Lite-On LVW-5005 DVD Recorder

Is it finally time to say, "Au Revoir, VCR"?

So a bunch of us reporter types were sitting around CES 2003, and we kept hearing that recordable DVD finally stood poised to replace the VCR, since the prices had come down to the $600 range. Marketing people are paid to make these unrealistic claims with a brave smile, but the journalistic consensus was that recordable DVD would indeed replace VHS. . .when the price was closer to $200. We also hoped that format-compatibility issues would largely be resolved by that time.

Almost a year and a half later, I hold in my hands the $259 Lite-On LVW-5005, purportedly the first DVD recorder that can write DVD+R/+RW and DVD-R/-RW, plus inexpensive CD-R/-RW discs for the handy VideoCD (352-by-240 resolution, 68 minutes of MPEG-1 on a 700-megabyte blank) and Super VideoCD (480-by-480 resolution, 34 minutes of MPEG-2) formats. A built-in tuner means that it's programmable for up to six hours of TV recording, while ample inputs allow for digital archiving of videocassettes.

If you've ever connected a VCR, then you shouldn't have any trouble hooking up the LVW-5005. Begin with the tried-and-true RF input from your antenna/cable feed, plus RF passed through to the TV. S-video and composite video inputs share the back panel with a single pair of analog stereo inputs; there's an identical configuration for the audio/video outs. You can switch the component video output to progressive-scan via the temporarily distorted onscreen menus. Both optical and coaxial digital audio outs are also provided.

From a television-recording standpoint, the only thing missing is some sort of program guide, perhaps along the lines of TV Guide On Screen. Instead, we must settle for the old-fashioned start/stop/channel approach.

Oooh. . .Shiny
Much has been said about the incongruities of the +/-R/RW formats, but all we need to know is this: Thanks to the All Write system, the LVW-5005 records and plays back four of the major recordable and rewriteable DVD formats. Ritek, who quietly supplies many of the more-familiar names in consumer blank media with the discs they sell under their own brands, supplied the recordable DVDs for this review.

In practice, the LVW-5005 really is as simple to use as a VCR, with the extra step of finalizing discs so that they can play in other decks—a process that only takes about two minutes if the disc is full. (This isn't necessary with DVD+RW discs.) The beauty of the DVD-recording exercise lies in the aptly named Easy Guider menu. The clearly indicated directions had me up and burning in a few clicks. The deck recognized and formatted my blank discs in about five seconds. Everything from "Insert Disc" to "Go!" is covered. With TV recording, I didn't make a single mistake or waste a single disc. These menus combine with a remarkably uncluttered remote to make the experience quick and stress-free.

The image quality, largely limited by the integrity of the original signal, is affected by the addition of some minor to moderate digital compression, depending upon the setting used: HQ for one hour of maximum-quality recording, SP for two hours, EP for four hours, and SLP for six hours. At its best quality, compression adds the faint blockiness common to good satellite TV or so-so DVD images. Bright text, in particular, can become difficult to read, and the lower-quality compression settings (on top of a hazy VHS picture, for those transferring old videotapes) can be self-defeating, so I definitely recommend the higher-quality settings.

The TiVo Connection
Particularly helpful is the live video window to the right of the Easy Guide instruction icons, which allowed me to see my TiVo screen and control the Save to VCR function. Burning live TV to DVD is all well and good, but archiving cached series and films in an easily portable format—culled from a big hard drive that was in turn filled from the many cable/satellite channels at my disposal—was akin to running my own studio.

Here, however, I did find another shortcoming: Since TV typically arrives in 30-minute nuggets, a one-touch recording option in that increment would be a welcome addition. SLP is handy and economical, but this level of compression (atop any introduced by TiVo itself) upon original capture results in an unpleasant analog-style softness, surprisingly reminiscent of our old friend VHS. Audio is at best a respectable two-channel mix.

Chapter markers are automatically inserted at the default rate of every five minutes (or you can set it to 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, or none at all), ideal for anyone who wants to navigate finished discs quickly. This is where the Edit button comes in handy, before finalization, for naming the chapters via a virtual onscreen keyboard. A simple disc menu is also created, pulling an early frame from each recorded program as a thumbnail to identify the individual titles.

My only other recording gripe is quite minor: The deck input resets to TV of its own accord after each shutdown or whenever a DVD is loaded, requiring another step in the next recording session.

Let's Get Digital
A FireWire DV-Link port is conveniently located behind the front-panel drop-down door, next to the secondary composite video/analog stereo ins. As expected, the necessary four-pin-to-four-pin cable is not included; but, after visiting one RadioShack and four Staples and dropping $38, I was ready to patch my Sony DCR-TRV38 camcorder into the LVW-5005.

FireWire allows for high-speed data transfer and also enables commands via onscreen virtual camcorder playback controls. Such raw digital tape-to-disc dubs are great if your personal masterpieces are watchable as is or for a quick backup of a DV cassette. Here's where I ran into trouble and wound up making a few coasters, though. The virtual camcorder controls disappear with Easy Guider engaged, forcing me off the couch to press play on the camcorder itself. Also, the recording quality repeatedly defaulted from my chosen HQ down to SLP, for a frustrating and costly few minutes. One final cautionary note: This deck does not support 8.5-gigabyte dual-layer recording, which is expected to spread like wildfire this year.

And It's a Player, Too
In progressive-scan mode, the LVW-5005 imparts an impressively film-like look to the difficult-to-reproduce snowy opening scenes of Superman, better than some other entry-level products I've tried, without hard rings across the surface of Krypton or around its red sun. The blacks of Attack of the Clones lacked detail without actually being mushy, although I've seen worse.

During Finding Nemo, however, the player introduced halos I've never seen before on this title, and an undeniable softness tainted all of the DVDs I watched. The Faroudja/Sage demonstration disc further challenged the deck, as the luma and chroma separation analysis exposed serious flashing rainbows over the test pattern and flicker on the real-world images. The different deinterlacing exams also revealed severe flicker, as well as jagged video edges and feathering of video text on film.

The LVW-5005's real story is its painless multi-format magnanimity and relative ease of use. If pricing remains competitive, some additional features and refinements could make a future Lite-On DVD recorder the stepping stone of choice for a generation of VHS refugees.

• Plus, minus, R, RW: You name the format, this thing can handle it
• Progressive-scan component video out, plus FireWire digital video in
• Friendly recorder interface

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