DVD recorders have lost most of their relevance. Between DVRs and online video services like Hulu, couch potatoes can already record their favorite shows, and archiving seems less and less attractive now that everything is released on DVD or available online. Still, DVD recorders do have their place, as many bristle at the idea of monthly DVR subscriptions or prefer backing up their favorite TV moments to a physical DVD. Toshiba's basic D-R140 seems like a good solution for people who still want to record DVDs. It may not have as many features as competing models, but many people don't need those features and will appreciate its budget ($130 list) price tag.
That being said, the D-R410's list of limitations is long, especially compared with the competing Panasonic DMR-EA18K. It doesn't include an IR blaster, so scheduling recordings means you need to have your cable/satellite box tuned to the right channel. There aren't any extra features, such as a flexible recording speed, DVD-RAM compatibility, or extra connectivity, like a USB or SDHC card slot. And recorded video quality was mediocre on all recording settings other than XP, which is pretty constraining when you consider you can only record an hour in XP mode. If you can live with less than pristine recordings and don't want to spend more for extra features, the Toshiba D-R140 is a perfectly competent DVD-recorder. But, if you have some extra money in your budget--and will appreciate better recording quality and more features--the Panasonic DMR-EA18K is a superior choice.
Unlike large DVD recorder/VCR combo drives, the D-R410 has a relatively slim profile, measuring 16.54 inches wide by 2.32-inches high and 9.72 inches deep. The unit is fashioned in a metallic sliver and matte black color scheme, with a silver band running along its bottom. The unit also has an indicator for the output resolution, so you can easily see what type of signal the D-R410 is outputting.
The D-R410 sports some front panel buttons, and they're logically placed, with the power button on the far left and the eject button right next to the DVD tray. Toshiba, fortunately, has placed its Power button far away from the tray on the left side of the unit, where it logically should be; the eject button is positioned to the right of the DVD tray. Buttons for Skip, Stop and Record are also available on the front of the unit if you happen to bury the remote under the seat cushion. A fold-down door on the far right of the unit reveals an S-Video, FireWire, and composite video inputs.
We found the D-R410's remote to be harder to use than we'd like, especially compared with the Panasonic DMR-EA18K's clicker. First off, one of the most important functions of a DVD recorder--scheduling recordings--should have a prominent place on the remote, but instead it's accessed by the pedestrian Timer Prog button lumped in with other unimportant buttons. We definitely prefer the design on the DMR-EA18K, where important functions have irregularly shaped buttons surrounded by the directional pad. Secondly, the buttons are mostly rectangular, flat and small, which makes them difficult to navigate by feel.
The simplest way to make a recording is to pop in a disc, select an input, press Record, and hit Stop when you're done. Scheduling a recording seems easy enough; simply press the Timer Prog button and set the date and time, but since the D-R410 can't control a cable/satellite box, you'll need to turn it to the correct channel before the program. Plus, you also need to remember to turn the unit completely off before the recording starts, which is a common feature on DVD recorders. It's hardly the "set it and forget it" activity that you'd like it to be.
The Top Menu button brings up the main user interface, which shows the contents of a DVD, with thumbnail videos of six recordings at a time. You can enter title information through this interface, erase and record segments, and perform simple editing to remove commercials (on -RW/+RW discs), for example. This is also your media browser for photo slide shows and MP3 playback. The overall experience wasn't quite as ascetically pleasing as Panasonic's implementation, but it was still intuitive enough to accomplish basic tasks without resorting to the manual.
Unlike some other DVD recorders, the D-R410 does not have a built-in tuner, so any recordings will need to be made from an external video source--such as a cable/satellite box--connected to the unit's S-Video or composite video input. As with nearly every DVD recorder, the Toshiba does not have component video or HDMI inputs and cannot record high-definition material at full resolution.
The unit includes five recording modes: highest-quality XP fits 1 hour of video; SP fits 2 hours; LP fits 4 hours; EP fits 6 hours; and SLP fits about 8 hours. While the D-R410 does include one more recording mode than the Panasonic, we didn't find it added much functionality to the product, as LP, EP, and SLP were barely watchable and XP was imperceptible from its source--we'll explain further in the performance section. The D-R410 also supports dual-layer DVD-R and DVD+R discs, doubling the video capacity to 2 hours for XP mode and 16 hours for EP.