Philips DVDR985 DVD Recorder Reviewed

Philips DVDR985 DVD Recorder Reviewed

Before people discard their VHS decks complexly, something has to come along that allows them to record. Enter Philips and the DVDR985 DVD recorder. Using the DVD+RW and +R format, the DVDR985 is poised to make the VCR totally obsolete.


Over the past decade a digital format, CD, has replaced records and tapes as the preferred choice for music. Over the past 5 years, DVD has replaced the videotape as the preferred choice for movies. Now, dreary old VHS videotape is under attack by the digital upstarts. DVD recorders have (finally) arrived on the scene, and are now more reasonably priced.

Additional Resources
• Read more Denon DVD-Audio and SACD player reviews here.
• Read audiophile source component reviews here including SACD and DVD-Audio players, turntables, DACs, CD transports and more.
• For a blog about tubes, turntables and the future of audiophila - check out

The Philips DVDR985 is the latest of this breed, and at $999.00 MSRP it breaks the important $1,000.00 mark. This recorder uses the DVD+RW format for rewritable, and the DVD+R format for one time recordable. This format is not part of the DVD Forum (those are DVD-RAM, DVD-RW, DVD-R), yet holds the promise of being more compatible with read-only players. Indeed, both +RW and +R discs worked without problem on my Kenwood DV-5700, and also on a Denon 1600 I had on hand (see review on page 42). There is a website,, which lists the compatibility of other players.

The Philips only comes in silver, and its look is clean and modern. The front panel has a large LED display in the center. The bottom half of the LED display is a "Disc Bar" that denotes the amount of the disc that has been used, as well as title breaks. When you first turn the DVDR985 on, two small lines go back and forth on the player just like the front light on KITT, the car from Knight Rider. (This just goes to show how popular culture becomes a part of industrial design. Anyone ever notice that Motorola flip phones look like the communicators from the original Star Trek) The 985 has player controls to the right of the display, power and monitor buttons on the left, and below the latter is a strip with feature logos on it. This strip is removable, and behind it are composite, S-Video, audio, and FireWire IEEE1 394 hookups. The FireWire hookup is called I-Link, and with it you can connect a miniDV camcorder and record onto DVD digitally.

Unique Features - On the back, the immense flexibility of the Philips continues. There is a coaxial input and output from a cable-ready tuner, S-Video in and out, composite in and out, audio in and out and, what makes the 985 really special, component in and out. This is the only player that I know of that accepts component signals as an input, although it only accepts an interlaced signal. There is a coaxial digital bitstream out, but the audio input is only analog, more than likely a concession to piracy fears. Furthermore, there is a separate progressive component output to take advantage of another feature of the 985, the Faroudja de-interlacer with DCDi (for an explanation of the Faroudja de-interlacer and DCDi, reference the Kenwood Sovereign DV-5700 review in the Premiere Issue).

Installation/Setup - Setting up the player is rather straightforward, although the pictograph system menu uses somewhat cryptic characters, but it was simple enough to figure out after a few minutes. Let's start by answering the question on everyone's mind: no, the 985 cannot be used to copy DVDs. Besides the copy protection on all prerecorded DVDs, and the lack of digital inputs so Dolby Digital or DTS can be recorded, there is the fact that all recordable/rewritable DVDs are single layer, and therefore limited to 4.7GB. Most pre-recorded DVDs are dual layer, and therefore up to 9.4GB, so there is usually more information on them than could be recorded.

I tested the playback capability of the 985 using a pre-recorded DVD. After hooking it up via the progressive component output, I discovered much to my delight (and surprise) that the picture quality of the Philips was nothing short of excellent. The Faroudja de-interlacing gave a smooth artifact-free picture, and the quality is fairly close to the Kenwood DV-5700 I have as my reference (which has one of the better pictures available under $4,000). What separated the two was a bit more grain to the picture, making it just a little less film-like, but the difference was not great. The picture was sharp, smooth, and the color fidelity was almost dead on even before calibration. This should probably come as no surprise as the Philips Q50, which has a similar video section, has long been known to have excellent progressive picture quality.

Read more on Page 2

Philips-DVDR985-reviewed.gifDuring initial usage, I did discover one major hiccup with the 985. The picture put out by the 985 on my Pioneer Elite 520 was shifted upwards so the top of the menu is cut off. On 2.35:1 material, the black bar on top was smaller than the bottom, and on most 1.78.1 material, the picture was shifted upwards, but there was enough information so a black bar did not appear at the bottom of the screen. The picture was shifted upwards through all outputs. This same behavior was noticed on a second unit, and a quick search of the forums revealed others having the same problem. I then put a call into Mark Harmsen, the Marketing Manager for the Philips DVD division. He explained that Philips had discovered the problem about a week prior, and it was due to the way the over-scanning was set up. He told me the engineers were already working on a fix, and it would probably be by software upgrade (the 985 is software upgradeable). He also mentioned that if, by some chance, it required a hardware upgrade, Philips would perform that also. Kudos to Philips for firmly standing behind their product and, therefore, the final score at the end of this review reflects the presumption that this flaw will be fixed.

Onward to the part that everyone has been waiting for: the DVD recording capabilities. The monitor button, which is found on the player (and the remote), is pressed to bring up the tuner, and either a channel or an external input can be selected. A recording speed is then chosen, and there are four: HQ (indistinguishable from source material), SP (a little softer but still very good), LP (much softer, but tolerable for day-to-day recording), and EP (VHS quality). The recording times for the settings respectively are 1, 2, 3, and 4 hours. Once the speed has been selected, press the record button and you are recording digitally on DVD! Once a recording is finished, the menu shows a thumbnail picture (which can be user set) of the title, a user specified name, recording speed and length. The 985 automatically puts down chapter flags every few minutes which can be changed by the user, titles can be split into more than one, erased on DVD+RW (only erasing the last title regains space), and chapters can be made "invisible" so commercials can be skipped, but that is the extent of editing. A DVD+R can be finalized so it will play in a regular player, and when you place it, or a DVD+RW disc, in another player, the same initial screen with the titles and thumbnails comes up for you to make your selection. There is also a timer that works just like the one on your VCR, and it also uses VCR+. The whole process was easy enough that once I figured out the monitor button, I did not need to access the owner's manual again. At this point, I was already having visions of my VCR flying into the trash bin.

Final Take - So what's not to like about the 985? Besides the aforementioned system menu and upward displacement issues (which hopefully Philips will fix quickly), I wish the editing capabilities were a bit more robust. A digital input would be very nice indeed, and an internal hard disk recorder with TiVo or Replay functionality would make this piece perfect. That said, I was deeply impressed by how good the progressive output picture of this unit was, and it was
easy to see the improvement over the interlaced output which was line doubled by my Pioneer TV. This player is truly a one-box solution, as a separate player is not needed for high-quality playback, and indeed, the 985 bested quite a few other dedicated players. Add easy to use DVD recording functionality, and this player is a winner. Down with tape, long live the Digital Revolution!

Suggested Retail Price

Additional Resources
• Read more Denon DVD-Audio and SACD player reviews here.
• Read audiophile source component reviews here including SACD and DVD-Audio players, turntables, DACs, CD transports and more.
• For a blog about tubes, turntables and the future of audiophila - check out

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