After some great feedback from you forum members, i bit the bullet and shelled out the cash for a new 515. It arrived today.
After running around looking for long enough S-video, RCA and HDMI cables, i got everything hooked up. One thing that i thought would be cool was running the monitor out from my AVR (Denon 3312) to the 515 so i could record XBOX gameplay and other sources. No luck, unfortunately, because the Denon only has HDMI and Component output
I let the channel-finder do it's job for about an hour, then returned to find the dreaded error : "Your device does not support HDCP, please disconnect the HDMI cable and use component cables". I was not happy, but i have heard that sometimes AVRs confuse the HDCP handshaking and cause problems. Reluctantly, i searched my cable-bin until i found some component cables and hooked them up. Still the same error - this time with the HDMI cable disconnected
I tried unplugging the 515's power and waiting a few minutes... no help. Then i realized the message was actually coming from the cable box (Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD). So i unplugged the cable box power. It just rebooted, now i get "Copy Protection : The DVI/HDMI output is blocked" message. Never seen that one before... and i'm not even viewing the HDMI output, i'm viewing the coax signal passing through to the 515.
Can anyone comment on whether this is expected or not? It seems i cannot tune (and therefore cannot record) directly from the coax.
I see that i can enter the DVR menu on my cablebox and actually start a 'Copy to VCR" session and that displays content through the 515. Then i can hit the Hard Drive button, hit Record.... and as far as i know, it's currently recording.
The 16:9 format looks like stretched 4:3 content - so i'm going to have to figure out where to change that setting. The quality looks pretty good for SD, but i'm still worried about what i'm going to get when i have to run the 3-hour mode on my DVDs to fit my 3hr sporting events.
Anyway.. just wanted to share my experience so far and thank everyone again for the info that helped me pick out the 515. I still might return it if DVD recording quality isn't up to snuff, especially since i can't get the tuner working. But i'm keeping my fingers crossed because this seems like the only way i can save any of my $65 PPVs before i have to swap my aging cable boxes.