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.Measuring 17 by 3.2 by 13.25 inches, the Sony is about as bulky and deep as other DVD-VHS combo decks we've tested. And while the RDR-VX500's design isn't as sexy as Sony's high-end DVD recorders, such as the RDR-HX900, its silver-and-black finish outdoes the looks of most other combo models. We like the pair of one-touch dubbing buttons between the DVD tray and the tape slot, as well as the long, thin door that hides the playback/recording controls and a front set of A/V inputs (including S-Video and FireWire).
We've long been admirers of Sony's sleek, easy-to-use remote controls, but we're not this time. The long, thin wand that's included with the RDR-VX500 is saddled with a poor keypad layout. While the five-way navigation pad is fine (if a bit small), relegating the Play button to the bottom corner with the Pause and Stop buttons to the right isn't exactly intuitive. Even worse is the sliding plastic door that hides the recording controls; it feels a bit like childproofing.
On the other hand, we were pleased with Sony's easy-to-use menus. While missing the flashy animation in Sony's pricier decks, the RDR-VX500's menus make a virtue of simplicity--within minutes of the beginner-friendly initial setup process, we were surfing though the various functions with ease.The RDR-VX500 may not include the automatically generated menus found on the GoVideo VR2940, but otherwise its feature array is on a par with any combo VHS/DVD recorder on the market.
First, the Sony records in four recordable DVD formats (DVD+R/+RW and DVD-R/-RW), a rarity for products like this. The deck will also play MP3s and display JPEGs. Better yet, it lets you play VHS images through the component-video output at 480p, saving you the trouble of switching to an S-Video or a composite output when you're watching a tape instead of a DVD.
Dubbing from VHS to DVD or vice versa is a snap; just hit one of the one-touch dubbing buttons, and you're off. You can choose from four different recording speeds: one hour (highest quality), two hours, three hours, or eight hours (lowest quality) per disc. Unlike the Panasonic recorders, there's no flexible recording mode that fills up a disc regardless of recording time. Another complaint: we wish the deck prompted us for the recording speed before dubbing began.
You can program up to 12 timed recordings, although the Sony lacks the TV Guide EPG found on standalone and hard disk DVD recorders. The deck does support the years-old VCR Plus feature, but there's no IR blaster to change the channel on your cable or satellite box, so you'll have to set the channel manually before a recording begins. Another option for those with timed cable or satellite boxes is synchro recording, which detects the video signal when your box snaps on and begins recording.