Pioneer DVR-320 and DVR-520H Video Recorders

Unlike almost everything else, the price of new home-entertainment gear moves only one way - down. While $99 DVD recorders bulk-stacked at the Quik-Mart are still a few years away, DVD recorders have already come down to match what a high-end VCR used to cost. Witness Pioneer's new DVR-320 and DVR-520H, with list prices of just $399 and $599, respectively. These slim, largely identical components record on write-once DVD-R and erasable DVD-RW discs.

Fast Facts

DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 16 1/2 x 2 3/8 x 13 3/8 inches PRICES DVR-320, $399; DVR-520H, $599 MANUFACTURER Pioneer Electronics USA, pioneerusa.com, 800-746-6337

Key Features

• Both record on DVD-R/RW discs; DVR-520H also records on hard-disk drive • DVR-520H only: high-speed dubbing between hard drive and DVD; also bit-for-bit copying • Chase Play of currently recording program (pause, skip, scan) • Built-in standard-TV tuner • VCR Plus+ and timer-based broadcast/cable recording • inputs/outputs 3 composite/S-video inputs (1 on front panel), 2 outputs, all with stereo audio; two-way i.Link (FireWire) port; antenna/cable RF input; component-video output (switchable between interlaced and progressive-scan); optical digital audio output

Why the $200 difference? The DVR-520H has an extraordinarily quiet 80-gigabyte (GB) hard-disk drive so you can record TV programs either to that or DVD. You can also dub from the hard drive to DVD, meaning you could accumulate a week's worth of, say, All My Children, edit out the commercials, and then burn the whole sobbin' match to a DVD at high speed.

Four recording modes for both DVD and hard-drive dubbing - Fine, SP, LP, and EP - offer different tradeoffs between recording time and picture quality. On the hard drive, you can record up to 17 hours in Fine mode or up to 102 hours in EP mode. On DVD, you get from 1 to 6 hours. Both machines also provide a manual recording mode that lets you fine-tune the recording-time/picture-quality tradeoff in 32 individual levels, with EP equivalent to level 1 and Fine to level 32. PDF: Playback Compatibility Table

The 520H has a Disc Backup mode in which it copies a DVD bit for bit at high speed so you can save your edited home movies to the hard drive and make as many perfect copies as you like. Of course, as with any consumer DVD recorder, you can't dub copy-protected discs, which in cludes almost all commercial DVD movies.

Aside from their record buttons and front-panel A/V inputs concealed behind drop-down doors - including FireWire (i.Link) ports for dubbing to or from a DV camcorder or computer - the Pioneer recorders look like standard DVD players. Both rear panels (only the 520H is shown on page 48) look like most mid-level DVD players, but they have antenna/cable inputs for their built-in standard-definition TV tuners, two more A/V inputs for recording from external sources (like a satellite tuner), and dual A/V outputs so you can make a loop-through connection with a cable box or VCR.

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