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Sony DVDirect review: Sony DVDirect

Sony DVDirect

Nathaniel Wilkins

See full bio
7 min read

Competing products include HP's DVD Movie Writer dc5000. Unlike the DVDirect, the dc5000 enables the editing of captured video with PC software prior to recording a DVD, but it can't record from a camcorder to DVD in real time, and it must be connected to a PC. If your primary application is transferring VHS tapes to DVD, you might prefer a DVD/VCR combo recorder, such as RCA's DRC8300N.


Sony DVDirect

The Good

Simple to use; burns double-layer DVD+R discs; includes three video-capture quality modes; offers synchronized recording feature; creates DVD titles and chapters; hardware-based MPEG-2 encoding.

The Bad

Lacks digital-video input for digital camcorders; absence of video and audio outputs complicates recording footage from a VCR; can't import footage from camcorder to PC for editing; 2.4X maximum double-layer burning speed.

The Bottom Line

The Sony DVDirect does an admirable job of transferring footage directly from a camcorder to a DVD without using a PC, but editing capabilities are sacrificed for the sake of simplicity.
A video-capture device and a DVD burner rolled into one, the Sony DVDirect transfers footage directly from your camcorder to a DVD without using a PC. In addition to its standalone capabilities, the DVDirect doubles as a high-speed, computer-attached, multiformat burner. Because the DVDirect can record double-layer 8.5GB DVD+R media, you can store up to two hours of high-quality video on a single disc that's compatible with most home DVD players. Unfortunately, the DVDirect doesn't help you transfer footage from a camcorder to your computer's hard drive for editing prior to recording on DVD. Sony says that it plans to release a software update that will allow capturing footage to a PC's hard drive with the DVDirect, but the company couldn't say when. That update would make the DVDirect much more versatile by giving you the option to edit footage and author DVDs in PC software. Nonetheless, the DVDirect is a solid choice for any frequent camcorder user who prizes simplicity over editing features. The silver-and-gray DVDirect has an attractive, modern-looking casing. Measuring 2.6 by 6.5 by 9.2 inches (HWD), the unit isn't much larger than a typical external DVD burner. The device is designed primarily for horizontal orientation, but you can place it vertically, if you don't mind the display and the button labels looking out of whack. Twelve well-designed buttons let you configure and control the recording process when the DVDirect is in standalone mode. The blue-backlit front-panel text display is petite (1 by 1 inch), but it does an effective job of communicating important information on five compact lines of text.

On the back, the DVDirect has functional, but not extensive connectivity. In addition to one S-Video and one composite-video input, the unit has a stereo RCA audio input. Because the DVDirect doesn't have a digital-video input, you must connect your digital camcorder with an analog cable (a digital connection would help you preserve the best image quality). The DVDirect doesn't have video or audio outputs to enable true recording monitoring, but you can stay abreast of progress by watching your camcorder's built-in display.

A USB 2.0 port enables connecting the DVDirect to a PC for high-speed DVD and CD recording. A minor quibble: the DVDirect can operate as only a standalone video-capture device and burner when it's physically disconnected from the PC; you can't simply press a button to toggle modes. So if you use the DVDirect equally as both a PC-attached burner and a device for transferring video footage to DVD, you'll be yanking out that cable regularly.

The DVDirect certainly makes it easy to transfer camcorder footage to a DVD. The included quick-start poster gets you going in half a dozen steps without ever cracking open the printed manual. A Sync mode automatically starts and stops the recording process when you activate and disengage playback on the camcorder. The DVDirect even allows you to transfer live footage to a DVD while your camcorder is capturing it.

The DVDirect automates basic DVD-authoring tasks but doesn't let you customize title menus or edit footage. Pressing the DVDirect's Stop button, then resuming recording creates a new title on your DVD. For continuous live recording, you can use chapter markers instead of creating new titles. You insert chapter markers manually during recording or automatically at preset time intervals. You can author discs to autoplay or to display a title menu when they're loaded. The DVDirect automatically generates every title menu with the same blue background and generic title names such as Title 1. The device automatically extracts thumbnails of your footage to use as title buttons. Unfortunately, you can't choose which footage.

Three video-capture quality modes enable recording from 1 to 12 hours of video on a single DVD. If you use the highest-quality mode along with double-layer 8.5GB DVD+R recording media, you can store 2 full hours of footage on one disc. That's double the recording time you'd get using a single-layer 4.7GB DVD. Depending on the media type, the middle-quality mode yields 2 or 4 hours of recording time, and the scrappy low-quality mode yields 6 or 12 hours. The DVDirect's hardware encoder records all video to the MPEG-2 format as it's captured. The device complies with Macrovision and CSS copy protection.

In standalone mode, the device can record only DVD+R, DVD+RW, and double-layer DVD+R media, but that shouldn't be a problem since the majority of home DVD players are compatible with those disc types. In PC-connected mode, the unit is a full-featured multiformat burner. It's capable of recording DVD+R, DVD+RW, double-layer DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD-RW, CD-R, and CD-RW media. The DVDirect burns DVD+R media at 16X, double-layer DVD+R at 2.4X, DVD-R at 8X, and both rewritable formats (DVD-RW and DVD+RW) at 4X. The unit burns CD-R media at 48X (40X is the factory-preset maximum speed, but you can override it by following the directions in the manual) and CD-RW media at 24X.

The DVDirect is bundled with an Ahead Nero 6.0 Special Edition software suite that includes utilities to handle just about any burning/rewriting task. Although the software versions on the DVDirect CD-ROM were slightly outdated, we caught up by downloading free software updates from Nero's Web site. Nero Vision Express records, edits, and burns video projects to DVD. Nero Recode (not always included with DVD burners) copies and records non-copy-protected DVD titles to single-layer DVD discs. You can play movies back with Nero Showtime, a standard DVD player program akin to WinDVD. Nero BackItUp lets you back up and restore data from CD or DVD. Drag-and-drop recording is supported with InCD (Nero's packet-writing utility). For the budding artist, Nero Cover Designer lets you design and print disc labels and jewel-case art. PhotoShow Express wasn't included on the CD-ROM, but we downloaded it as a free update.

For the most part, the DVDirect was a smooth performer. To start our informal tests, we connected a camcorder and recorded some footage in the DVDirect's highest-quality mode onto 8.5GB Verbatim DVD+R double-layer media. To the DVDirect's credit, the resulting DVD's video was crisp and clear and looked virtually indistinguishable from the source material. When we repeated the process in the middle-quality recording mode, the video held up surprisingly well, appearing only slightly grainier. Footage recorded in the low-quality mode was far more tainted with noticeable MPEG artifacts and image-crawling. Informal audio tests revealed respectable sound preservation, with no noticeable difference between the recording quality modes. The process of recording live footage from the camcorder to a DVD was simple and worked as advertised. Almost every disc we created, including a double-layer DVD+R, played without a hitch in a home DVD player. One DVD+RW disc got stuck on the first screen of the title menu; that could've been caused by our DVD player, faulty media, or the DVDirect.

In CNET Labs' benchmark tests, the DVDirect's computer-connected performance proved respectable, but its 2.4X maximum double-layer burning speed was predictably slower than that of drives that record double-layer media at a 4X maximum speed. For instance, in double-layer burn-time testing, the DVDirect took approximately 17 minutes longer to record a 7.9GB movie than Pioneer's internal DVR-A08XL. On a brighter note, the DVDirect clocked impressive times ripping our Labs' 7.9GB movie, finishing second only to the Pioneer DVR-A08XL. In the Labs' 7.9GB double-layer movie rip-and-burn test, the DVDirect's fast ripping speed couldn't offset the drive's 2.4X double-layer recording limitation. In CD-audio ripping tests, the DVDirect proved slightly slower than some drives, but its audio-CD recording performance clocked in near the front of the pack. On the whole, the drive performed quite respectably in the Labs' RW read/write tests. The discs we burned with the DVDirect in computer-connected mode played in all five of our test players, as well as in four out of four randomly selected drives.

DVD movie rip/burn tests (min:sec)
(Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
4.4GB DVD Video burn test  
4.4GB DVD Video rip test (from DVD Video)  
Note: * = As 16X DVD-R media was not available at the time of testing, 8X media was used--which the LaCie drive writes to at 12X

Double-layer DVD movie rip/burn tests (min:sec)
(Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
7.9GB DVD Video burn test  
7.9GB DVD Video rip test (from DVD Video)  

CD Audio rip/burn tests (min:sec)
(Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
74:35 CD Audio burn test  
74:35 CD Audio rip test  

RW read/write tests (min:sec)
(Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
4.22GB RW write test  
4.22GB RW read test  

Unless otherwise mentioned, all write tests are run with Verbatim media, rated at the drive's maximum speed. Find out more about how we test optical drives. The DVDirect includes a standard one-year limited warranty. Toll-free technical support, live chat, and e-mail support are available Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT. Sony's Web site isn't elegant to navigate, and its support section was briefly down one morning when we checked. Without charge, you can download a replacement user guide and quick-start poster from the support site. Although the Sony site has a searchable knowledge base, we weren't readily able to find any information specifically dedicated to the DVDirect.

Sony DVDirect

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Support 7
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