Opening Moves Page 2

Clarifying the Lingo Each company uses confusingly different terminology to describe identical or very similar features or capabilities. We've tried to standardize the terminology as much as possible in compiling the "Features Checklist" and "Record/Edit Options" table to make them as useful as possible. For example, Panasonic calls the recording you get when you press record, let it run for a while, and then hit stop a "program," while both Philips and Pioneer call it a "title." We've adopted the latter term.

We also had to come up with a standard term for the signal format each of these machines use to create an erasable recording that's playable in a standard DVD-Video player. (The nonerasable DVD-R format is also supposed to be compatible with most standard players.) The one we've settled on, since each manufacturer calls it something different, is "DVD-V."

We're also using the term "recording mode" for the equivalent of tape speed on a VCR. Each recorder delivers its best recording quality in its 1-hour mode, which gives a maximum recording time of 1 hour on a single-sided 4.7-gigabyte blank disc.

Cracking the Books While many pages of the owner's manuals for these recorders are devoted to VCR-like functions, you also get page after page after page devoted to editing functions ranging from the mundane (naming a disc or a title) to the exotic (playlist editing). Figuring out the manuals is far more difficult than actually using these recorders.

In terms of sheer usability, the Philips ranks first, but only by default because its editing functions are far simpler than those provided by the other two recorders. On the other hand, its manual leaves out a few important details, including what happens when you simply feed a video signal through the machine, from either an external source or the built-in TV tuner, without recording it. The video undergoes an MPEG encode/decode cycle before it emerges æ which not only degrades the resolution but also adds MPEG-encoding artifacts!

Worse is that the picture quality you get depends on the recording mode that's selected, even if you're not recording! If you make a long recording and leave the Philips in its 4-hour mode, you can expect some pretty bad-looking pass-through video. Unfortunately, changing the machine to its far better looking 1- or 2-hour modes isn't easy. The Panasonic and Pioneer decks have Speed Change buttons on their remote controls, but the Philips buries this fundamental operating control deep within the setup menu! It takes at least a dozen pushes of the remote's menu-navigation buttons to change the recording mode.

Not that the Panasonic or Pioneer decks are paragons of user-friendliness. Both are considerably more complicated to operate than the Philips, especially if you want to edit the recordings you make. On the other hand, as you can see from the tables on these pages, both decks do offer more features than the Philips.