The AR-230, Gateway's first DVD recorder, is aimed squarely at entry-level consumers looking to replace their old VCRs once and for all. Unlike more-expensive feature-laden models, the Gateway's main selling point is its affordable $350 price tag (which is frequently discounted to $300 with mail-in rebates). If you're looking for an inexpensive way to archive noncopyrighted VHS tapes and camcorder videos, the AR-230 will do the job. But those looking for more-flexible TV-recording options will want to opt for rival DVD decks that have only slightly higher price tags.
Measuring 16.5 inches wide by 10.5 deep by 3 high, the Gateway's dimensions are in line with those of most other A/V devices. But at 6 pounds, 6 ounces, its heft is more reminiscent of a cheap VCR than a state-of-the-art digital recorder. And it isn't exactly one of the more attractive pieces of electronic equipment we've encountered.
Alas, the dull, mirrored strip of silver that runs across the front face is trimmed in the same ugly champagne gold that Gateway chose for many of its new home-theater products. The disc tray is situated on the left, and a frustratingly basic LCD readout--featuring bright-orange numbers--is located along the right. A few front-panel controls are available, and a flip-down door houses a front A/V input and FireWire connection.
The medium-size champagne-colored remote is comfortable and well laid out. In addition to the standard DVD-transport and setup controls, it includes keys for switching channels on the AR-230's internal tuner. Unfortunately, its functions are limited to the recorder, so you'll still need a separate remote for your TV and satellite/cable tuner.
The saving grace of the AR-230 is its straightforward, well-designed onscreen menu system. You configure setup and recording options by navigating through simple, easy-to-use graphical menus.
Of course, the AR-230's bargain pricing precludes a built-in hard disk, as found on the far more expensiveand , but we expected a little better than this. Unlike the $400 , the AR-230 doesn't have an electronic programming guide or an IR blaster, and the model lacks even VCR Plus+ for shortcut timer recordings. Those with an off-air antenna or analog cable can use the built-in tuner to manually set as many as five recordings at a time (including repeat monthly and weekly sessions), but satellite and digital-cable viewers will have to jump through familiar hoops--namely, leaving the box powered on to the correct channel--to record their favorite programs.
Four recording options are available: HQ (one hour), SP (two hours), EP (four hours), and SLP (six hours). As always, a longer recording time means lower video quality. The AR-230 records to DVD+R/RW discs, which are &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ecdrinfo%2Ecom%2FSections%2FArticles%2FSpecific%2Easp%3FArticleHeadline%3DDVD%2520Media%2520Format%2520Compatibility%2520Tests%26Series%3D0" target="new">slightly less compatible than DVD-R/RW discs, but they still play back on most DVD players.
On the playback end, the AR-230 supports just about every standard disc you can throw at it. In addition to DVDs and DVD+R/RWs, DVD-R/RWs, the Gateway accepted CD-R/RWs, MP3 CDs, VCDs, and photo CDs in our tests without a hitch.