I had a multi-day, multi-camera production of a dance recital that was to end up as a two-DVD set. When I looked at the time required to digitize the hours of video and then compress the video for the DVDs, I concluded that the recent crop of DVD decks might offer a way to speed up the production process.
I could eliminate the computer by recording the event into a hard drive-based DVD deck and then use the deck's internal editing, chaptering, labeling, and dubbing capabilities to finish the program minutes after the event ends. This skipped over two of the longest stages of traditional DVD postproduction: digitizing and recompression. I would capture to the DVD deck's hard drive in the very MPEG-2 codec I would use for delivery. However, this limited me to minimal editing and customization.
There are several DVD deck manufacturers that offer multiple products in the consumer channel. However, only a few have offerings in the "pro" channel.
I approached Pioneer about their new PRV-9200, which is similar to their consumer DVR-520HS. These decks offer an 80GB hard drive and faster-than-realtime transfer of content from hard disk to DVD.
Pioneer continues to offer the much more capable PRV-LX1, which can hold two burners in addition to the 120GB internal drive, and has direct keyboard/ mouse connection, balanced audio, component video I/O, and more. This is a true pro DVD deck. It's also much bigger and about five times the cost of the 9200.
Panasonic was the first to offer a standalone professional DVD deck, and they have continued to produce several models with different options and capabilities ever since. Currently, Panasonic offers their DMR-T6070, which is the pro version of the consumer DMR-EH50. This deck offers a 160GB hard drive, plus PC and SD card slots. It now also offers faster-than-realtime dubbing from hard disk to DVD.
Toshiba recently announced the RD-XS54, which has a 250GB hard drive and networking capabilities. It also offers three other important features: the ability to upload custom menu backgrounds, the ability to edit and add title information to recorded content from a PC, and the ability to use a PC scroll mouse to control the recorder for detailed video editing. Though promising, this unit wasn't slated to ship until late summer, so it was unavailable in time for this review.
Sony's latest DVDirect recorder is the VRD-VC20, successor to the VC10. While this does not offer an internal hard drive, it is far more compact and purposefully built than any of the other decks, and represents an intriguing alternative strategy, so it was included in this article for comparison.
JVC offers the SR-DVM70US, which does the internal HD and DVD recorder one more by adding a MiniDV deck to the mix. It features a 160GB hard drive and touts 8X high-speed DVD duplication. Another interesting wrinkle is its touted improvement over other decks' resolution at recording times between two and four hours. We'll look more closely at this when we get one into our lab for testing.
There are others out there, but these are the principal players. For this article, we'll evaluate the Panasonic DMR-T6070, the Pioneer PRV-9200, and the Sony VRD-VC20.
The black Panasonic DMR-T6070 is a standard-width, 3"-high deck with a 160GB internal hard drive and a 4X DVD burner. The front-panel PC and SD card slots are for direct input of still images as content you can put on a DVD, not as content you can use to build a DVD. It features back-panel Line-1 and Line-2 I/O, component out, optical audio out, RF I/O, and front-panel Line-3 in and 4-pin FireWire I/O. It uses a standard, removable, grounded electrical cable.
Setting record speed and recording location (hard drive) is very simple but can be done only with the remote. The deck's display changes depending on what you show on the video output. For instance, the normal display tells you how long you've been recording. If you hit the Status button on the remote once, the deck's display changes to indicate remaining hours and minutes. This also puts four items on the video out: HD, REC, L1, MAIN. This means I'm recording to the hard drive from Line-1. Hitting the Status button a second time adds a second on-screen box with current date, time, HDD time remaining (67 hours, in this case), SP speed, track/title number, running time, and a bar graph showing how little of the hard drive I've filled up. There are no audio meters.
Panasonic has been at this a little longer than the others, and the smooth and fairly quick navigation shows it. An icon at the bottom of the screen tells you what buttons are usable. However, sometimes the item you are looking for is hidden in a Submenu tab and the interface doesn't indicate this. Even after a couple years, there's clearly still room for improvement.
The black Pioneer PRV-9200 is a standard-width, 2.375"-high deck with an 80GB internal hard drive and an 8X DVD burner. The thinner chassis is nice, and the cooling fan (they all have one) is internal so the entire back panel is flush (the Panasonic's fan sticks out the back). It features back-panel Line-1 and Line-2 I/O, component out, optical audio out, RF I/O, and front-panel Line-3 in and 4-pin FireWire I/O. It uses a standard, removable, grounded electrical cable.
You also can use the Pioneer for dubbing finished discs by copying the non-copy-protected DVD to the hard drive and then back to another DVD with the "Disc Backup" function. Moreover, you can keep multiple disc images on the Pioneer. This turns the Pioneer into a spiffy little DVD duplicator.
As with Panasonic, setting record speed and location (hard drive) is very simple but can be done only with the remote. The normal display tells you how long you have been recording and the input. Hitting the Display button on the remote once puts a big window on the video output telling you that you're recording onto the hard drive with so many hours to go (70 hours in this case), the video setting you're using, and—whether there's a disc in the drive. There are no audio meters.
During recording, the deck appears to prompt for the title name. Try as I might, I couldn't enter the name while it was recording. Entering titles while recording would have been a nice timesaver.
Once your video is in the Pioneer, you find yourself confronted with a bevy of menus. The Pioneer does offer a lot of capability, but it presents you with many tabs, levels and windows all at once. The multitude of options (five group settings, six clips, and ten functions) presented on just one screen can be a bit daunting at first. When you get used to the interface you'll find yourself able to divide, combine, and name clips, as well as erase sections and edit chapters, just as you can on the Panasonic.