Play it again
Don't be surprised if you get a strange sense of dÃ©jÃ vu from this review. You see, the DVR4000 is similar in almost every way to ; you'll notice that in the form factor, the button layout, the setup of the jacks in the back, and the onscreen menus. Heck, even the remotes are identical. (For a laugh, we used the Samsung's remote for the Sonicblue unit and vice versa.) The only real differences are that the DVR4000 doesn't offer MP3 playback, doesn't support CD-Rs, and lists for $50 more ($349) than the DVD-V1000.
The DVR4000's front panel is clean and relatively clear of clutter, with some of the less often used buttons and front composite jacks below a flip-down panel. On the back, you'll find a full complement of inputs and outputs, including a set of Dolby Digital- and DTS-compatible optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, as well as component-video outputs for superior picture quality. Its slight, curvy bulge makes it pop out of your home-theater system, but otherwise, it's only a bit larger than your garden-variety, single-disc DVD player.
The deck's front panel is adorned with a number of buttons that pull double duty, with both DVD and VCR functions (there's a button to toggle between the two modes), additional composite inputs, and a dedicated DVD-to-VCR copy button. Don't get too excited, though: Before you try to bootleg Almost Famous--The Bootleg Cut, know that this player won't allow you to duplicate copy-protected discs. It did, however, work wonders with a test DVD-R to copy a home video onto a VHS tape.
Just the basics
While the front-panel interface is fairly user-friendly, the remote isn't. It's cluttered with buttons that are poorly labeled and not backlit, making it particularly difficult to use in the dark. The onscreen interface, while not the prettiest, does a serviceable job of guiding you through the menus. As features go, all the basics are here, but expect to drill down a little in the awkward menu system to adjust the slightly more advanced settings, such as the aspect ratio (4:3 PS, 4:3 LB, 16:9).
Once the DVR4000 is up and running, you get a functional picture. Take a more critical look, though, and it's easy to spot the flaws. On a standard 4:3 TV, during the title sequence of Star Trek: Insurrection, stacks of hay seemed alive with blurry movement, a phenomenon known as dot crawl. Also, colors blended slightly into a mixed moirÃ© when we later connected the player to Samsung's Tantus 27-inch HD-ready set.
We didn't have any major complaints about the VCR front, but don't expect high-end performance. The unit's VCR component performs about on a par with a sub-$100, four-head VCR; it's about as easy to program as one, too.
The deck's audio elements didn't disappoint either, though again, don't expect wonders. When testing the DVR4000 through a budget-level Cambridge SoundWorks 5.1 speaker/receiver kit, we got reasonably clear surround sound when listening to Dr. Alan Grant being stalked by the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park III. Exotic birds chirped from behind, while raptors lurched in from the sides.
If you don't have a surround-sound setup, a decent virtual surround-sound mode tries hard to fool your ears. But that is where the value ends. Considering the carbon-copy nature of this deck, it's inexcusable that you cannot use MP3s or CD-Rs on the DVR4000.
There are few reasons to recommend Sonicblue's DVD/VCR combo, considering that it offers less and costs more than Samsung's DVD-V1000, which lists for $299. True, the DVR4000 is slightly sleeker-looking than the Samsung, but we're willing to give up a little in the looks department for a few more features. Of course, if you find this deck substantially discounted and you don't mind the lack of CD-R and MP3 support, it's worth a second glance.