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.The DVDR80's handsome silver face is highlighted by a swath of mirrored plastic encompassing the drawer and the display, to the right of which sits a pair of circular pads for menu access and disc transport. The power button is to the left. During recording, a strip of red light outlines the drawer, and a small red circle appears on the menu control.
Philips's menu system relies on horizontal and vertical cursor movement, and sometimes navigation was a little too slow. But the options are straightforward enough that beginners shouldn't have much trouble, especially after consulting the helpful user manual. Operating the DVDR80 is relatively painless.
The remote's many same-size keys aren't distinguishable enough, but the designers did include a couple of thoughtful touches. The Record button's placement far from the central area cuts down on accidental recordings, and the pleasing rubberized film coating the principal items makes tactile differentiation easier. Unfortunately, there are no dedicated controls for forward and reverse scanning, so you must hold down Chapter Skip instead.
To configure Guide Plus, we entered our zip code and a few details about our system, then left the recorder connected to cable overnight. Afterward, many entries on the guide didn't correspond with the channels themselves, so we rearranged and renamed until everything matched--a tedious process. When we hooked up the DVDR80 to digital-cable boxes, Guide Plus loaded only sporadically, and it doesn't work with satellite setups, so your results may vary. If you can live without the guide and don't need progressive-scan playback, check out Philips's less-expensive DVDR75. Nobody will confuse Guide Plus with TiVo, but the EPG is pretty effective when it loads. A familiar grid contains your entire channel lineup, and live action from the selected channel plays in an inset window. Advertising occupies a patch of real estate--hey, there's no monthly fee.
When you select a program, you can schedule it to be recorded once, daily, or every time it comes on. The guide listings extend a week into the future; you can sort upcoming shows by name or theme. An IR blaster can change channels on your cable box automatically, and VCR Plus makes manual-timer recording easier.
The DVDR80's jack pack is difficult to top. Unlike the competing Panasonic DMR-E60S, the Philips lacks dual A/V ins and outs, but we consider its pair of digital-audio outputs (optical and coaxial) and its component-video input more valuable than multiple jacks of the same type. The back panel also includes a single A/V input and output, both with S-Video; a component-video output; and an RF input and output for the cable. Out front, behind a flip-down door, you'll discover another A/V input with S-Video and a FireWire jack for digital camcorders.
Philips's deck records on write-once DVD+Rs, which are somewhat less compatible than DVD-Rs, as well as on rewritable DVD+RWs. The seven recording modes can fit 1, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 6, or 8 hours of footage on a single-sided 4.7GB disc. But as recording length increases, video quality decreases. The simple DVD menu created on each disc consists of customizable thumbnail images and basic information about the contents. You can easily insert chapter stops on nonfinalized discs, or the recorder can do that for you in 5- to 6-minute intervals. Unsurprisingly, the DVDR80's picture quality ran circles around VHS's, even in the 4-hour mode. Our cable recordings were only as noisy as the channels themselves, with accurate colors and rock-solid stability. The main artifacts were crawling blocks, known as MPEG noise, in backgrounds and patches of solid color.
The 1-hour mode displayed excellent detail and very little noise, and the 2- and 2.5-hour modes, perfect for most movies, looked nearly as good. All three selections delivered 450 lines of resolution, according to our Avia test disc. The resolution dropped precipitously to 275 lines in the 3- and 4-hour modes, 250 lines in the 6-hour mode. However, resolution isn't everything, and as we decreased the recording quality in every mode, we saw more MPEG noise.
To further evaluate the video quality, we performed a side-by-side comparison of the DVDR80 and Panasonic's DMR-E60S, which has similar features but no program guide. The pristine digital transfer of Monsters, Inc. provided the perfect reference. Overall, the Panasonic in its 1- and 2-hour modes won by a very slight margin. The Philips tended to introduce more MPEG blocks but also looked a tiny bit sharper, especially in the background and the walls of Sully and Mike's apartment. In the 4-hour mode, the Philips edged out the Panasonic by a blue hair; Sully's coat was noticeably more detailed compared with the E60S's oversmooth rendition.
The DVDR80's progressive-scan video playback, thanks in no small part to Genesis/Faroudja DCDi processing, is extremely impressive. The deck passed our gamut of video tests easily, removing the jagged edges from the Video Essentials waving American flag and correctly implementing 3:2 pull-down during Star Trek: Insurrection.