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Toshiba D-R410 review: Toshiba D-R410

Toshiba may offer five recording modes, but the unit doesn't include a flexible recording speed--which is a mode that optimizes the video quality to completely fill the disc. That's disappointing, because it can be a very convenient feature. For example, flexible recording is perfect if you're recording a film and it's scheduled to run for 2 hours and 10 minutes, but you don't want to drop down to LP mode and reduce the quality of the recording. With the D-R140, you'll have to drop down to LP mode.

The unit also doesn't support DVD-RAM discs, which would allow chasing playback. This means you could watch a program from the beginning, even while in the process of recording. We did like, however, that Toshiba included a "commercial skip" function, which allows you to fast-forward in 30 minute intervals for television commercials.

The Toshiba also doesn't include an IR blaster, which would have been helpful to make scheduled recordings. Instead during our testing, we had to be sure that the desired channel was set for the time of the recording--an annoyance if you watch another channel before the recorder kicks in. Toshiba does offer what it calls Satellite Mode to start a recording whenever it detects a video signal from an external tuner. Your cable box or satellite recorder will need to be equipped with a timer function for it to work, and you'll have to set two devices to ensure your favorite show is recorded.

The D-R410KU supports playback of MP3 and WMA music, as well as displaying JPEG images if the material is recorded to a CD-RW/-R disc. Both file formats worked flawlessly on the unit at several bit rates and resolutions in our tests. It does not support DivX video files, so downloaders will want to look elsewhere.

There's some additional connectivity under the flip-down panel, although the competing DMR-EA18K has more.
As for connectivity, the D-R410KU comes with an HDMI output, which is capable of upconverting DVDs and incoming signals to 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. There are also component video inputs, which are able to upscale incoming signals and homemade DVDs to 1080i, but are limited to 480p for commercial DVDs. For older TVs, there is also a standard A/V output with S-Video. For inputs, there are two A/V inputs with S-Video and composite video (one front and one back) used to connect to standard home theater components, as well as a FireWire input for connecting a camcorder. While that's a perfectly acceptable connectivity suite, it's worth mentioning that the competing DMR-EA18K also offers both a USB port and an SDHC card slot on the front panel. Rounding out the connectively is an coaxial digital-audio output, which can be used to playback surround sound on commercial DVDs.

DVD-recording performance
To test the recording quality, we connected the Toshiba D-R410 to our DirectTV HR20 via S-Video, and compared it with the DMR-EA18K. Throughout our battery of tests, it was clear that the D-R410 just couldn't keep up with the recording quality of the DMR-EA18K. Starting by recording in XP mode, we noticed the D-R140 was just slightly softer than the DMR-EA18K, although both units overall had very good recording quality at this recording speed. When we dropped down to SP, The D-R140 lost a significant amount of its crispness, while the Panasonic looked virtually identical to its own XP mode. The differences were made clearer when we recorded resolution tests from Silicon Optix's HQV test suite; and you could clearly see the dip in resolution when changing recording modes on the D-R410. It's also worth mentioning that the D-R140 finalized its recordings sometimes as much as 30 seconds slower than the Panasonic.

When we dipped into the lower quality settings on the D-R140, things got worse. For example, in the resolution test pattern from HQV, the lines tended to bleed into each other. In one scene from Seinfeld, a newspaper is tossed across Jerry's apartment and we noticed that the paper "doubled up" with plenty of compression artifacts. The Toshiba faired poorly on all three of its high-capacity settings--we noticed little difference between LP, EP, and SLP, all of which were comparable to Panasonic's EP mode. Comparatively, Panasonic's LP mode looked almost as good as its SP mode, which means you can fit 4 hours of video in a standard recordable DVD without losing much quality. All in all, videophiles will be disappointed with the D-R140's recording quality.

We didn't have any trouble getting the Toshiba to record on all the disc types it supports, including DVD+R/-R, and DVD+RW/-RW, and have it display in the correct aspect on wide-screen TVs.

DVD performance
As we do with all our reviews of DVD recorders, we looked at the D-R140's playback performance, as many may choose to use it as their primary DVD player in addition to a recording device. We set it up side-by-side with the DMR-EA18K, and popped in Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on DVD. The Toshiba failed the first resolution test, as it could not render the most detailed section, washing out the vertical lines into a flickering box. On the next jaggies test, the Toshiba again came up short, as it showed way too many jaggies on a test with three shifting lines. The DMR-EA18K performed better on both of these tests. Both units had some trouble with the detail test, as we saw curved lines, known as moire, in the white marble steps on both players. On the other hand, they both also passed the 2:3 pull-down test, successfully kicking into film mode right away.

Test patterns are helpful for spotting flaws, but we wanted to see if these issues popped up in regular program material. We starting off with the film, Star Trek: Insurrection, and noticed almost immediately that the Toshiba could not smoothly render the curved railings of the bridge and the contours of the ship's hull as it swiftly passed on the screen--there were plenty of jaggies, which we found distracting. The introduction to Seabiscuit revealed the same issues. While the Panasonic had a jaggy here and there, Toshiba's performance was poor in comparison, with many of the black-and-white photographs in the introduction sporting jagged edges. The bottom line is that those who pay attention to video quality won't be satisfied with the D-R140's DVD playback performance.

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