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Pioneer DVR-645H review: Pioneer DVR-645H

A DVD recorder with plenty of storage space, Pioneer's DVR-645H has added features such as MP3 playback and USB connectivity.

Jeremy Roche
Hi, I look after product development for CBS Interactive in Sydney - which lets me develop a range of websites including CNET Australia, TV.com and ZDNet Australia.
Jeremy Roche
5 min read

Nothing in particular really stands out as striking in terms of the 645H's design, which isn't to say it's an unattractive DVD recorder, just that Pioneer has focused more on its functionality than appearance. Weighing in at around 4.4kg and measuring 420mm by 318mm by 69mm, the 645H has been given a standard silver finish with a black horizontal stripe across the front. Underneath the stripe is a flip-down panel which gives access to two USB ports -- Type A and Type B -- as well as DV, S-Video, composite and stereo analog inputs. Pioneer strangely hides the playback controls behind this panel, too, but as the remote control gets used the majority of the time, we can understand their rationale to keep it out of sight.


Pioneer DVR-645H

The Good

Jukebox mode rips, stores and plays audio CDs, MP3 and WMA files. Records to all types of DVD. Ample 250GB of hard drive space. USB for viewing photos and PictBridge printing. Upscales DVDs via HDMI to 720p or 1080i.

The Bad

Single analog tuner gives average 4:3 pictures. Long Play recordings are jittery and jagged. No EPG functionality.

The Bottom Line

A decent upgrade from a VCR but the lack of digital tuners means picture and sound quality of free-to-air broadcasts are not improved.

At the back of the unit are the rest of the connections, which include HDMI, component and two sets of composite/S-Video and stereo analog outputs. There are also a further two inputs at the back for recording from sources such as Foxtel. Unfortunately though, the 645H has no control over external devices so you're stuck having to tediously program separate timers. A coaxial digital output is also here, but no optical audio.

Bright blue and red LEDs on the front signify whether you are in hard disk drive (HDD) or DVD mode, and will play back or record to the selected device. The 56-button remote is silver on the front and black on the back with large finger grooves.

A range of multimedia formats can be played back on the 645H, including JPEG photos, MP3 and WMA music files, VCD and DiVX movies. Most flavours of DVD are supported (DVD+R/RW, DVD-R/RW, DVD-RAM and DVD+R DL) as well as burnt CDs (CD-R/RW). As with most DVD recorders you can specify the quality of recordings. The 645H has six video compression settings which allow you to store anything between 53 hours and 532 hours worth of viewing on the HDD, but when you move up, expect some artefacts in your images. Similarly, these six presets can be applied to DVD recordings, giving you from one hour and 51 minutes at its finest setting, and up to 18 hours using super extended play on a dual-layer disc.

Chaseplay allows you to watch a recording that is still in progress -- being able to "chase" the live broadcast by fast forwarding through the ads as you go is a convenient feature when you come home in the middle of a show that's recording.

One-touch copy is a handy feature that will, at the push of a button on the remote, transfer the entire title you're watching from the hard disk onto DVD, or vice versa. Naturally, copy-protected DVDs will not work.

The jukebox feature of the 645H lets you copy songs from CDs in real-time to the hard disk and create a playlist of your favourite tracks. MP3s and WMAs can also be copied (at much higher speeds) from disk or USB sources to the hard drive. Using the USB connections, you can plug in your digital camera or card reader, save pictures directly to the HDD, or view them in a slideshow. If you have a PictBridge-compatible printer, the 645H also lets you print without having to use a computer.

Pioneer supplies two AA batteries for the remote, an AV cable, an RF antenna cable, a power cable and a 135-page user manual in the box with the 645H.

DVDs upscaled to better than DVD-quality interpretations of 1080i or 720p resolutions when the HDMI connection was used. Pictures seemed better than normal, but the extra detail in high definition content offered by Blu-ray or HD DVD players, such as Samsung's BD-P1000 or Toshiba's HD-E1, leaves the 645H for dead.

The disc navigator, where you browse recordings on the HDD or DVD, is laid out fairly well with view options to change how many titles are displayed simultaneously onscreen. You can change the sort order of your library, and each recording on the HDD can be assigned a user-definable category, which you could use for the genre (eg. comedy, movie, drama, documentary) or for each family member to quickly access their shows.

We love the ad skipping button on the remote, which you can use to jump forward in increments from 30 seconds up to 10 minutes. Thankfully there's a back button to jump back five seconds when you inevitably skip forward too much through ad breaks.

Visually, we noticed video compression kicking in when we upped recording time to the long play (LP) setting, which compresses video down to fit four hours of viewing onto a DVD. Using anything beyond this setting made the picture hard to watch on the 42-inch plasma TV Pioneer also sent us for review -- fast moving scenes became jerky and there was noticeable pixilation on the screen. Standard play mode, however, was fine.

The DVR-645H took 4 minutes 50 seconds to burn a one-hour program recorded in standard play (SP) mode to DVD. A two-hour movie recorded at this decent compression setting finishes in under 10 minutes.

Even with a built-in hard disk drive, a DVD recorder with an analog tuner isn't best suited for a widescreen TV. As it only supports 4:3 broadcasts, the DVR-645H's tuner produces black bars on the sides of a widescreen display, and even by using the zoom or stretch feature on your TV, you're blowing up a less than perfect picture.

If you're after clearer pictures or wishing to buy a widescreen TV, you'd be better served by a recorder with a digital tuner -- an HD digital tuner if you've got a HD-ready television. However, if you need to save your recordings to DVD share with friends or archive, a DVD recorder is a good choice for now. Be aware, though, the goverment plans to switch off the analog free-to-air signal around 2011, which is another reason to go down the path of a personal video recorder with a digital tuner such as the Topfield TF5000PVRt Masterpiece.