Pros Excellent recording quality, editing ability, and a multitude of features and custom settings!
Cons Menu system and operation of the remote is not as intuitive as it could have been. Some functions are a bit tedious, but are still doable.
Summary When writing this review, I will try not to go into too much detail regarding the advertised features of this unit, since you can find this info on any web site advertising the product.
I have used three other DVRs (Digital Video Recorders) before and am very happy with this one, for the most part (see below).
Note: The manual is rather lengthy but it is worth reading since this unit is very feature-rich!
Unlike typical DVRs you would use with Satellite or Digital TV that simply write the digital channels directly to the hard drive (they are already digital, encoded at a preset bitrate), this device can encode analog sources (cable TV, or other video source like a VCR or camcorder) into MPEG-2 and save it to the hard drive. This unit does a great job of that. I had previously used a Motorola DVR that did the same thing, but the picture quality was awful on the analog channels (my guess due to a low bitrate or poor compression hardware).
Not only does this Toshiba device do a much better job of the video compression on the default settings, you can customize it yourself for even better results. You can vary the bitrate anywhere between 1.0 Mbps and 9.2 Mbps, in increments of 0.2 Mbps. Also, you can choose between two quality levels of Dolby Digital sound, as well as linear PCM sound.
I have an HDTV so am quite picky when it comes to picture quality (an HDTV really makes the defects in picture become apparent). My opinion is that this Toshiba recorder encodes analog sources beautifully at the SP mode (4.6 Mbps) and you really have to look hard to notice a difference between the original broadcast and the recording. Even LP mode (2.2 Mbps) is watchable without too much difference from the original broadcast. On SP mode, you can get about 71 hrs of recording on the hard drive, and LP about 140 hours. Lower it to 1.0 Mbps and you can get 284 hrs! However the quality of that is only marginally watchable!
The longest you can record continuously for is 9 hrs, which I would think should meet the needs of the average user.
All recorded programs have their own "bookmarked position" (done automatically when you stop playback) so you can always resume playback where you left off. Playback controls include 5 speeds of fast-forward (one of which is 1.5x, WITH SOUND! This is great if you're trying to finish a tv show in a short period of time. For example, you could watch a 1-hr TV show in about half an hour, assuming you use 1.5x speed and skip the commercials). The player also has instant skip-forward/back buttons. You may have seen this feature in other players before but the neat thing about this one is that you can customize (from several choices) how many seconds you want the skip-forward/back buttons to skip. And they can be set independantly of each other. Personally, I like 30 seconds for skip-forward, and 5 seconds for skip-back. The player also has slow motion and frame-by-frame too. Great for when you're trying to find a specific frame to capture as a thumbnail image or DVD menu background image.
Inputs include: 3 sets of analog inputs (S-video, composite video, L-audio, R-audio), and one DV camcorder input (firewire, or IEEE 1394). Please note that this DV input is the "small" kind of plug just like the one that plugs into most camcorders, as opposed to the large firewire port on computers-- so if you normally connect your camcorder to your PC, you may need to buy another DV cable with the small plug on both ends. Please note you CANNOT output through the DV cable back to the camcorder.
Outputs include: 1 component video (ColorStream), 1 S-video, 1 composite video, 1 L-audio, 1 R-audio, 1 digital audio (optical). I found that the unit simultaneously outputs video/audio through all these plugs, so I was able to connect component video to my TV and digital audio to my receiver, and also use the others to connect to my VCR or computer (for transferring recordings to VHS or doing video capture). The unit also includes a coaxial output to connect to the TV, but this is only used for pass-through of the cable signal, not for watching images coming FROM the Toshiba unit.
You can edit your recordings quickly and easily, trimming out unwanted segments like commercials, etc. to free up space. You can place chapter points anywhere you want. You can even select any frame of a recorded program to use as the thumbnail image. You can rename recordings and chapters to your liking, after they are recorded. However, if you set a timer to record a program using the TV Guide On-Screen system, then the show's title is automatically used as default (but you can still change it). Any manually set timers are labelled with the date and time of the recording.
You can also burn DVD-R/RW/RAM from your recorded content on the hard drive or directly from TV or input source. The recorder will even create menus for titles and chapters (which you can rename to your liking). Unfortunately, the only customization of menus that you can do is changing the color themes or background image. The button layout remains the same, standard template. One great feature is that even after a program has been recorded, you can make a copy of it at a different bitrate. If you want, the recorder will even calculate the bitrate automatically so your program(s) will fit perfectly onto a DVD.
One thing I should mention about the DVDs you burn with this unit-- The DVD menu always has to be accessed through the "top menu" or "root menu" or "disc menu" button on your DVD player remote. All other DVDs I've seen (and burned with my computer) always have their menus accessible through the regular "menu" button on the DVD player remote. Now, this isn't an issue with some DVD players since there is a top/root/disc menu button on the remote as well as a regular menu button. However, some DVD players have this button buried under a sub-menu accessible only on screen, so it's not as easy to get to. Fortunately, when you are creating the DVD on this Toshiba unit, you can configure it to automatically display the menu first, and after each title if you wish. So, you may never need to manually go to the menu anyway.
The TV Guide on-screen feature is great (for analog channels anyway - which is all I've used it for). You can view slightly over a week of programming in advance and use it to set recorings (unlimited # of shows can be set to record) and even search for programs by keyword, alphabetical, or genre. Episode titles and descriptions are displayed as well.
One thing I was wondering before I bought this Toshiba recorder was "do I need to connect the unit to a phone line to download the TV Guide information?" No, you don't! The guide information comes through the cable (apparently it automatically tunes to a certain channel when the unit is off and receives the data which is transmitted on that channel four times per day. Also, this is a free service so you don't have to pay a subscription fee. If you go to the "TV Guide On-Screen" website you can read all about "TV Guide On-Screen" and even tryout a interactive demo that works exactly like the real thing on the Toshiba recorder.
Overall this is a slick unit that does it's job well. Unfortunately, one major complaint I have is that it won't play SOME of my DVD-R discs that I recorded with my computer. I know the discs are fine because I've tested them in 5 other DVD players and they work great. This is a disappointment because I REALLY want to keep this new Toshiba player, but I was hoping it would replace my old DVD player. Now I'm going to have to keep my old DVD player around for times when I want to play other DVD-R's that won't play on the Toshiba. I WAS going to try to sell my old player.... oh well.
One thing to make note of... if you try playing a DVD-R that it can't read, it will sit there for up to 12 minutes trying to read it before giving up. During this time no other functions are available. I even tried resetting the unit during these 10 minutes and even unplugged it, but after plugging it back in, the front panel display simply said "wait" and no other functions would work. This lasted so long (12 minutes IS a long time for something like this) that I had almost decided the unit was defective and was going to exchange it for another one. And, I thought I would lose my disc because I had been unable to eject it! So, just to let you know... you need to be patient if this happens, and eventually you will be able to eject your disc.
Another minor complaint about the device is that there is one channel that has static instead of sound. I called Toshiba and they told me that they had heard from other people (only in my city (Edmonton, AB, Canada)) who have had the same problem. They told me it wasn't the Toshiba recorder, but in fact it was my local cable company including some kind of non-standard "transmission" on that channel that was causing the problem. I called the cable company and they said there was nothing different about that channel and it wasn't anything they were doing. Since all the other TVs and VCRs in my house pick up the channel just fine, I have decided it is the Toshiba unit (must be using a slightly non-standard method of tuning channels). I would have returned it to the store but since other people in my city are having the same problem, getting a replacement unit would likely make no difference. Anyway, it's not a channel I often watch.
One more complaint about the unit. For some strange reason, after a while it stops being able to recognize blank DVDs (-R, RW, or RAM). I put the disc in and it tries to read it for a couple of minutes before finally saying "Disc may be physically damaged or require cleaning". I later discovered that doing a hard-reset (holding down the power button or unplugging the unit) will fix the problem.
Pros Slick, nice design, records DVD-RAM, 3 Line inputs.
Cons TV Guide programming, fan running all the time, does not play some of the disks.
Summary TV Guide is half baked. In my opinion Toshiba should have given customer a choice to switch it off and allow to program via good old VCR+ or via manual programming. So if you decided to live with existed "TV guide" system expect some or all of the following.
Program data on certain channels never appeared (during a week of use before I returned this unit). Channels are scattered all over the place but more or less grouped by a service (HBO, Encore.. ). Having digital cable with hundreds of channels made it extremely difficult to navigate. There is no channel number or station ID next to the icon (those attributes appear in a box only when a particular channel selected) and the entire list cannot be sorted by channel number. Individual channels can be moved around though. Different channels for the same service cannot be identified (like all 8 HBO channels have the same icon). In my opinion they have to make it more like: http://online.tvguide.com/listings/ with scrolling wheel for navigation.
Even if you manage to make it fully operational (which I doubt), you’d certainly be annoyed by a "slow-motion" scrolling/channel changing. I’m not sure if it’s a Gemstar or Toshiba limitation but to wait for 5-7 seconds for the channel to change returns you to the age of 086 processors! Having a blazing fast TV guide on my Scientific Atlanta cable box I wonder why not keep up with this standard in consumer DVD recorders.
I did not really burn any DVD or record a complete program to HDD. So cannot comment on this matter. Playback is fine given that the unit had no problem playing some of the discs which I had trouble to play in my old JVC XV-723. Although it still did not recognized some of the media I dubbed with DVD recorded in my PC on Memorex DVD-R/4.7/8x. Skipping forward with shuttle wheel on my old JVC is much more convenient than button based Toshiba remote.
Finally about the famous fan. It must not work ALL the time. What is the matter Toshiba? I do not care about the sound it makes for now. It’s a reliability I’m worrying about. In a few months it either burn or wear out and become a turboprop.
"GREAT MACHINE"on by tulameenbc
Pros EASY TO USE once you get the hang of it
Cons TV GUIDE isn't working already (only a month old)
Summary Love the machine and being able to record all my shows to watch whenever I have time without having to worry about tapes. But after only a month..... I can't get the TV guide part. Keeps saying its loading but never does and its been days. HAD it so its definately available........... anyone got any ideas how to get it back. Not real electronically minded so make it REAL easy pls. But when it was working ---- I found this machine wonderful to record on (altho manuals are hard to follow) I am 50 so aren't into all the other features it can do........ but for all you mum's who want to tape shows......... its great. now can someone HELP me get the tv guide back
Pros Quality of recordings
Cons TV Guide, Complexity, Fan noise
Summary The Quality of the recordings on this device is superb. However, in the NY area with Cablevision it may not download at all, and the recorder is really designed to work with a TV guide. The fan is on 24/7. That is just dumb! even computers turn off. And if you get easily frustrated by complexity DO NOT BUY THIS. It takes some time to learn how to navigate around this device so if you had problems programming a regular device like a VCR CAVEAT EMPTOR!
Pros Good for editing
Cons Noisy fan!!!
Summary I like almost every thing about this recorder except the fan noise! I live in England and i dont have the fan noise when it is on standby, but it is intrusive when on. Any ideas how to reduce this?. I was told that with the lid off it goes quieter, so must be airflow problem, but would harm warranty.