The silver, mirrored face of the Philips DVDR600VR looks slick enough to disguise it as high-end component--although the big VHS tape door is a dead giveaway. The usual front controls are present and accounted for, including play, stop, fast-forward, rewind, and record buttons for the VHS deck; separate stop/play/record controls for DVD; and a dubbing button and VHS/DVD source toggle. (A keypad for navigating the menus would have been a nice addition.) A small door on the lower left opens to reveal a set of A/V inputs, while a FireWire input for digital camcorders sits across the way on the lower right.
At 17 by 10 by 3.5 inches, the DVDR600VR isn't nearly as deep as other DVD-VHS combo recorders we've tested, although it is a bit wider than usual. It's also the only such deck we've seen--and heard--with a fan on the back panel. While not overly noisy, the hum of the fan was audible in our theater during quiet passages.
We found the DVDR600VR's sleek-looking, nonbacklit remote devilishly difficult to use. For example, the play, stop, fast-forward, and reverse controls are grouped together, but the pause button is on its own and in a different color. The button that lets you edit a title is confusingly labeled FSS, for Favorite Scene Selection--why not just call it the Edit button and leave it at that? The Display button works only in VCR mode, while the T/C button--which stands for Title/Chapter, naturally--is essentially the DVD display control. Ugh.
The deck's aggravating menu system doesn't make matters any better. The rows and columns of arcane symbols aren't labeled, and the menu screens offer little in the way of help. What's worse, the method for navigating the menus seems to change randomly depending on the screen. For instance, sometimes you press OK to make a selection, while other times you must hit Select, and if you want to go back to a previous menu, sometimes you press the right arrow, other times you must press the System Menu key. The DVD navigation screens are similarly confusing, and you can see only three titles at a time, compared to as many as eight with other decks. The VHS display, meanwhile, has the crude, blocky look of an '80s-era VHS deck, and you can't access the system menu at all in VHS mode. Philips has been using this same menu system for more than a year now in decks such as the HDRW720 and the DVDR615; at this point, we strongly advise the company to scrap it entirely and start from scratch.
The Philips DVDR600VR's main feature is, of course, its VHS-to-DVD dubbing capability, and we were less than impressed by the results. For one thing, there's no one-touch dubbing here; you must get off the couch and press the dubbing button on the front of the deck to start the process. The recorder also fails to prompt you for a recording speed before dubbing, it cannot automatically generate thumbnailed chapter menus à la GoVideo's VR2940, and it delivered subpar video quality in our test dubs (see Performance). At least you can watch VHS tapes over the component-video output (in interlaced mode only), which doesn't really improve video quality but can make setup less of a hassle.
Like most of its kind, Philips's deck lacks an electronic programming guide, so you'll have to program VHS or DVD recordings manually or with the help of VCR Plus. Since there's no IR blaster to change the channel on your cable or satellite set-top box, you'll have to make sure the channel is set correctly for your shows to record.