Philips leads the field with digital TV/DVD recorder

Well, today was busy. First I went to a Samsung product showing in Melbourne, and then a Philips one in Canberra. Both Samsung and Philips have some interesting new technology to enhance black levels in LCD TVs, and the new Philips LCD TVs add a further enhancement, in the form of LCD backlights that scan the picture at 75 hertz, only highlighting the pixels during the time that the pixel setting has settled, effectively reducing the pixel response time for markedly improved coherence on moving images.

Philips DVDR9000H DVD recorder with built-in SD tuner, HDMI and 400GB hard disk But the really excting thing at the Philips launch was its new DVDR9000H DVD recorder. It, and the next model down, feature HDMI outputs (with video upscaling). What really distinguishes this model is that it has a standard definition digital TV tuner built in. If I’m not mistaken, this will be the first consumer DVD recorder so equipped.

If all goes well, that ought to give a significantly better picture quality in your recordings, even compared to using an SD box plugged into an existing DVD recorder.

This unit is pricy, with the initial RRP set at $1,699 for the June 2006 release. But for that, you also get 400GB hard disk, Philips’ unique innovative buffering system that allows you to rewind live TV, and of course the HDMI output. It also supports DVD-R/-RW discs, in addition to the company’s preferred DVD+R/+RW, plus DVD+R DL for longer recordings.

I’ve put some questions to Philips about the unit to satisfy a few concerns and hopes I have:

  1. will the broadcast bitrate be altered when the digital TV signal is recorded on the hard disk, or will it be recompressed to whatever the setting of the DVD recorder is (M1, M2, M2+ etc)
  2. if the former, will there be an option to change the recording time to allow it to fit on a DVD+R/RW if required?
  3. given that digital TV in Australia is broadcast in widescreen format, will titles burnt to DVD+R be flagged as being in 16:9 format in a manner that regular DVD players will recognise?
  4. a peculiar virtue of Philips DVD recorders in the past has been their ability, when fed via the IEEE1394 input from a digital video camera, to include the video’s time stamp in the DVD’s subtitle stream. Since most digital TV shows also include subtitles, will the DVDR9000H extract these and place them in the DVD’s subtitle steam?
  5. what will happen to the audio stream? Most SD stations in Australia broadcast only with MPEG2 audio. Will this be converted to Dolby Digital or left as MPEG2? Some stations (ABC primarily) also broadcast with a secondary Dolby Digital 2.0 audio stream. Will this be used? They can, I think, optionally provide Dolby Digital 5.1. Will this be captured by the unit and burnt on subsequent DVDs?
  6. does the video upscaling via HDMI also support 720p, or only 1080i? And can it be switched off, to output at 576i, Or operate in progessive mode to 576p?

I’ll let you know the answers when I get them. In the meantime, the Philips spec sheet says that the DVDR9000H can ‘[r]ecord more than 650 hours of TV on the 400GB hard disk’. Since the best you can get from the broadcasts in my area at the original bit rate is 250 hours, this suggests that there is at least the capability of changing the recording time (and thereby lowering quality). I do hope that there is also an ‘original’ mode, to leave the video quality unaltered.

Reading the spec sheet further, I see that the answer to ‘5’ may be provided:

Digital 5.1-channel recording lets you capture – along with the video – the original sound from digital multichannel sources such as satellite receivers to store it on DVD. The DVD Recorder can record transparently the sound fed to the digital audio input, such as Dolby Digital, DTS or MPEG Multichannel.

I wonder if it records all of them?

UPDATE (Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 10:43 am): My brother informs me that the Philips DVD recorder buffering system isn’t unique at all (corrected above), but is also used in some low cost hard disk DVD recorders such as ‘MTV’ and ‘Kross’. These use DVD+R/+RW as their staple, so I imagine they’ve picked up some technology from Philips. Or maybe not.

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