Philips delivers above-average recording and playback quality with the latest generation of its entry-level DVD recorder. Too bad the DVDR615 is such a hassle to use. Saddled with a confusing menu system and a truly terrible remote, this DVD recorder will frustrate beginners and annoy even experienced DVD aficionados, who may nonetheless be tempted by its component-video and FireWire inputs.
Measuring 17.0 inches wide, 13.5 inches deep and 2.5 inches high, the beautiful DVDR615 has rounded top and bottom edges, a mirrored display, and oval buttons. Its wretched remote, however, drove us nuts. The nonbacklit controller has a four-way navigation toggle that cries out for a central Select button; instead, we get OK and Select keys on either side. (What's the difference?) Other annoyances include the Chapter Forward/Reverse buttons, which double as the Fast-Forward/Reverse keys when you hold them down (a recipe for accidentally skipping chapters when you just wanted to scan forward a few seconds), and a lack of dedicated repeat, subtitle, or angle keys. We highly recommend dumping the included remote for a universal model.
For an entry-level deck, the DVDR615 has needlessly complicated menus. The first screen looks like a jumble of arcane hieroglyphics, with no help or pop-up explanations in sight. After a little trial and error, we learned that the horizontal bar at the top of the screen lets you access DVD titles and chapters, toggle repeat modes, and zoom in on the picture (up to 4X), while the settings menu extends a vertical bar down the right side of the screen. Recording discs (DVD+R/RW only) is a relatively simple matter, but it took us a good half hour to discover that the Channel Up/Down buttons--which double as the top and bottom keys of the four-way navigation control--also cycle through the inputs. Go figure.
Rudimentary editing controls let you manually add chapter markers or put them in at automatic five- to six-minute intervals. You can also turn a still video frame into the background for the DVD menu--a nice touch. You can even hide chapters, which lets you skip segments of the title (commercials, for instance) during playback.
The DVDR615 lacks an onscreen programming guide for easy recording; for that, you'll need to step up to the Philips DVDR740, which has a hard disk. The DVDR615's VCR Plus functionality makes for easier timed recordings, but the recorder can't change the channels on your cable or satellite box, so you have to set your tuner to the right channel when you set up a recording.