It seems that no matter how low big-name players like Panasonic, Philips, and Sony drop their prices on combination hard disc/DVD recorders, bargain brands like Lite-On manage to go even lower. The company's HD-A740GX is available for only $300 at discount retailers such as Costco and its higher-capacity twin, the HD-A760GX, costs just a few dollars more. For those prices it's hard to pass up DVD recording, HDD recording, and DivX playback in one box--until you read the fine print. For example, since the Lite-Ons can't control a cable box or easily schedule timer recordings, they're much less effective as DVR substitutes than decks such as the Panasonic DMR-EH75V or the DMR-EH55S. And while the multiple functions are great, we felt really held back by not being able to watch a DVD (or a previously recorded program) while recording another TV program. However, it's important to consider these drawbacks with price in mind. The Lite-On decks are good choices if you already have a DVR or really want DivX support, but spending another hundred bucks or so can get you a superior HDD/DVD recorder. We found the external appearance of the HD-A740GX and the HD-A760GX to be mediocre. It would be hard to call it appealing, but it least it isn't as boxy at the average DVD-recorder/VCR combo. Its most annoying aspect is the green LCD, which is behind a plate of plastic that makes the letters and numbers appear fuzzy. It's not unreadable, but we have no idea why Lite-On couldn't make it sharper. The front panel is all silver and sports some useful front panel buttons such as eject, record, play, and stop. We missed having front-panel chapter forward/backward keys, which are always nice when the remote goes missing.
But what really matters is on the inside, and we liked Lite-On's straightforward graphical user interface. There's an easy step-by-step feature called Guider, which displays options such as Copy, Record, and Timer Record. You can press the Contents button on the remote to access recorded material on the HDD or a DVD. From there you also can edit titles on the drive, although we found Lite-On's editing interface cumbersome to use. For example, to edit out commercials, you need to split the files into multiple sections, delete the sections that have commercials, then merge them all back together. The part that makes it really tedious is that after doing each step of the process, you have to go back to the main menu and select the file again.
The remote is not backlit, but it's good enough. Our one major gripe is that we would have really liked a dedicated button to change between recording modes (XP, SP, and so on), but instead you have to navigate through the setup menu for that function. Otherwise the buttons are spaced out well and differently sized, so the remote is easy to navigate by touch. The Lite-On combo recorders can record straight to their internal hard drives--160GB for the HD-A740GX, 250GB for the HD-A760GX--which allows you to edit material as described in the Design section or record straight to a DVD. Most times, you'll want to record to the HDD first, then archive your favorite shows to DVD.
While these features are par for the HDD/DVD-recorder course, we did encounter some significant shortcomings. The Lite-On cannot play back a DVD while the unit is recording something to the HDD, nor can you watch previously recorded programs on the HDD while the deck records something new. In practice, once you've decided to record something on the HD-A740GX, you're pretty much stuck with watching your recording. Compared to the flexibility of a product like the Panasonic DMR-EH75V, the HD-A740GX and the HD-A760GX feel limited in this regard.
As DVRs, the HD-A740GX and the HD-A760GX fall a little short, too. As we mentioned at the outset, they lack both an EPG and an IR blaster, which are integral parts of DVRs such as TiVo, or even the DMR-EH75V, which uses the TV Guide EPG. An IR blaster controls a cable or satellite box, telling it when to switch channels, while an EPG provides a grid of program information that allows you to easily find and record future shows. The Lite-Ons do have VCR Plus+, allowing slightly easier programming compared to a manual timer, but you'll have to remember to leave your cable or satellite box set to the right channel.