Toshiba D-VR15 review

An affordable combi to ease you through digital conversion

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Our Verdict

A cheap and easy-to-use combi but inputs are limited and recorded picture quality is mediocre on both VHS and DVD

For

  • Multiformat DVD recording
  • Simple copying to or from VHS
  • Attractive price

Against

  • No RGB or S-video in via Scart
  • Recorded picture quality
  • No Freeview, GuidePlus/VideoPlus
  • No hard drive

Toshiba's recent ad campaign revived its famous 'ello Tosh catch-phrase from the 1980s and there's another throwback to that era in its new DVD recorder - there's a video cassette deck inside too.

VCR combis keep coming because so many tapes are still in circulation,some with irreplaceable recordings,so why not archive them on smaller,more durable discs for posterity? This machine is the latest to make the transfer process simple.

There's nothing amazingly special about the D-VR15's appearance. Anything with a built-in VCR cannot be as slim as digital-only recorders.

There are some heavily featured combis,including Panasonic's DMREH80V VHS/DVD/hard drive recorder but the D-VR15 can't compete with their multimedia credentials - mainly because it has no hard-disk drive.This means that you have to get your DVD recordings as perfect as you can first time, especially if you choose DVD-RW in the more player-friendly Video mode or DVD-R.

Alternatively you can use DVD-RAM or DVD-RW in VR mode and make extensive edits after recording but the downside is that few players will accept these discs.With a hard drive you can make edits first and then copy to your choice of DVD,but a lack of HDD keeps copy functions simple and the price down.

There are few frills,such as fancy digital tuners or GuidePlus programme listings.For TV recording you only have an analogue tuner and timer setting is manual, without even VideoPlus to help you.There's a similarly stripped down approach to the sockets.The TV Scart offers high-quality RGB output for viewing but if you want to attach a Freeview, Sky or cable box via Scart,you'll only get low calibre composite video as the Scart input lacks both RGB and S-video in.The only decent option is the separate S-video input,which is actually at the front (primarily aimed at temporary connections to camcorders) and therefore unattractive as a permanent link.

Toshiba's digital recorders have been something of a nightmare in the past when it came to the remote control and onscreen user interface.This one is much clearer throughout, probably because it seems to be a repurposed Samsung underneath the Toshiba-branded exterior. One niggle,however, is that the machine is often unresponsive unless you sit square-on with your remote control.

Setting up is reasonably straightforward, though some default settings aren't quite right for typical use, especially digital audio output.The maximum capacity on one side of a DVD is 8hr in EP mode, though you can rein this in to a slightly better looking 6hr by altering its set-up. There is no dual-layer DVD-R support and though it will take double-sided DVD-RAM,it won't load cartridge versions.A benefit of using RAM here is that you can 'timeslip' a current recording by starting to play it before the recording has finished.As mentioned, timer setting is manual only,but there's PDC for more accurate start-stop times on terrestrial aerial recordings.

This dual-deck machine also lets you record on VHS while playing a DVD or vice versa.You can also record on both at once - including different inputs - but not two different channels as there's only one tuner.The copy functions also work both ways, within reason.You can mark start and end positions on a tape for transferring to DVD, which is useful for multiple programmes,but it's tricky to use and not ideal for long recordings. The one-touch dubbing feature is fine but the machine tends to reject cassettes if there is slight tape damage.

There are just four DVD recording modes on offer, providing the usual maximum durations of 1hr, 2hr, 4hr, 6hr or 8hr per disc.The highest quality (XP) mode is crisp and noise free providing that you use the front S-video input and a clean source. It handles motion and detail with ease and colours remain true to life, although you amass no more than 1hr at this quality.The SP (2hr) option keeps the vibrant hues and contrast but detail is slightly softer and you'll start to see digital noise in smooth contours, or around captions and sharp outlines,but it's acceptable for general use.

There is no user-specified mode to tailor more specific running times, so the next quality level (LP) jumps all the way to 4hr capacity. At this quality the detail is considerably less sharp and sudden fast movement will cause the telltale digital 'mosaic effect'. Should you require more than 2hr on a disc (given average movie running times this is something that's likely to be used often) then this disappointing mode is the best you'll get. If you are used to VHS or only recording off aerial then you may not notice the softness so much,but we've seen better LP results with other big-brand recorders, such as JVC, Pioneer and Panasonic's current ranges.

It almost goes without saying that the EP mode delivers the lowest quality results, with all of the side-effects we've already mentioned becoming increasingly more obvious as capacity increases to 6hr or 8hr (depending on your chosen setting).Again,we've seen better handling of EP-mode quality elsewhere.

DVD movie playback fares better, with progressive scan being the best option. Colour and contrast are again strong though detail is less crisp than typical DVD players and the digital audio has a rather dull feel to it.

VHS recording is limited to two modes - SP and LP - neither of which are up to much. SP recordings exhibit dot crawl around bold outlines while saturated colours reveal unstable looking break-up.The same applies to LP only with worse definition and stability. If copying VHS to DVD, then the disc-recorded version will look slightly better.

This halfway-house between tape and disc doesn't really show off the best features of either format. Despite recording to three types of DVD, the editing options are rather limited due to the lack of a hard drive, particularly if you require discs that will work in any player. The connections are similarly minimal.With its lack of RGB input or a conveniently placed S-video socket, you can't get good digibox recordings.

Ease of use and progressive scan playback are its better points and, admittedly, the price is low for a combi but there are so many missing frills such as VideoPlus that you are better off spending a little more on a superior model. Ian Calcutt