There are certain product genres that invite experimentation with design. Sadly, it seems, DVD recorders don't fall into a design experimentation genre, and as such, Samsung's DVD-HR735 looks pretty much like any other DVD recorder that you'd care to mention. The front display utilises a very standard arrangement of lights to let you know if you're currently recording to DVD or hard drive (you'll also get an onscreen prompt when switching modes) as well as normal DVD playback/recording controls.
The rear of the HR735 features output options for just about every commonly used video and audio output, up to HDMI, which is still a touch rare in the DVD recorder market. There's also the usual flip-down panel at the front hiding an additional set of inputs, including DV Camera. See, we said it was a very ordinary design. In the DVD-HR735's favour, it's relatively thin at 5.5cm high, so it should fit into any home theatre array with few troubles.
On the subject of troubles, the DVD-HR735's remote falls solidly into the category of complex -- sort of. It's a multi-button affair that'll take you some time to get to grips with, although Samsung have made some concessions to the Homer Simpson crowd with the inclusion of an "any key" button that'll perform context-sensitive actions within the DVD-HR735's somewhat muddled menu structures.
The DVD-HR735's DVD support includes progressive scan and Samsung's take on improving digital signal processing; in Samsung's case it calls it EVQ (Enhanced Video Quality). Our test model handled multi-region discs without complaint, although that's not a given for a genuine retail unit.
The hard drive within the DVD-HR735 is a 160GB model which Samsung claims is capable of up to 272 hours of recording. Breaking that down a touch, it supports five recording modes -- XP, SP, LP, EP and FR (Flexible Recording) mode. XP mode will give you an hour's recorded material on a single sided DVD-R disc, or 38 hours of hard drive material. Those figures double each time for SP and LP modes, with a drop in quality to accommodate the extra data, while EP mode will cram six hours onto a disc and 272 hours onto the hard drive. FR mode selects a recording mode for you based on either the length of your timer recording or the amount of available space left on the disc. The DVD-HR735's support for recordable DVD media extends only to DVD-R, DVD-RW and DVD-RAM; +R/RW media is not supported, and neither is dual layer media.
The DVD-HR735 offers a simple recording feature which instantly sets a recording time of 30 minutes when you press the record button; subsequent presses extend this time by another 30 minutes, with a natural limitation depending on whether you're recording to DVD or hard disk. It's a handy feature if you suddenly spot something on that you want to record but don't have the time to set a timer or hang around waiting for a program to finish.
We tested the DVD-HR735 recording a variety of different media types, as well as with playback of a range of DVD discs. On the playback front we had no complaints whatsoever, especially through the HDMI interface, where picture quality was exceptional on all our test discs. On the recording front it was less of a happy picture, primarily due to the menu interface and some rather unusual limitations when it comes to chapters and copying schemes. The context-sensitive "any key" is a great feature to have, but in the DVD-HR735's case, it's almost a necessity, as the rest of the menu structures are slow and often confusing, especially to the first-time user.
That's not helped by factors such as the automatic chaptering feature, which works brilliantly if you're recording direct to disc. Record to the hard disc with automatic chaptering switched on, however, and you'll find that the DVD-HR735 abjectly refuses to copy out to DVD-R media, which is highly annoying if you're planning on doing some post-record editing prior to archiving. The DVD-HR735 is also limited to copying a maximum of seven titles at any one time -- seemingly only because that's the number of slots in the copying menu -- and cannot recombine split titles or copy playlists across as titles. It can manage high speed copying -- typically taking around 10 minutes for a standard disc -- and can downgrade video quality to accommodate more data, although this is a process that takes place in real-time only.One area where the Samsung DVD-HR735 did acquit itself well was with recording quality, where its XP and SP modes captured a lot of detail, and in some genres were practically interchangeable. Even at the four-hour-per-disc LP mode, where many recorders show lots of pixilation, the DVD-HR735 performed well. Predictably, once you start to cram even more onto a disc you'll hit pixilation problems, and we wouldn't recommend EP mode for anything but children's cartoons. While there's nothing alarmingly wrong with the Samsung DVD-HR735, there's also not a lot, aside from the HDMI connection that makes it particularly stand out. Its 160GB hard drive is an acceptable size, but 160GB is fast becoming the low side for new DVD recorders. We've hit DVD recorders with tougher menu structures -- Toshiba's RD-XS34 comes to mind -- but they've generally offered a better feature package to go with the menu frustrations.