Vivitar DVR-390H review

It's movies to go with this 'corder-cum-jukebox

TechRadar Verdict

It has an awful lot going for it, but falls down in some key areas


  • +

    Good TV recording

    Huge 20GB capacity


  • -

    Dodgy still images

    Short battery life

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Take a trip to Apple HQ and you'll see a hundred Nobel Prize-winning boffins laser-carving iPod Video prototypes out of solid cool. Unfortunately, they all get discarded because the power-LED colour or click-wheel noise doesn't conform to Jonathan Ive's vision.

But Vivitar has no such scruples, releasing a 20GB video-capable digital recorder that looks like it was designed in ten minutes on the back of a fag packet and comes packed with loads of features.

Talking of iPods, the Vivitar is about the same height and width as a fourth-gen Apple player, but twice as deep and made mostly of plastic. A removable, rotating camera module makes it longer (and flimsier), while a five-way joystick and just a few buttons control all the main functions, via a nice-and-smooth graphical interface.

Video jukeboxes live or die by their displays, and while this one's enormous 3.6-inch LCD isn't gobsmackingly sharp or colourful when using the device as a camera, it looks great playing back video. A tie-clip microphone plugs in awkwardly underneath the screen, and a composite cable hooks up to the docking station for broadcast TV or DVD signals.

Video is recorded as VGA-quality MPEG-4 files, which look pretty damn good, even on a full-size telly. You might have to tweak the output of your set-top box or DVD player to get the framing right - we suffered irritating borders on some clips. You can listen to soundtracks and MP3s either through the loud but tinny on-board speaker or the quiet but tinny supplied headphones - upgrade immediately.

There's no fancy syncing software for downloading media files via the USB 2.0 docking station - you just drag and drop MP3s or JPEGs into folders or use the built-in Secure Digital slot. The model doesn't support WMA or AAC tunes, but DivX video clips work okay.

The 3.1-megapixel still images from the fixed-focus lens are soft and lack strong colours, but are just about acceptable. Moving images (up to 28 frames per second at 640 x 480-pixel resolution) are better, but are no substitute for MiniDV video or footage from the 4GB JVC Everio (T3 106, 5/5).

That 20GB hard drive means there's room for over 20,000 photos or about ten hours of movies, but don't get too excited; you won't get to watch all the Police Academy outings back to back - the battery fades after about an hour of shooting or playing films. We also experienced some memory errors and occasional crashes that raise questions about the unit's reliability.

This is a decent convergence device, especially for watching TV shows and DVDs on the move. But if you want a seamless, multifunctional video jukebox where build quality is as important as functionality, you'll probably have to wait for Ive to pull his finger out at Apple Towers. was the former name of Its staff were at the forefront of the digital publishing revolution, and spearheaded the move to bring consumer technology journalism to its natural home – online. Many of the current TechRadar staff started life a staff writer, covering everything from the emerging smartphone market to the evolving market of personal computers. Think of it as the building blocks of the TechRadar you love today.