Originally Posted by EscapeVelocity
What were some of the favorites from back in the day? I remember almost plunking down for a Pioneer 810H or a Toshiba TX-*. They were kindof like Tivos though.
The Pioneer and Toshiba TiVO-based DVD/HDD recorders were never as popular when new as they were later second-hand. The new retail price was more than anyone wanted to spend, and their best feature (the TiVO operating system) also sucked: prohibiting you from any editing whatsoever, which kinda defeats the purpose of having a DVD/HDD recorder in the first place. Once discontinued, prices dropped to a more palatable level, and those who wanted a "poor man's TiVO" that just happened to have a DVD player built in developed a cult around them. The DVD section is pretty much worthless as anything but a player in these models, they were sought after primarily as cheap TiVOs.
Originally Posted by Rammitinski
I remember that early Pioneers often were reviewed as having "'not as good picture quality" as the other biggies at the time, but they improved that after a couple of generations.
The earliest Pioneers (the huge clunky expensive 7000 with no HDD) and the followup TiVO-based units (Pioneer and Elite) got major knocks for inconsistent PQ unit-to-unit and questionable reliability. They were so expensive, and the reaction so strong, that Pioneer did move quickly to upgrade them and by the end of production all three were pretty stable with decent PQ. These first three models were really out of range of most buyers, anyway.
The first serious consumer DVD/HDD model from Pioneer was the 510, which made tack-sharp recordings at SP. The following year saw it evolve into the 520, which was quite possibly the most popular, well-reviewed DVD/HDD recorder ever sold worldwide (until the Panasonic EH55 caught up with it, especially in North America). Normal, non-obsessive users rated the Pioneer, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, and JVC units about the same for real-world image quality.
Forum-type users were another story:it depended on who you spoke to, how emotionally invested they were in their particular recorders, and how strong their preference was for one type of subtle image factor over others. The five mfrs broke into two image styles: Pioneer, Panasonic and Sony opted for minimal processing and maximum detail. JVC and Toshiba opted for moderate to heavy processing. Those who preferred the processed recorders didn't merely "like" them: they adored
them, worshiped them, sacrificed goats and chickens to them. The intensely zealous promotion of the JVC DRM-10 in particular as "the only
recorder anyone in their right mind should consider" became boorish and overbearing after awhile. There was a somewhat less obsessive cult behind the Toshibas, and these two groups duked it out with the Panasonic fans for a couple years while the Pioneer and Sony owners mostly watched from the sidelines wondering what all the fighting was about. When the dust cleared, the survivors proved to be the ones with the best retail presence and/or best reliability.
The much-promoted JVC quickly developed a reputation for self-destruction which exceeded the infamous JVC vcrs in severity, with the HDD-equipped models causing such a scandal in Europe that very few were imported for sale in US/Canada. The interesting JVC non-adjustable heavy input processing caused as many image problems as it solved. The JVCs were uniquely well-suited for some material, but a poor match with other sources. Combined with the breakdown problem, they became niche recorders for the few who could properly exploit them and keep them working. By late 2005, JVC had given up and farmed their recorder production out to LG.
The Toshibas had a well-regarded balance of input processing and detail, as well as the all-time greatest feature set ever put in a DVD/HDD recorder: you cannot match the editing and authoring features of the Toshiba XS models unless you go to a PC authoring system. Unfortunately, these wonderful features were inordinately difficult to learn and use. And Toshiba had its own issues with unpredictable IRE variations, noisy mechanicals, and the worst burner design of any recorder ever sold. (Toshiba gave up on the high end in 2006 and subcontracted a line of me-too DVD/VHS combos from Funai.) Those who bought a Toshiba XS new and held onto it learned to work around the "gotchas" and really love their machines, indeed a working Toshiba XS is probably the best quality recorder you can hope to find. But they are a very bad risk on the second-hand market, unless like the JVC devotees you really know how to repair electronics and substitute for faulty parts occasionally.
The Pioneers largely flew under the radar: many of us thought they were ideal for our purposes, and still use them, but they were never really appreciated or provoked a "cult" until they became the only game in town for a year or two. The recording quality of most Pioneer models is excellent, if not quite as good as a Toshiba XS. The feature set is generous, later models are stone-reliable, and they're intuitive to operate. The only significant black marks in Pioneer's history are the misbegotten 2005 models with the badly-implemented TVGOS feature: these were nice recorders killed by poor engineering and quality control at the factory. They were replaced in 2006 by a totally new chassis designed by Pioneer and Sony together. The initial 540-543-640 were very reliable but PQ is not quite as sharp as previous or later models. The best overall Pioneers were the final Canada-only 2007 450-550-650 and the 2008 460-560-660.
Panasonic has always been a lightning rod for controversy. In the early days they were really only suitable for DVD-RAM recording, they weren't good at all with DVD-R (despite howls to the contrary by early adopters). By 2005-2006 Panasonic DVD/HDD design was as evolved as it would ever get, roughly at parity with Pioneer but with a few tricks up its sleeve like truly reliable and flexible TVGOS and the still-debated "enhanced" LP/4-hr recording mode. Panasonic bailed on North America, discontinuing its wildly popular EH-55 in late 2006, but a similar worldwide model has remained in production as an import option. The least-known but most important feature of earlier Panasonics is their near-indestructible burner design: it attracts dust like a magnet, and this dust will knock it out of commission, BUT if you clean it regularly (using tips provided by DigaDo here on AVS) many Panasonic recorder burners can last for thousands of discs, perhaps double the lifespan of other brands.
Sony never did well in North America with its early or premium models: their cheap (and awful) DVD/VHS recorders do a brisk business but the early, better DVD and DVD/HDD models languished. Most likely Rammitinski nailed it when he said they were overpriced and never went on sale, also the earlier HDD models were sorely lacking in editing features compared to less expensive offerings by Panasonic, Pioneer and Toshiba. Some have complained the early, tank-like Sonys had "grainy" picture quality, even at SP, but most have ranked them even with or just slightly better/worse than Panasonic. The more-versatile mid-period Sony DVD/HDD recorders were incredibly popular in Europe, but weren't sold in the USA and only sporadically in Canada. The 2007 and 2008 Sony DVD/HDD models in Europe and Canada were re-branded Pioneer 560s, minus the DVD-RAM feature and with the older less-sharp encoder chip used in the 640. Current Sony DVD/HDD recorders are truly dismal Samsung designs which are mercifully not sold in North America.
Early Philips-Magnavox-Sylvania-RCA-Polaroid models made by Funai were bottom-feeder crap, but the more recent Philips 3575/3576 and Magnavox 2160/531 with HDD and digital tuners are quite nice, the Magnavoxes especially. They use a more recent version of the encoder chip that was well-regarded in the old Toshiba and JVC models, but without any additional processing or filtering. They make fantastic off-air recordings and do well at VHS/Beta dubbing as long as your VCR is in good condition and the tapes aren't too far deteriorated. When dubbing really poor tapes, you might need to add an external TBC like the DataVideo TBC-1000 (necessary also with the old JVCs and very early Pioneers).