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.
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.
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.