The first DVD recorders appeared three years ago at three to four thousand dollars. New units have already broken the thousand dollar barrier and are rapidly becoming sought after additions to home theaters everywhere. "America's choice" for DVD players, Apex Digital, has released a new DVD recorder destined to replace videocassette recorders and drive competitors into a price war. This new generation machine has hit the market for consumers seeking value oriented technology and everyone is taking notice.
Just like a VCR, the DRX-9000 has a 181-channel NTSC tuner for recording off the air programming. Television broadcasts can be recorded by pressing the record button or by scheduled time. This means the Apex unit with its built-in clock is even more akin to VCRs and may make electronic neophytes have flashbacks to the blinking 12 o'clock readout (although Apex gave their crock the sense to start running when powered up).
Another notable attribute of the DRX-9000 are simple editing tools that allow for adding a recorded DVD's title, title icons, chapter stops and write protect features. More on these features later.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - With all the connections available on the Apex, I found it rather easy to set everything up. Component video outputs on the DRX-9000 were attached to my Mitsubishi WS-65611 HDTV for progressive scan playback and an optical digital cable was connected to my NAD receiver for surround sound. To record cable broad casts and videotapes, I used the S-Video connection and stereo interconnects to attach my TiVo personal video recorder to the Apex and ran composite video and audio cables from my aging Mitsubishi VCR Once everything was connected, switching source components was easily achieved by cycling through the input selections with the remote control.
I have auditioned many Apex products in the past, and have yet to find a clear and concise manual for any of them. Apex DVD players and televisions are pretty simple in their design and operation, so a poorly written manual isn't much of an issue. But someone looking to program a DVD+R to record the "Best of the Walton's" to store forever may want a detailed explanation of how to navigate through the menu systems. It would certainly be helpful until recording becomes second nature. That's why I strictly use DVD+RW discs. They are more expensive than one-use DVD+R discs, but if I make a mistake or want to record over Uncle Zeke's fourth wedding reception where the kinfolk were greasing up pigs, I can just erase the disc and start fresh.
The playback features of the Apex unit are fine and negotiating DVD material using the remote control is straightforward. The on-screen display was adequate, but a bit cumbersome in finding my way through the maze of options. Video quality was exceptional with minimal flicker and motion artifacts while watching prerecorded discs such as Lord of the Rings and Toy Story. The superb picture and digital audio output (that presented a warm and dynamic 5.1 sound) wasn't what I expected from such an inexpensive machine. This is a big thumbs up in my book.
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My modified TiVo recorder can hold up to 118 hours of material on its two hard drives. I regularly record stored programs from the TiVo to my VCR for sharing with friends or to save for a later time. A series of NOVA programs from PBS seemed like a natural for DVD archiving, and I found myself recording my first DVD+RW disc with the Apex effortlessly. When recording, an animated on-screen icon in the upper left of the screen constantly advises of the recording process. At no time was I able to remove this annoying icon, but a toggle feature would have made viewing the recorded material more pleasing. Once I had saved several commercial-free documentaries on DVD, I used the remote and on-screen display to set up chapter markers in each episode with specific titles and icons for easy searching of the disc.
The process was quick and painless, but could be improved with better editing software. Nonetheless, I played the disc back and enjoyed the final product. One annoying drawback to recording with the Apex was DVD+RW discs only have a 2-times fast forward speed rather than a 16- or 32-times speed on store-bought discs.
I received comparably good results when recording cable broadcasts from normal one-touch recording and time schedule recording. When I attempted to transfer an older, store-bought Shawshank Redemption VHS tape, however, the screen waved incessantly as if the video was copy protected. Switching to a video of my home movies, I was surprised to see the wavy picture continue. A check with Apex revealed I had an early version of the DRX-9000 with a firmware defect that treats all videotapes as if they are copy protected. To correct this problem, a firmware patch is available for download on the Apex Digital website. It can be copied from computer to CD-R and installed in the DRX-9000. The Apex fix allows the DRX-9000 to record videotapes without the wavy screen, but the hassle to upgrade the recorder may be too much for many novices. Apex assured me that new machines have already been fixed and this bug shouldn't affect consumers in the future.
Final Take - The Apex DRX-9000 is packaged in a nice looking silver cabinet with an LED centered above front panel controls. The ominous Cyclops eye emitting a blue glow is cool for a few minutes, but distracting while watching a movie in a darkened room. The remote control has plenty of functional buttons placed in a reasonable layout, but many buttons don't repeat when held down, like the volume and channel select. Another small annoyance is the lack of a battery back-up for the clock for power failures. This may be inconsequential to some people, but resetting a dozen clocks after a storm is a chore I don't relish.
The DRX-9000 would make a good replacement for a VCR because it's simple to
record television shows and transfer home movies to DVD. There are four levels of recording quality (SLP, EX, SL and HQ), similar to a VCR and, depending on MPEG-2 compression rates, a 4.7 gigabyte DVD+R/RW disc can store between 60 and 240 minutes of compressed video. Once a disc has been completed, the DRX-9000 can be programmed to make the disc compatible with most DVD players.
Because this unit is a first generation machine, some quirkiness is to be expected. The firmware patch needed to record from videotapes was disappointing and should have been resolved in the R&D beta testing before being rushed to market. The software and remote control could use a bit more refining, and the manual should do a better job explaining the recording process. Even with these shortcomings, the fact remains that the value-priced Apex DRX-9000 is another leap forward in laying the VHS format to rest. The low price is sure to attract thousands of enthusiasts ready to start recording in the realm of DVD, and put pressure on other manufacturers to reciprocate with affordable recorders of their own.
APEX DRX-9000 Recordable DVD Player
Single Disc DVD+Rewritable
DVD-Video, DVD+R/RW, CD, CD-R/RW & MP-3
Component Video, S-Video, Composite Video
and RF Outputs
S-Video, Composite Video and RF Inputs
Digital Optical, Digital Coaxial and Stereo RCA
Stereo RCA Inputs
(Front) S-Video, Composite Video
and Audio Inputs
16.6"W x 2.5"H x 11.75"D
1-year parts, 90 days labor warranty