Hitachi's DV-RX7000E is happy to get down and dirty in the mire of cheap DVD recorders that have recently entered the market. Hitachi , Sony,and Panasonic have been very keen to reach the mass market with these products, but it has still taken a while for to get there. Many would hope that they would not take the route of the cheaper manufacturers and opt for the cheapest off-the-shelf components, but would use the economies of scale to pack their recorders with useful features and improved performance. Thankfully, this has been Hitachi's strategy with the DV-RX7000E. While it may show its budget origins by lacking some of the disc format support and features of its mid-range competitors, its superb AV performance stands head and shoulders above the crowd. It's also amazingly easy to use and has a few tricks up its sleeve, such as the ability to edit out adverts and use the highly versatile DVD-RAM discs.
Hitachi's design work on the DV-RX7000E certainly defies its bargain price. The sleek silver case and black fascia will mark out your sophisticated tastes to friends, while you can chuckle away knowing that style doesn't always come at a price. It's also slim and light, and can easily be stored underneath the TV.
The slender body of the DV-RX7000E belies the many connections at the back. There's an RGB Scart input for the machine to record from, and the same output means that you get a well defined image on your TV. If your television is short on inputs, you can use the machine's S-video or composite input/output, slightly sacrificing picture quality. You can give the machine an aerial feed if you don't have digital TV, and loop it through. These features are very impressive for the price. As always, make sure you buy the necessary cabling separately as it's not included in the box.
Hidden under a flap on the front are yet more connections. The star of the show is quite clearly the Firewire connection. Using this input, you can attach a camcorder and archive all your home movies. On the audio side, there's both coaxial and optical digital outputs, in addition to two analogue stereo audio out connections. You're spoilt for choice if you want to connect up to a home cinema system or receiver, but you're sure to find a configuration that works for you.
The remote control initially points to just how comprehensive the recorder actually is, but as a result it's rather cluttered. The main function buttons such as record and play are accessible enough, but on the whole it feels like Hitachi put too many functions on there instead of using menus on the recorder.
Despite being new to the market, Hitachi has always been a pioneer when it comes to DVD - it was the first to release a camcorder that used mini-DVD-RAM discs for recording and you can also find DVD-RAM compatibility on this recorder. This makes it one of the few companies aside from Panasonic to do so, which is a shame as the format is the most versatile. However, it's not surprising as the discs are still expensive -around £5 each. The format basically acts as a scratchdisc, on which the DV-RX7000E can write, re-write and delete, with the added benefit of your being able to watch a programme as it is being recorded (otherwise known as 'Time slipping').
It's this format and DVD-RW that offers the most potential for Hitachi's other included features. You're given the very useful ability to crop advertisements between programmes after the disc has been made, and the subsequent space saved can be used again. You can press the info button on the machine to see how much space you have left, which is useful when choosing what quality settings to use. There are only four quality levels available, but if you're really stuck you can use the recorder's FR (flexible recording) function. Rather cleverly, this will work out how long your scheduled recording is and how much disc space is left, and create a compromise between the two. Most seasoned users opt for SP, which gives 2 hours of footage on one disc. It's not as good as the XP mode (which gives 1 hour) but still retains the full resolution of the input source while offering a realistic amount of recording time. Use LP or EP, which will give 4 or 6 hours respectively, and you'll be left with a recording that looks like it was made on VHS -- not a realistic compromise when we've all spent the last few years accustomed to the glorious transfers of commercial DVDs.
The DV-RX7000E also records in Dolby Digital across all quality settings, and will output in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS when using the digital audio outputs. The in-built timer offers memory for 12 separate events -- more than enough when you consider the capacity of DVD, plus VideoPlus compatibility makes the whole process that much easier. While the machine will not record to DVD+R/RW media, it will quite happily read the disc formats.
The DV-RX7000E is characterised by being extraordinarily easy to use. The editing options can often be enough to make or break a DVD recorder, and Hitachi has hit the nail squarely on the head. Recordings are easy to name and edit, and thanks to a simple interface, even playlist creation is easy to accomplish. You can use this to cut out the best episodes from a disc full of recordings, or select your favourite music videos for example. However, the recorder is comparitively slow to format new discs and access those with material on, and finalising a recording once you've pressed 'Stop' takes up to ten seconds.
Both DVD Recording and playback quality is excellent. Recordings made in SP mode are very enjoyable across both picture and sound, boasting very few MPEG artefacts and a smooth, detailed soundtrack. An hour's recording made in XP mode is completely indistinguishable from the original broadcast, especially if it has been made from a digital source such as FreeView.
Playback also impresses, and in fact the only reason that you might choose to keep your current DVD player is if you need component outputs. If Hitachi had managed to include these, or a DVI output, then this might have been the outstanding DVD product of the year. It is the best budget recorder on the market, so if you haven't yet taken the plunge, find out what all the fuss is about.
Edited by: Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by: Tom Espiner