Silver and shiny are the two most obvious words to describe the look of Philips' DVDR77. The front panel has a mix of brushed-, mirrored- and matte-silver fittings that gel well together to give the DVD recorder a modern look. The face is uncluttered and has an easy to use four way rocker key for play/stop/back/forward with the record button centred in the middle that glows red when recording.
On the connection side of things, the rear of the DVDR77 has an RF antenna input alongside an RF television output, two SCART sockets, A/V outputs (composite video, stereo audio, S-Video and RGB component video output) as well as two digital audio outputs (coax and optical). On the front is a flip down panel that reveals an A/V input and a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection so you can transfer audio and video from other devices, such as a DV camcorder or PCs with a digital video output.
Philip's DVDR77 records onto rewritable single-layer DVD+RW discs and write-once DVD+R discs. It can also play back a whole suite of formats, including VCDs, CD-R/RWs, JPEG Picture CD/DVDs and MP3 CDs.
Philips' DVDR77 has a built-in digital photo manager to view JPEG pictures from memory cards, CDs or DVDs. There is a PCMCIA Card slot at the front of the unit that acts as the interface for photos stored on memory cards, but unfortunately, Philips don't include a PC Card adapter in the box.
If you plan on recording a lot of footage and creating your own DVD archive, this recorder has a handy built-in database, called Disc Manager. Information about the content of up to 999 discs recorded using the DVDR77 can be stored in memory and searched by title, date recorded or duration. Basically, it assigns DVD+R or DVD+RW discs a reference number (which you write on the DVD) and stores information about which programs were recorded on which disc and the remaining space (hours/minutes) in memory.
Recording modes range from one to eight hours, which determines the compression setting used by the DVDR77. Using M1, M2, M2x and M3 recording modes (which correspond to number of recording hours per disc -- M2x is about two and a half hours), we were impressed with the high quality video that resulted. Using M4, M6 and M8 (four/six/eight hours per disc), quality becomes fairly poor; the price you generally pay for squeezing this much programming on one disc.
Philips provides a quick install guide as well as a bulky instruction manual but we initially found it confusing and frustrating to use the DVDR77. Although the initial installation wizard generally takes you through setting up the DVD recorder, the evaluation unit we received had been used before, so we had to manually drudge through pages of settings to sort out the channels and options we wanted. The on-screen menu is structured in a vertical and horizontal array and is not laid out the most intuitive fashion.
It was something of a relief when "Phil" -- the cartoon character that provides tips in the manual -- assured us that purchasers of new machines will be taken step-by-step through the configuration of the DVDR77. Our experience would tend to suggest that you might struggle if you purchased a DVDR77 second-hand or off the shop floor.
Once up and running, we quickly got used to the DVDR77's quirky interface, and relished in the advantages of having an on-screen timer record function for our essential viewing. We feel at this point that we should apologise to the next reviewer who'll need to delete about seven hours of Big Brother evictions and the hilarious preliminary Australian Idol auditions from the rewritable disc Philips supplied.
All recorded titles appear on an index page when you insert a recordable disc and you can scan through these to play, or delete stored titles. You can insert markets and hide chapters through the edit controls on the remote control. Unlike the Pioneer's DVR-310S, the DVDR77's index page shows a static thumbnail image to represent each recording. However, there is a live thumbnail of the current channel in the lower left-hand corner of the display.