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Sony RDR-HX900 review: Sony RDR-HX900

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Even more problematic is the fatally flawed TV Guide electronic programming guide, or EPG. On the plus side, the guide is free, the actual programming grid is serviceable (although we wish there were more than two columns of time slots), and the guide lets you browse--but not search for--programs by genre or alphabetically, while warning of recording conflicts. The guide's main drawback is a deal breaker, though: it doesn't work with digital cable or satellite receivers. See Performance for more.

The unit does offer a good selection of recording features, and it's one of the few models available that can record to any of the four major formats: DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, and DVD+RW. Besides one-touch recording and the ability to create playlists of your recordings (so that you can put video together without chopping up the original titles), you can also dub video recorded by the DVR onto a DVD. We dubbed some DVR'd snippets of Survivor onto a DVD+RW with no problems and with no noticeable loss in quality. You can also perform high-speed dubbing depending on the original recording speed, ranging from 2X for an HQ recording to a DVD-RW to 24X for an SLP recording to DVD-/+RW. Playback options were OK except for one surprising oversight: the Sony has no repeat options of any kind. No repeat all, no chapter repeat, no A-B repeat, nada.

The RDR-HX900 boasts an enviable collection of A/V connections. Everything is here: a component-video input, three S-Video inputs (two in the back and one up front), and a FireWire input for digital camcorders. Outputs are just as impressive, including a component-video out, two S-Video outputs, and coaxial and optical digital audio. Throw in the basic RF input/output, and you have a top-notch set of connections.

Like that of most DVD recorders we've tested, the RDR-HX900's recording quality was excellent. At its highest-quality recording setting, which gives you about an hour of recording time on a 4.7GB recordable DVD, the recorder captured crystal-clear, rock-steady images and delivered more than 450 lines of resolution. In the two-hour SP mode, the resolution held steady at about 450 lines, although we noticed some slight artifacts on the edges of our test patterns. We were pleased with the detail in our HQ and SP test recordings of Star Trek: Insurrection; the peasants fleeing from the attacking probes looked vivid and detailed, as did the smoky interior of the damaged Enterprise during the Riker maneuver. Recording quality plunged to a much softer 250 lines in the four- and six-hour EP and SLP modes, and we noticed blocky MPEG artifacts and juttery images, although we've seen much worse with other recorders.

As advertised, the TV Guide EPG does not work with satellite receivers. Its biggest flaw in our experience, and one that's definitely not advertised, is that it doesn't work with digital cable feeds either. We hooked it up to our Time Warner New York digital cable connection and followed the instructions, inputting our zip code and other specifics, and waited the 24 hours for program information to appear. In short, it never did. We've seen this sort of failure with TV Guide-equipped gear before, and we attribute it to the fact that digital cable systems often strip out the layer of information that TV Guide uses to power its EPG. The result is a lack of listings or, at best, incomplete listings. Compared to the no-brainer EPGs of TiVo and satellite/cable providers, this system is unacceptable.

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