The DVD recorder market is flooded with budget machines, many of which come from brands whose names you not only don't recognise, but which actually appear to be anagrams in some massive consumer electronics cryptic crossword. So if you were given the opportunity to buy a DVD recorder that didn't cost the earth and was manufactured by a company that you've not only heard of, but recognise as being one of the leading home cinema manufacturers in the world, you'd be interested, right?
Well, that's exactly what the Philips DVDR3305 offers. It's a solidly constructed disc recorder with the aesthetic styling of the higher end of Philips' range, but it will only set you back £125. Surely there's got to be a catch?
Well, if there is it's certainly not in the way this product looks and feels. Straight out of the box the DVDR3305 gives the impression that it costs far more than the paltry amount you just parted with. There's a solidity to the casework that's really lacking on some budget kits. And although Philips hasn't gone for the super-slimline look that's popular at the moment, this actually helps convince you that you are getting more for your money. The instructions are also better than most, with both a quick start-up guide and a more detailed handbook for advanced use.
It may be built like a pocket warship, but in terms of looks it's certainly more speedboat than houseboat. The DVDR3305 is well dressed with an attractive silver fascia that will look fantastic beneath a CRT or flatscreen television, and features a smattering of useful controls. However, most of the button pushing will take place on the small but perfectly formed remote control that comes with the DVDR3305 -- a real draw compared to the near-useless devices than come packaged with most of the similarly priced competition.
Okay, so the back panel has more in common with an old school video cassette recorder than the all-singing all-recording megaliths that will set you back close to a grand, but surely that's the point. This device is designed to slip straight into that spot vacated by your old VCR. So, as it stands the RGB capable input and output Scart sockets, some analogue connections to boost the sound via your hi-fi and a useful digital coaxial output for connecting up to a home cinema receiver if you have one, more than covers the requisite bases.
Once everything is plugged in the DVDR3305 continues to be easy to use, fulfilling the brand motto of "sense and simplicity". Setting up is a frown-free experience, with the menu system holding new user's hands, while still giving enough flexibility for more experienced punters to set their system up as they want.
Firstly you'll need to set up the internal tuner -- and yes, while we know that many people will simply plug in a satellite or cable set-top box via the Scart, it's good to have the option of recording TV directly as well. Anyway, we'd do it, because it's part of the process and is a pretty painless and fast experience, although we wish it was Freeview.
Perhaps more importantly, recording on the DVDR3305 is also painless, and, in terms of usability, not a million miles away from the recordings you made on your VCR. In fact, the whole menu system is similar to those on the best of the last generation of cassette recorders, making missing a show because you couldn't set the timer a thing of the past.
Setting the timer is easy, but using Video+ (those numbers that appear next to shows in TV listings) makes it even easier. All that's really missing is the impressive eight-day programme guides that are a key feature in Philips recorders higher up the range -- but what do you expect at this price?
Choosing the right quality level is the only real decision you need make from then on, with four options available -- High Quality (1 hour), Standard Play (2 hours), Extended Play (4 hours), Super Long Play (6 hours). The first two were excellent, but the latter two offer near-HHS quality and are great for getting loads onto a disc.
There are also some video editing options, so when you finalise your disc to be played elsewhere, users will be greeted with a menu screen and chapter headings. While this is more complicated, persevering will result in a much more pleasurable experience for your audience. Finally, a word on discs. This is one of Philips' new Dual Media range, which means it can actually record on both the DVD+R/RW format and the rival DVD-R/RW option. This not only helps on the future-proof front, but also takes the confusion out of buying discs and will hopefully push DVD recorders further into the mass market.
Judged as a recorder alone the DVDR3305 excels for the price. Copies made at the best quality levels are indistinguishable from the original broadcast, and although this drops off dramatically when you try to squeeze six hours onto a disc, with digital artefacts creeping in and the colours going to pot, it's still good enough to keep the kids occupied with a whole afternoon's worth of Tweenies.
There's also good news when it comes to playing back shop-bought DVD discs, with the DVDR3305 proving itself adept at delivering a detailed performance to the screen. Even when the picture is blown up on the image thrown from a relatively high-end projector, it doesn't embarrass itself totally. While it isn't quite up to the performance you'd get from a similarly priced dedicated player, it certainly puts some of the slightly more expensive recorders to shame in this respect. It also does well on the sound front, and while we wouldn't recommend playing your CDs on it, it does a good job with movies to either the TV or via the digital output to an AV receiver.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield