The Malata DIVA-2 bills itself as an all-purpose "entertainment console," but this jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. This dual-deck DVD burner is the first of its kind to record video in Windows Media 9.0 format, and it boasts the ability to browse the Web and stream movies over your broadband connection. Unfortunately, the DIVA-2 ($550 list) delivers poor video quality, weak on-demand content, clunky Web browsing, and some annoying bugs. The DIVA-2 might be fine for recording filibusters on C-Span, but movie lovers will be sorely disappointed. We're sure that better set-top WM9 player/recorders will be available in the not-too-distant future, and you should definitely hold off until then. Measuring 2.75 by 17 by 14 inches (HWD), the DIVA-2 is slightly slimmer than other DVD recorders we've seen, and its sleek silver lines look sharp next to other A/V components. The nonbacklit remote gives you one-touch access to the four main modes: DVD, Internet, video recorder, and A/V player (D-I-V-A, get it?), but we had a tough time getting the hang of the confusing key layout. The angle and subtitle buttons are on opposite ends of the remote, the volume controls are hidden in the lower-right corner, and the channel keys share space with the up/down buttons in the five-way navigation control. The DIVA has four main functions: playing CDs and DVDs, recording video in Windows Media 9.0 format, streaming media from your own PC (network media player-style), and browsing the Web--which includes media from Malata's proprietary site. Unfortunately, each of these features comes with its own set of problems.
Recording video on the DIVA was simple enough: we just hit the remote's Record button while watching TV through the device. We were able to schedule up to six timed recordings at once. Since there's neither an onscreen programming guide nor an IR blaster to change the channel on a cable or satellite box, box users must set the channel manually.
The problem with recording in WM9 format is that, aside from the DIVA itself, only WM9-compatible DVD players (none are available at press time) can play back the discs the DIVA creates. Once you're done recording and you've finalized, or locked, the disc, you can view the WM9 files on your PC. However, we found that we couldn't fast-forward or rewind the files from Windows Media Player, nor import them into Windows Movie Maker. That's because there's a bug in the way the DIVA encodes the WM9 files; to fix the bug, you'll have to run an included utility to patch every file the DIVA records. How a glitch like this made it into a shipping DVD recorder is beyond us.
The unit's ability to stream media from your PC, such as movies, music, and images, is decidedly limited. In our tests, the DIVA displayed JPEGs and played MP3s, but it wouldn't recognize MPEG or AVI video files in its A/V player mode (although MPEGs worked fine from the DVD player), and it even had trouble with Windows Media files despite its ability to record in that format. And while the DIVA is supposedly compatible with Microsoft's HighMAT format (a standard for DVD players that makes it easy to view images and play music burned on CDs), the DIVA wouldn't play our HighMAT-encoded CD-RWs; we had to manually burn the files on a DVD+RW to make them work.
If you have a broadband Internet connection, you can plug your Ethernet cable into the back of the DIVA to surf the Web or sample on-demand programming (courtesy of Aeon Digital). The much-touted on-demand offerings are disappointing, to say the least. As of press time, you can watch a selection of only about 20 movies (most of which are ancient black-and-white films, such as Battleship Potemkin and Reefer Madness), a handful of movie previews and songs, and about 40 music videos. We couldn't download and record any of the online content as advertised; we could only watch real-time streams. And while the streaming trailers looked good, the movies and music videos suffered from blocky digital artifacts. Malata says that better on-demand programming will be available in the fall of 2004, but it hasn't happened yet.