Philips releasing (at last) a hard disk DVD recorder, plus the largest LCD TV in Australia

Philips HDRW 720 DVD recorder Philips Electronics flew me up to Sydney today to have a look at some of its forthcoming products. It was focusing on its new, expanded, Flat TV lineup, but there were some other interesting products there as well.

The Flat TVs consisted of new high resolution 42 and 50 inch plasma models, and several LCD ones. The most interesting of the latter was the 42PF9986, a 42 inch (107cm) model which, as far as I can work out, is the biggest LCD currently on the market. Looked very good where they were showing it, but I won’t be able to give a final verdict until I get one here to examine in my more familiar environment. All the Philips consumer flat panel displays are kitted out as TVs (ie. with analogue TV tuners and speakers built in). This large LCD unit uses NXT panel speakers. I don’t particularly like the sound from most NXT panels (and I forgot to ask them to play something through this TVs speakers, so I don’t know if it sounds any better), but the lack of speaker grilles certainly looked nice. Resolution: 1,366 x 768 pixels. Contrast ratio (the weak point of LCDs): 500:1. Price: $14,949.

Most of these new TVs come with Philips’ ‘Ambi light’, which is a couple of lights on the back to glow against the rear wall. The basic idea is good. Such lights have the effect of improving your eyes’ perception of the picture because, in a darkened room, it no longer looks like a bright white square on a black background. Remember that our vision systems have very good automatic mechanisms in them, such as auto contrast. The negative of the ‘Ambi light’ is that by default it adjusts the colour of the light it produces in accordance with the currently showing scene. Do yourself a favour and switch this off. Leave it on one of the fixed white settings. Reason? Our eyes also have an auto white-balance mechanism. The changing back-light colour can upset this. Best to have a steady, neutral as possible, back light.

A couple of new DVD recorders are forthcoming as well. The most interesting is the HDRW720 with an 80GB hard disk recorder built in. Philips has done some thinking about this and improved on the ‘Time Slip’ functions provided by the others to turn it into a real PVR. For example, by default the hard disk acts as a buffer, recording the last X hours (X = whatever you specify up to 6) of whatever’s showing. So at any time you can just rewind, back a few seconds to listen to an unclear phrase, or back a couple of hours to catch that show you missed earlier. And to do normal ‘Time Slip’, you just hit the pause button. You can also choose to save as a permanent recording any section of the material in the buffer. Price: $1,499. That’s pretty good pricing for today, but the way prices are dropping some of the competition might be beating this by late September, when the recorder is due.

And, no, it doesn’t support DVD+R DL discs. Dual layer recording is likely to appear in Philips’ units next year.

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