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Compared to other DVD recorders we've tested, the NDH-160's design is the cleanest by far. It's mostly silver with a shiny black strip across the front, and there are only six immediately visible buttons - power, disc eject, play/pause, record, stop and a mode button for switching between the HDD and DVD modes. Yet flipping down a hidden front panel reveals some handy front connectivity options, namely A/V inputs with S-Video and a DV input. These are undeniably convenient for those with a camcorder.
In contrast, the design of the remote wasn't thought out quite as well. All of the mandatory functions are present and then some, but the unit as a whole is quite long and is therefore difficult to manipulate single-handedly.
The user manual is well written and makes liberal use of images, and thus is accessible to all but the most hardened Luddite. Similarly, the supplementary quick start guide should help most users to get up and running with minimal fuss.
The recorder's storage space is ample at 160GB (about 220 hours of recording time in Extend Quality mode), and it can record video in 12 hour chunks - ideal for TV marathons. Like most modern DVD recorders, it's also capable of progressive scan playback (obviously, you'll need to couple this with a progressive scan supporting TV) as well as time shifting. There's even a six hour time shift buffer so users can decide whether the recorded content is worth keeping without cluttering their well-organised digital library.
One of the NDH-160's most interesting features is its multi-format support. Not only is it compatible with almost every DVD media format currently available - DVD-RW, DVD-R, DVD+RW, DVD+R DL (Dual Layer) - but it's also capable of reading DivX files, MP3s, Windows Media audio tracks and JPEGs. It's therefore practical for use as an audio player or photo viewer as well as a video player, and the user interface is split up accordingly - 'Movie', 'Music' and 'Photo'. Of the aforementioned features, the two standouts would have to be the support for dual layer media (providing 8.5GB of storage on a single disc) and DivX files.
Rear connectivity options are as expected, and include the obligatory A/V inputs and outputs, component video out, S-Video out, RF connectors and two sets of digital audio outputs - optical and coaxial. There's also a memory card slot at the front of the unit supporting the Secure Digital, Multimedia Card and Memory Stick formats, which is handy for transferring content from an external source to the hard drive for viewing on a TV.
While the manual lists certain brands of recommended media for use with the NDH-160, we didn't encounter any compatibility issues during our tests. Further, we found the menu system to be extremely intuitive, and had little trouble finding most settings during both playback and recording. One feature that particularly impressed us was the 'Auto Chapter' option, which puts automatic chapter markers in 5, 10 or 15 minute intervals, allowing for handy scene navigation.
There are also various manual editing features that allow users to either edit the original content, or create and edit a playlist. The latter doesn't actually change any of the content on the disc, but enables you to modify how the content is played back. Specifically, video can be manually split up into chapters and named accordingly, and users can specify their own thumbnails for each chapter.
Video quality in each of the four recording modes (EQ, LQ, SQ and HQ) lived up to our expectations, but we found that the Standard Quality mode offers the best balance between quality and disc usage (about two hours of video on a single layer DVD). One touch dubbing allows for seamless content transfers between a DVD disc and the hard drive.
Aside from the over-sized remote, the NEC NDH-160 is extremely difficult to fault. Its intuitive menu system and great documentation make it a boon for novice users, while the large hard drive, extensive multi-format support and numerous editing features are likely to appeal to advanced users as well.