If you're like me, the idea of archiving videos and TV shows onto DVD sounds pretty good. But you've also probably been put off, as I have, by the rush to market of expensive DVD recorders that each feature their own convoluted way of doing things. So the idea of combining a DVD recorder with a TiVo DVR is appealing: you record shows using the hard drive and transfer those you want to keep to DVD afterwards. No fuss, no muss.
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That's exactly what the Humax DRT800 DVD recorder with TiVo service promises to do. Available at major retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City, among others, the price of $499 doesn't seem all that steep. Especially when you consider
what you're getting: a TiVo-enabled DVR with an 80GB hard drive, built-in home networking and a DVD recorder that doubles as a player. Add a $100 rebate after TiVo service activation and it sounds even better....
Setup - Those familiar with TiVo won't find anything new or unfamiliar, or startling in appearance either, since the DRT800 is a fairly ordinary looking box. You attach your TV source (cable, satellite or antenna) using the RF, composite or S-Video input, and then do the same for the L/R stereo RCA analog ins. The only other consideration is to then drape a little "IR blaster" over the TV source so that the DRT800 can control it. For outputs you have a choice of composite and S-Video, but also component -- which provides a progressive image for both the recorded television as well as DVDs that are played. Audio exits either as analog RCA again (one set) or via an optical which can also carry Dolby Digital/DTS (for DVDs only -- audio is stereo only for hard drive recorded material).
The only other consideration is whether you plan to make the DRT800 part of a home network; this allows you to gather program information and use online functions via broadband, "link" TiVo DVRs together, and access music and pictures from your computer. To do that, you plug in an Ethernet cable (requiring a USB to Ethernet adaptor which is not provided) or use a wireless card if the network is of that type. You'll have to work some screens to make it part of your network (taking into account any security features, etc.), but it's a fairly straight-forward process that only requires patience.
The front of the DRT800 has the expected set of S-Video, composite and analog stereo audio inputs -- but there's also the addition of a DV input for attaching a digital camcorder.
The inputs let you record video and audio directly onto the hard drive, but unlike some DVD recorders, you cannot control the camcorder from the DRT800: using it means turning on the camcorder, starting the DRT800 recording and then stopping it when you're finished. You can also copy from a VCR and all recordings can then be manipulated like any show the DRT800 has recorded (plus they can also be transferred to DVD).
There's a few buttons on the front mirroring those of the remote, and the small LCD display provides the time as well as feature information when you do things. In addition, a small bar dead center glows upon receiving a IR command or during active functions.
Turn Me On - So the first order of business is to activate the TiVo subscription. This requires attaching it to a phone line after first getting on the phone yourself to pay and register as a subscriber (or do so via the website). Then you run through some screens and let the DRT800 contact TiVo and get cooking. This all takes around an hour. When it's done, some funky animation plays and you can disengage the phone connection and switch over to broadband, should you have it. Which, among the features noted earlier, has the additional advantage of updating itself on an ongoing basis, rather than late at night, as with a phone connection.
But while DVD recording and player functions and live TV control are available immediately, there's still a setup time of between four and eight hours to download the complete 14 days of viewing guide data (it took a bit over seven for me). That's a bit much for us impatient types, but there's no way of getting around
it. Also it helps to have a stable A/C line as the unit resets at the smallest power outage -- as happened twice until I plugged it into an uninterruptible power supply. But nothing on the hard drive got lost and the system auto-rebooted in about five minutes.
Let's Watch Something - The main screen is called TiVo Central and it's from here you decide what you want to do. The DRT800 uses the standard TiVo technology of the Series 2, and that includes a lot of features -- from having TiVo always record new programs of a particular show, search for shows, pause live TV, decide what quality the recording should have, plus a lot more. Suffice to say that if you're looking to manage your TV viewing, TiVo will make your life a lot easier.
Let's Watch...Make That Record - Something to DVD To make a disc from recorded material, you insert a blank disc, go to the DVD recording menu, pick the recordings you want to go on it in the order you want (recorded material must be at least two minutes long to be copied), and name the disc. If you have chosen multiple episodes of the same show, the disc is automatically named for you. A small graphic at the upper right corner displays how much space is being filled up -- and the software is even smart enough to start crossing out those recordings that are bigger than the space you now have left. Disc space is fixed -- the initial recordings to the hard drive is where you decide on the quality of the recording: up to six hours in Basic mode looking less stellar than Medium's four, High's two or Best's one.
Once you're done selecting, you tell it to start recording and the DVD recorder's 4x speed goes to work in the background. True to Humax's word, I could continue doing things like accessing menus and watching a hard drive-recorded program without any slowdowns. [But you can't go ahead and watch a show that's being transferred or those queued for recording: this will cause the transfer to fail, but it won't ruin the DVD, so you can laugh it off and try again!]Read more about the DRT800 on Page 2.