LG has certainly been busy on the DVD recorder front. A few short months ago, we reviewed the RH7800,a modestly-priced machine with 160GB hard drive and DiVX playback. However, the RH7800's cardinal sin was to omit the allimportant RGB Scart input, which we consider essential for machines without an integral terrestrial digital tuner.
The company's latest machine is slightly more upmarket, selling for over £100 more. From the outset, we should stress that the similarly analogue-tuned RH199H sports a RGB input for external sources.
Another major addition is HDMI - the RH199H is one of the current elite with such an output. Shop-bought DVDs and self-made recordings alike will profit from this digital interface provided, of course, that your display has the relevant input socketry. Associated with the HDMI port is an 'upscaling' function - in addition to a standard-def (576i/p) mode are 720p and 1080i settings. Just don't expect it to make your video look hi-def.
Compared to the RH7800,the RH199H is quite an elegant and distinctive-looking beast. Unfortunately, its unusual topmounted controls are likely to collect dust over time. They can also be accidentally-operated if something's carelessly shoved on top of the recorder (something that happened to me at least once during the review period).
More positive comments can be levelled at the features on offer. The multi-format drive looks after all of today's rewritable DVD formats, and as a result the RH199H can record onto DVD-RWs (both 'compatible' video and 'editing' VR modes are supported),DVD-RAMs and DVD RWs. On top of this, the machine caters for non-reusable 4.7GB DVD-Rs and DVD Rs.
Dual-layer 8.5GB DVD Rs also receive LG's blessing, for nearly twice the possible running time but these uber-discs aren't compatible with all players. The hard disk, the contents of which can be dubbed to or from DVDs using a handy 'one-touch copy' facility, weighs in at a mammoth 250GB.Use the bottom EP recording mode, and you'll be able to squeeze 356 hours of video into the machine.
There are four recording modes presenting between one hour (XP) and six hours (EP) per single-layer DVD. All work at DVD's full resolution for maximum capture of detail. LG has clearly paid a lot of attention to the all-important MPEG encoder, which relies on LSI Logic's proprietary 'DVFX' video pre- and post-processing technologies.
TV addicts will also appreciate the 16-event/one-month VideoPlus timer. Unfortunately though, you don't get the GuidePlus system. The hard disk facilitates simultaneous record/play (timeshifting), and it's also possible to play a DVD while the HDD records.
Those with PCs will appreciate the RH199H's ability, inherited from the RH7800, to play DiVX content stored on CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs. As with the RH7800, though, you can't transcode DiVX content to MPEG2 and so you'll still have to rely on a computer if you want to make DVDs from such content.
Adding to the RH199H's multimedia prowess is playback support for JPEG still-images and WMA/MP3 audio files. These, together with DiVX video files, can be copied to the hard drive for 'multimediajukebox' playback - yep, your entire audio-visual collection could dwell within a single box. Only Thomson's DTH8550U (Issue 306) goes one better, in its inclusion of a USB socket for playing files stored on removable memory devices. There is, however, a DV input for digital camcorders, which, alongside an analogue set of composite/S-video and stereo audio terminals, resides under a front-panel flap.
Getting to grips with the machine is a joy from the outset - an autoinstall routine finds the channels and sets the clock. Thanks to its clear and concise set-up menus, configuring the rest of the recorder (display/audio/input options, DiVX VoD codes, parental control,etc.) is a doddle too.
A versatile user-interface, called the 'home menu', is provided for accessing self-made recordings and specifying which multimedia files you want to experience or copy to the 'jukebox'. A dedicated 'menu list' button on the remote will also provide quick access to your recordings, which are shown in thumbnail form. From here, they can be selected for playback, renaming, editing or dubbing.
As far as editing is concerned, you can partially erase or divide a recording - playlists are also catered for. The dubbing option let you dub from one medium to another, at high speed or a in a mode-changing process that works in real time. However, there's no bitrate-optimising 'make-it-fit' system for HDD-DVD dubbing; indeed, it's not even possible to copy a batch of recordings to a DVD in one go. Self-made discs can be titled before being finalised for compatibility, but disc-authoring capabilities are fairly limited, certainly when compared to the (cheaper) Toshiba RD-XS24.
Our sample had an annoying bug. Regardless of whether it was manually-invoked or timerscheduled, recording stopped after random periods. A pity, because the RH199H is capable of accomplished-looking video. We fed the machine from a Sky PVR via RGB Scart and found that, in both the XP (1hr/4.7GB DVD) and SP (2hr) modes, it was difficult to tell the LG's efforts apart from the original source.
The true benefits of XP are, however, perhaps best left to the camcorder brigade as they're perhaps wasted on TV shows. The LP (4hr) mode facilitates decent-looking recordings from relatively static source material (like panel discussion shows) although fast movement fares less well.
Switch to the EP (6hr) mode, and there's a noticeable deterioration in motion-artefacting. All that potential EP recording capacity may be tempting, but steer clear if action movies or sports are your bag. DVD playback is excellent, especially via the HDMI output. The 'upscale' modes yielded no obvious improvement with a Hitachi HD Ready projector - whether you see a positive difference depends on how good your set's own scaler is.
The RH199H is a well-specified recorder capable of strong performance. But it's not perfect; the dubbing facilities, in particular, are limited. We really hope the recording fault was exclusive to our early review product as it made the test sample close to useless. Martin Pipe