No, you can't get a DVD recorder for less than $150--yet. But at well under $300 (and falling), prices are easily half what they were just a year ago. And for that you can thank the proliferation of entry-level models, such as Lite-On's LVW-5005.
Lite-On has taken its expertise in the field of PC optical drives (see the SOHW-832S, for example) and applied it to consumer electronics. The LVW-5005 occupies the middle slot in the company's DVD recorder lineup and is distinguished by its ability to record to all four DVD formats: DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW. By contrast, the cheaper Lite-On LVW-5001 (which is all but identical to the Gateway AR-230) can record only on +R/RW media. The step-up LVW-5020, available August 2004, adds an 80GB hard disk to the mix for DVR-style recording.
The LVW-5005 won't win the Ms. DVD Recorder 2004 pageant, but the silver box (measuring 16.5 inches wide by 10.5 inches deep by 3 inches high) looks decidedly less objectionable than the gaudy champagne-gold Gateway. The remote, meanwhile, is a winner: in addition to the well-laid-out DVD-transport and setup controls, it includes keys for switching channels on the 5005's internal analog TV tuner. The remote's design dovetails nicely with the recorder's simple-to-use graphical onscreen menu.
The back panel of the LVW-5005 has all the standard DVD outputs, including progressive-scan component jacks and optical and coaxial digital audio jacks. On the input side, there's a single stereo A/V connection with composite or S-Video available. Additionally, an RF input and output allows for a direct cable or antenna connection, but it doesn't pass DVD video. Behind a flip-down panel on the recorder's front face is another A/V input along with a FireWire port for digital connections to DV camcorders. (By contrast, entry-level DVD recorders from Panasonic and Sony, the DMR-E55S and the RDR-GX300, respectively, don't provide FireWire ports.)
The aforementioned graphical onscreen interface, which Lite-On calls EasyGuider, makes recording real-time video from any of the recorder's inputs a snap. Unlike more expensive competitors, however, the LVW-5005 doesn't have an electronic programming guide or an IR blaster, and it lacks even VCR Plus for shortcut timer recordings. Those with an off-air antenna or an analog cable can use the built-in tuner to manually schedule as many as five recordings at a time, including repeat monthly and weekly sessions, but satellite and digital-cable viewers will have to jump through familiar hoops--namely, leaving the box powered on to the correct channel--to record their programs.
Four recording options are available: HQ (one hour), SP (two hours), EP (four hours), and SLP (six hours). As always, a longer recording time means lower video quality. For recordings in the one-hour and two-hour modes, video quality was impressive and far beyond that of any VCR. Resolution exceeded 450 horizontal lines, and video was largely free of motion artifacts. The four-hour EP mode was decidedly VHS-like, producing a softer picture and some MPEG pixelization, while the six-hour SLP mode appeared unacceptably muddy and blurry. Those looking for optimal video quality will want to record from the S-Video or FireWire input using either of the top two modes.
Recorded discs have few customization options. The menus are bland, and you're stuck with the screen grab from the opening second as the thumbnail for each title. Program titles can be edited but are limited to eight characters. On the plus side, chapter lengths can be set to range to up to 15 minutes, rather than locking into the default 5 minutes found on most other DVD recorders.
The LVW-5005's video playback quality was below average. The middling performance on the Video 2000 test disc and the jagged contours evident in the opening scene of Star Trek: Insurrection indicated poor 2:3 pull-down implementation. Even nonvideophiles will be able to spot the less than stellar playback. (If not for this flaw, the LVW-5005 would have achieved an average score in performance.) In terms of disc compatibility, the news was better: the 5005 plays most standard disc formats. In addition to DVDs, DVD+R/RWs, and DVD-R/RWs, it accepted CD-R/RWs, MP3 CDs, VCDs, and photo CDs in our tests, although some took longer to boot up than others. But the LVW-5005 lacks the sort of impressive multimedia support (WMA files, mixed-media discs) and easy file navigation interface found on budget DVD players such as the DVD-S47S.
In the final analysis, the Lite-On LVW-5005 is a perfectly serviceable DVD recorder if you're not looking for a feature set that's any more elaborate than your VCR's. Sticklers for video playback quality will want to look elsewhere, but camcorder enthusiasts will appreciate the FireWire port, while nontechies will like the EasyGuider menu system. For around $250, it's a good deal.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.