To qualify as VCR killers, DVD recorders need to fall in price and make TV recording easy. RCA's DRC8000N is relatively affordable; the company's $50 holiday rebate puts the deck in the same price league as other entry-level models, such as the Panasonic DMR-E50. And the 8000N's Guide Plus programming guide operates somewhat like TiVo--as long as your cable system is compatible. If you can live without a built-in hard drive and a FireWire input, the 8000N is a good choice for archiving VHS and recording TV.
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The 8000N's face is classy but unremarkable, black on the bottom two-thirds and silver above. A discreet selection of buttons flanking the drawer allows you to change inputs, for example, but not navigate the menu system. The blue LED display is dimmable, easy to read, and refreshingly free of incomprehensible icons, but it isn't all that informative.
Operation relies heavily on the onscreen menu system, so it's good that RCA kept things simple. Helpful text explains each menu item, and plain-English choices such as Watch TV and Disc shouldn't confuse anyone.
We're not big fans of the dinky remote, whose buttons are tiny, labeled with a small font, and arranged a bit illogically. For example, the Menu key calls up either the DVD menu or the 8000N's main control menu, depending on whether you're watching a DVD or TV. The channel-up/down rocker also skips forward and backward through chapters.
The Guide Plus programming guide is as intuitive as any cable or satellite guide, and it even includes an inset window for monitoring live TV. Guide setup entailed indicating our location and leaving the 8000N on overnight while it downloaded program information from the cable system. The guide failed to find info on a digital cable hookup, and though it succeeded with our analog line, we know from experience that it might not work with yours.
The 8000N's principal distinguishing feature is the free Guide Plus electronic programming guide. It lets you select an upcoming program and schedule the deck to record it once, daily, or every time it comes on. The listings, which you can sort by name or theme, extend a week into the future. RCA included two IR blasters: one for automatically changing channels on your cable box and another for controlling satellite boxes. But since Guide Plus doesn't work with satellite systems, you must schedule satellite recordings manually.
RCA's Disc Library function is exclusive to this recorder. The 8000N names and numbers each burned disc, tracks programs by date, and allows you to name discs and programs. Unfortunately, the deck shows information for only the current disc, so you can't search the entire library.
Like Philips recorders, the 8000N uses DVD+R/RWs; DVD+Rs are write-once, while the more expensive DVD+RWs allow you to record over and over again. The format is slightly less compatible than DVD-R/RW (Pioneer's choice) but certainly beats DVD-RAM (which Panasonic uses along with DVD-R).