Despite more than a few bugs and a confusing interface, WinDVD Recorder has impressive potential. It handily combines the functions of both a DVD player and a digital video recorder (DVR); it can play back DVD movies and record television from your PC directly to your hard drive or CD/DVD burner. Such features trump even TiVo, since the $119.95 WinDVD Recorder is the only software we know of that can record in real time to rewritable CDs and DVDs. Overall though, WinDVD Recorder has the feel of a product that was rushed to market a couple weeks early. It does what it needs to, but it's not nearly as intuitive or bug-free as it should be. If you're not ready to shell out for a full-fledged personal video recorder, keep your eyes peeled for the next version of WinDVD Recorder--but don't buy it quite yet.
You can purchase WinDVD Recorder only in the form of a 20MB download. Once you get the whole dang thing to your hard drive, installation is relatively painless and requires approximately 60MB of disk space, plus about 5 to 10 minutes of time. You'll have to manually skip past two legal disclaimers, enter a serial number to activate the program, select whether the program will autoplay DVDs, make it the default player for movie files (or not), and decide whether to install the optional HTML help file.
Don't say no to those help files--WinDVD Recorder's dual playback/recording functionality and numerous features make it tough to master at first. But while these help files contain enough information to get you started, we noticed several incorrect or missing details--the manual frequently provided instructions for the wrong InterVideo product, for example--and a failure to mention that the program can timeshift (pause, rewind, and buffer) live video the way a TiVo player can.
|You can dock the lower control panel to the larger playback screen.|
WinDVD Recorder boots in a two-window configuration: the first displays the video image and the second, a separate panel, holds tools and control functions for playback and recording. You can resize the display window all you like, but if you're watching a movie, WinDVD Recorder will maintain the correct aspect ratio for the image being displayed--a nice touch. You can access program options and settings through right-click pop-up menus, dialog boxes, and subpanels that extend and retract on the right side of the control panel.
As for the panel's tools and control functions, you can hide the panel or dock it to the display window to reduce clutter. The control panel looks just like that of a VCR; the basic Record and Play buttons are easy to recognize, but other tools are far less intuitive. We found small, annoying bugs, as well. For instance, if you close one of the options subpanels, you can't reopen it until you've opened and closed another.
WinDVD Recorder is basically TiVo in a box--with a twist. In addition to playing back DVD movies, this app can capture and compress video (say, cable television, if you have a TV tuner card in your PC) in real time, from any source, directly to your hard drive or to a CD or DVD burner. Other video recorder choices, such as SnapStream and Windows XP Media Center Edition, don't do real-time burning; you must instead save video files to your hard drive, then compress and burn to disc.
Recording directly to CD or DVD can save you tons of time by eliminating conversion and archiving when you capture video to a hard disk. You will have to spend some time formatting the disc. The program burns CDs in VideoCD and Super VideoCD format and DVD discs in the Video Recording (VR) format, which, according to InterVideo, lets you play and edit in a consumer DVD recorder such as the Philips DVDR985. Unfortunately, WinDVD Recorder's handling of VR is somewhat awkward. For example, you can make multiple recordings on a single VR disc, but the program doesn't generate an onscreen menu or keep track of these recordings in any way. So, rather than flipping through a nice menu that shows the programs that you've recorded, you must search the VR disc for a menu that's really for DVD movie playback, then guess which title (labeled as 1, 2, 3, 4) corresponds to the program you want--a kludge at best.
Pick your programs and make your PC wake up to record them.
WinDVD Recorder can pause live video but only for 10 minutes (TiVo, by comparison, can pause for 30 minutes), and this feature isn't mentioned in the help file or the online promos; to try it out, press the Pause key on the interface or your PC remote when viewing live video. WinDVD Recorder also includes a small applet that runs in the background to give the program its VCR/TiVo/ReplayTV-like abilities. It launches the main program to make recordings at times you set with the program's scheduler, then closes the program when the recording is finished. Unlike most other PC-as-VCR programs, it will even wake your computer from standby so that you don't have leave it running full blast day and night--a simple feature that can save you a considerable amount of electricity.
As for video playback, WinDVD Recorder offers all of the features found in its nonrecording sibling, WinDVD Platinum, including support for advanced audio--Dolby Digital, Dolby Virtual Surround, and DTS audio streams. It also plays 24-bit/96KHz audio streams on the exceedingly rare DVD movie disc that offers them. (The program will not, however, play the DVD Audio discs, which are the most common source of 24-bit/96KHz audio.) WinDVD Recorder also plays most common movie files: MPEG-1, AVI, WMV, and such, as well as those encoded in the popular DivX MPEG-4.
Alas, a few nonessential but handy features were DOA in this first release. The electronic programming guide that should allow you to schedule recordings over the Web didn't work (InterVideo says that it's working on the problem), and the thumbnail pictures of each channel created by the channel surf option showed up blank. We also encountered some nonfatal bugs and an often-quirky interface. We were disappointed to note that you can't use the software to delete commercials or trim video captures before burning to media. Nor does WinDVD Recorder offer VCR+ scheduling--that is, it won't work with the codes in program listings that make it easier to schedule recordings on a VCR or DVR.
InterVideo's online support consists of a very general set of FAQs and an address to which you can e-mail tech support. You can update the program by downloading the latest demo and reactivating it with the information provided at purchase. Telephone technical support is available from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT. In our test calls, although they were somewhat expensive toll calls, we never waited more than one minute for a tech-support agent to answer--a rarity in the software industry.