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Philips DVDR985 review:

Philips DVDR985

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The Good FireWire and component-video inputs; progressive-scan output; thumbnail menu creation; records motion well.

The Bad Unfriendly remote; posterization artifacts.

The Bottom Line Though a bit pricey, the DVDR985 is an attractive choice, thanks to its strong features and component-video input.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall
During this dawn of the recordable DVD, the joy of being able to burn your own discs comes with the uncertainty of whether the DVD-R unit that you choose will be as obsolete as a Betamax VCR in a couple of years. That's because DVD recorders use one of two incompatible formats, DVD-R or DVD+R, to make discs that can play on standard DVD players. Philips's DVDR985 is the only set-top recorder that uses DVD+Rs. While the champion of the DVD-format war has yet to be determined, this full-featured deck is a strong contender in the DVD-recorder battle.

Editors' note:
After the DVDR985's initial release, Philips updated the model's firmware, which improved the unit's performance. This review has been altered to reflect that change.
During this dawn of the recordable DVD, the joy of being able to burn your own discs comes with the uncertainty of whether the DVD-R unit that you choose will be as obsolete as a Betamax VCR in a couple of years. That's because DVD recorders use one of two incompatible formats, DVD-R or DVD+R, to make discs that can play on standard DVD players. Philips's DVDR985 is the only set-top recorder that uses DVD+Rs. While the champion of the DVD-format war has yet to be determined, this full-featured deck is a strong contender in the DVD-recorder battle.

A VCR Plus+
The DVDR985's face consists of a lot of empty silver space punctuated by a few small buttons, a large display, and the disc drawer. The buttons offer no access to menu controls or even chapter skip; you'll need to use the remote for those functions. The remote itself has too many similarly shaped buttons, and it's missing one to open and close the drawer. The system menus are simple despite the recorder's complex capabilities, though some functions are too deeply buried in submenus.

The DVDR985 behaves just like a VCR. It has a built-in tuner and VCR Plus+ functionality so that you can easily program timer recordings. You can record in four different modes, from optimum-quality HQ (one hour of recording time per disc) to VHS-quality EP (eight hours per disc). When it comes to recording audio, the DVDR985 can copy only 2-channel stereo, but it can at least output 5.1-channel sound. Watching a program that you've recorded is as simple as selecting its thumbnail image from the menu, which is a notable feature since other recorders create generic-looking, text-only menus.

Competing formats
The major difference between this deck and its competitors--such as the and the --is the type of blank discs that it accepts. The DVDR985 uses DVD+R and DVD+RW media as opposed to DVD-RW, DVD-RAM, and/or DVD-R media. Write-once DVD+Rs cost about $7.99 each, while DVD-Rs cost around $4.99. After initial pricing that exceeded that of DVD-R by quite a bit, DVD+R media prices have fallen significantly. The two write-once formats now cost about the same, and rewritable DVD+RWs are generally less expensive than DVD-RWs.

In its favor, the DVDR985 created discs that played on a three-year-old Apex AD600A; none of the recorders that we've tested to date have been able to pull off that feat. Still, don't let that one example throw you. Both Philips's DVD+R deck and other DVD-R decks have had no problems creating discs that work perfectly in newer models.

In terms of connectivity, the DVDR985 has one fewer rear S-Video input than the Panasonic and the Pioneer, but you do get a component-video input, which the aforementioned recorders lack. That's a great addition since it provides the flexibility to record noncopy-protected DVDs--including homemade ones--from another player using the best possible connection. Behind a clip-on front panel, you'll find a FireWire jack for connecting digital camcorders.

Fixed flaw
Our initial review unit had a bizarre overscan flaw in playback, in which the entire picture area was raised about 12 pixels. As a result, the tops of peoples' heads were cut off, and a slim, black bar ran across the bottom of the screen. But we're happy to report Philips has since fixed the problem with an upgrade to the DVDR985's firmware, and the picture is no longer shifted upward. (Note: Current owners of the DVDR985 can contact Philips for a firmware update that will correct the problem. Buyers considering a new 985 should make sure the unit has the new firmware.)

In all other respects, the DVDR985 performed admirably, capturing all of the fine detail and jitter-free images that we've come to expect from DVD recorders. We compared two-hour mode recordings between the Philips and the Panasonic, and we found that the Philips handled motion better, but the Panasonic was slightly more skilled at reproducing fields of color. For example, in a sequence from Run Lola Run, Lola's jaunt takes her past brick pillars that occasionally degenerated into blocky pixels on the Panasonic's recording. The same pillars looked much cleaner on the DVDR985 and had no breakup.

On the other hand, a blue sky that looked relatively smooth on the Panasonic showed signs of posterization (where gradations of color break into distinct levels instead of smoothly progressing) on the DVDR985. Recordings made in one-hour HQ mode were free of posterization, and a dub made from a DV camcorder's FireWire input looked only slightly softer than the original tape.

Now that Philips has fixed the progressive-scan output issue, the DVDR985 is a very attractive deck for users who want a DVD recorder and can't wait for prices to fall. It's significantly less expensive than the Pioneer DVR-7000 and includes the FireWire input that Panasonic's less expensive DMR-E30 lacks.



Editors' note:
After the DVDR985's initial release, Philips updated the model's firmware, which improved the unit's performance. This review has been altered to reflect that change.

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