Pioneer DVR-810H DVR/DVD Recorder Page 2

First, as in every hard-disk recorder, the DVR-810H's hard drive is always on, and in a quiet room you can hear it whirring away. Second, the only TiVo controls on the front panel are play/pause and FF/ REW. If you lose the remote, you'll still be able to play a DVD and pause/scan TV, but you won't be able to change channels or use any other TiVo features until you get a replacement handset.

pioneer DVR-810H remoteAbout that remote, it's sensibly laid out and easy to use. The TV Guide-powered onscreen guide is clear and well designed, showing a channel list along the left and several hours of programming on the currently highlighted channel. However, this is the DVR-810H's only full guide display. Unlike other TiVos I've used, it won't let you toggle to a more comprehensive, full-screen grid with channels running vertically and time horizontally.

To one degree or another, all broadcast/cable hard-disk recorders I've tried - TiVo, ReplayTV, or PC-based - have suffered a common limitation: having to encode and then immediately decode standard TV programs in real time. Video quality can suffer from MPEG-2 artifacts like subtle, mosaic-like distortion or a finer loss of resolution I call "digi-grain."

The good news: either the DVR-810H's MPEG-2 encoding is better, or I'm growing more tolerant, because programs stored on the Pioneer looked distinctly better than my recollections of two earlier-generation TiVo boxes. (Video quality still wasn't as good as from a satellite-TV receiver/recorder, which eliminates on-the-fly encoding by storing MPEG-2 data directly.)

The DVR-810H can record at four different quality levels on its hard drive, all retained when a program is copied to a DVD: Basic, Medium, High, and Extreme. Basic allows 82 hours on the hard disk, 6 hours on a DVD-R/RW; Medium gives you about 55 hours on the hard disk, 4 hours on DVD; High about 27 and 2, and Extreme about 13 1/2 and 1.

You can fit 12 episodes of Scrubs on a single DVD-R recorded in Basic mode on the Pioneer DVR-810H.

I found the difference between, say, High (which I used most of the time) and Extreme to be subtle, but the drop from High to Basic was dramatic: Basic recordings didn't look much better than LP-mode VHS - and with an overlay of digititis. That said, it does allow you to put 12 episodes of Scrubs on a single 85¢ DVD-R.

As I said earlier, you can't record directly to DVD. You also can't dub programs from the hard drive while they're still being recorded, edit recorded programs in any way, or change the recorded bit rate (quality level). So if the ballgame you TiVo'd ran only 2 1/2 of the 3 hours scheduled in the guide, your DVD archive copy will be stuck with the extra 30 minutes of whatever the station broadcast following the game. And, of course, while you can skip past commercials when you play a TiVo recording (or a DVD of one), you won't be able to edit them out of the DVD.