DVD recorders with hard drives used to be the poor man's TiVo. Sure, they lacked the finesse and eye candy of a true TiVo, but you didn't have to pay a subscription fee and you could burn anything right in the same unit. Fast-forward to today and you'll be hard pressed to find a DVD recorder with a hard drive, and if you go to eBay it might cost you nearly $2,000 to pick up an older model. The Philips DVDR3575H is one of the few DVD recorders with a hard drive that's still on the market, plus it has a built-in ATSC tuner, as now required by federal mandate. With a 160GB hard drive and the ability to upscale DVDs to 1080p, the DVDR3575H looks, at least from the spec sheet, to be a cheap alternative for those who don't want to pay TiVo or a cable/satellite company a monthly fee. That said, we couldn't help but feel letdown by its shortcomings. It lacks both an electronic program guide (EPG) and an IR blaster (i.e. the ability to control a cable or satellite box), which seriously limits its ability to be used as a DVR. There's no flexible recording mode, as found on many competing DVD recorders, and overall its recording quality was just average. And like every other DVD recorder with an ATSC tuner we've seen, it cannot output or record true high-definition resolution TV programming. These nitpicks don't stop it from doing a perfectly acceptable job at its main duty--recording from external devices and from the digital tuner--but anyone hoping for more should be wary. If you're dead set on getting a DVD recorder with a hard drive, the Philips DVDR3575H is one of your only choices--just make sure you realize its limitations before taking the jump.
DVD recorders with hard drives are boxy by nature, but the DVDR3575H still manages to look somewhat stylish. There's a slim strip of silver along the bottom, with the top having a glossy black look. In the center there's a smallish LED screen that we wish was a bit bigger. Farther to the right are a few playback controls including Play, Stop, and Record, although we would have liked a direction pad on the front for when the remote goes missing.
The remote is a weakness of the DVDR3575H, as some of the most important functions of the remote are relegated to tiny buttons. For example, one of the most important things you do with a DVD recorder is record, yet the record button is tiny and we had to look at the remote each time we want to start recording. Another button we used a lot is the confusingly named Title button, which actually brings up the main interface for browsing recordings off the hard drive. On the upside, regular DVD playback controls are well-placed, with a large Stop button and Fast-Forward/Rewind and Chapter Forward/Backward close by. Still, you'd be better off using a solid universal remote.
The user interface is utilitarian but for the most part gets the job done. It displays six thumbnail images of the content saved on the HDD or DVD, and the clips start to play if they're selected. Near the top of the screen, a status bar reveals more infotmation about each clip, including when it was recorded and the recording mode used. We would have preferred if it could pull program information from the digital signal, like the Panasonic DMR-EZ47VK does. When you hit OK on a clip, a menu pops up allowing you to resume playback, play from start, edit, delete, delete multiple titles, or dub the program to a recordable DVD.
The editing interface works well. To archive your favorite program commercial free, simply select "scene delete" and click start at the beginning of the commercial and end at the end of the commercial, and then delete. You can even preview how the new clip will look like before permanently deleting it.
The main function of the DVDR3575H is recording TV, whether that be from its built-in digital tuner or an external satellite or cable box. Recordings can be made on a variety of DVD formats (DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW), or on the 160GB internal hard drive. The lack of dual layer DVD support and, to a lesser extent, DVD-RAM support is very disappointing--there's no excuse for those limitations these days. Of course, anything recorded onto the hard drive can later be recorded to DVD (called dubbing), and that transfer occurs faster than real time.
For DVD recording, the unit offers six recording modes that all have trade-offs in recording quality vs. capacity. Only 1 hour of highest quality XP mode video fits onto a DVD; SP is 2 hours; SSP is 2.5 hours; LP is 3 hours; EP is 4 hours; and SLP is 6 hours. Six recording modes should cover the vast majority of scenarios you'll face, but we still wish it would have had a flexible recording speed, which allows you to maximize the quality and completely fill up a disc.
The same recording speeds are available on the hard drive. Assuming you use the same recording mode for everything on the hard drive, the recording mode to recording time ratios are as follows: HQ is 33 hours; SP is 66 hours; SPP is 82.5 hours; LP is 99 hours; EP is 132 hours; and SLP is 198 hours.
As now required by federal law, the DVDR3575H comes equipped with an ATSC tuner, which is capable of picking up digital over-the-air broadcasts, including HD channels. When we first heard about DVD recorders equipped with ATSC tuners back at CES, we were pretty excited about the idea, but we've found ourselves a little disappointed with the 2007 models. For basic use, it worked well; the tuner picked up all our local digital channel (not much of a challenge given CNET Labs' proximity to the Empire State Building's broadcast tower). Additionally, digital stations always looked better than their analog counterparts, at least in our testing area. On the other hand, it was disappointing that the DVDR3575H does not output true high-definition TV. Over-the-air digital signals are fully capable of displaying high-definition TV, but instead the DVDR3575H displays a 480p signal upconverted to 1080i--which is far from true high definition (more on this in the Performance section). As a result, you're getting an image that's more akin to an upconverted DVD than to true high-def.
The DVDR3575H is missing two features that would have added some key functionality: an electronic programming guide (EPG) and an IR blaster. An EPG makes it much easier to schedule recordings off the ATSC tuner. Instead of looking through a TV Guide to find the channel and time of your favorite recordings, you could simply navigate the onscreen display and hit "record" when you see something you like.