) are capable of retaining much of the original source's detail. Despite lacklustre test measurements, the D-R150 subjectively yields acceptable visuals in its 3-hour (MP) and 4-hour (LP) modes.
Some detail is noticeably lost, but the original source's colour rendition and contrast range are both left largely intact. The 6-hour mode is horrible, with plenty of unwanted noise and an obvious lack of resolution - think VHS LP (or even EP). DVD playback demonstrates little difference from a decent budget DVD deck, many of which now offer component outputs as standard.
Sound quality is fine; the onboard 192kbps Dolby Digital encoder does justice to regular TV programming. However, don't expect much from the device as a CD player replacement. We measured audio jitter at a rather poor 3010.2ps.
In all, the D-R150 is a vanilla-flavoured recorder that offers little that is new or exciting. The lack of an RGB input will be a major turn off for discriminating buyers and the user interface is sluggish. On the plus side, it's affordable for a machine from a major Japanese manufacturer and makes acceptable recordings. Martin Pipe