Review of a Philips DVDR 3460 DVD recorder

(Picture of the recorder and the remote control.)

I bought a new recorder, to replace a dying and annoying Liteon LVW-5005 DVD recorder.  I picked this one as it's cheap (most clients strive to pay the least amount possible when contracting me out for work, so that means we don't buy expensive gear to do their work), and I'd had a brief play with the same model previously (finding one or two things in its favour).

The quick summary is that it's simple, quite slow at responding to the remote control (incredibly slow for some actions, particularly horizontal cursor navigation, and changing video inputs and channels), but produces recordings that are quite compatible with the fussiest players that I've tested against (something that the aforementioned Liteon recorder was not), with reasonable sound and picture quality.  The compatibility being the major drawcard, as I've found several different recorders produce discs that will not play on many players, at all.  This is the first recorder, that I've come across, where its recordings have played on everything that I've tried it on.

Like many such appliances, these days, the manual is devoid of any real technical information—such as audio input and output signal levels—making it a bit hit and miss as to how well it's going to work when you connect it to other equipment.  With equipment like this, you can probably get away with presuming that the video connections use the standard signal levels (though that mightn't be the case with component video signals—there's several variations in signal levels by different manufacturers), but audio signals have no consistent standards in domestic audio–visual equipment.  This can mean audio signals blasting input stages into distortion, or feeble signal levels (with lots of noise, on top) between equipment.  And with no metering, no level adjustments possible, and no details in the manuals, you can only guess at what the signal levels should be.

It suffers the multiple-functions-per-key feature that I find extremely annoying in many other badly designed devices.  For instance, you have a combined fast-search/chapter-skip button.  You tap it to skip, or hold it down to do fast-searching.  That's annoying enough, in itself, but it's made worse by having to hold the button down for several seconds before it goes into fast-search, likewise for increasing the speed or changing directions (you're going to be holding buttons down for at least fifteen to twenty seconds, just to arrange to fast-forward through adverts).  Even more annoying, on the remote it's a one-piece rubber button for forward and reverse, with it being difficult to press the right part of the button to get the direction that you want, and I frequently find that I can only get the player to skip forward a chapter rather than fast-forward, resulting in a lot of repeated fiddling around to try and get back to where I was then try and fast-forward again.  I have to dig my fingernail into the button, and push it below the level of the plastic surrounding the button.  It'd be impossible to push some of the buttons without fingernails.  This is inexcusably bad design.

That sort of thing (fast-forwarding awkwardness) mightn't be such a big issue for the average DVD player being used for playing pre-recorded movies.  But this is a recorder, with one prime use being to record and play back television.  This means that you're going to want to have good search features, to fast-forward through the annoying adverts, then be able to easily go back a bit, as you fast-forwarded too far through the adverts, and into the resumption of the program.  You need good search control for this, chapter skipping is the last thing you want to happen (though a simple skip fifteen seconds ahead button would be useful for advert skipping).  It seems that decades of various really bad VCR designs, of poor fast-search forwarding and rewinding, by nearly every manufacturer, hasn't taught Philips to design a new device in a better way.  You have buttons galore on the remote, but you're missing two vital ones (separate search/skip buttons), and less-than-brilliant placement of other ones (e.g. tiny play/pause buttons that you have to look at the remote to find, instead of being able to intuitively move your thumb between the main ones you need).  All the buttons are those annoying rubbery-plastic buttons that need pressing too hard to get them to work.  And need I mention that you absolutely need the remote control to use the unit, there's not enough controls on the deck, itself.

This year, 2008, is yet another of the years that analogue television was supposed to be turned off (the date has been repeatedly pushed back), with everything supposedly going over to digital transmission.  And this is yet another recorder which only has an analogue tuner, making it almost immediately obsolete.  I'm getting tired of having to add set-top boxes to things around the place because that's the only way to watch or record digital television.  It's a pain, it means more wires everywhere, more remotes, more power being used.  Even worse if you want to be able to watch one channel, while recording another—you need two set-top boxes, one for the recorder, another for the monitor, and then you have to contend with the remote control affecting both units at the same time.  Digital receivers should have been built into everything that's been built for the last several years, the standard's been fixed long ago, and the analogue shut-off's been planned for a long time.

Sound and picture quality-wise, it's fairly good.  I haven't really put it through it's paces, yet, but there's not too much to complain about in this area.  Though, the menus that choose which title to play from, when you play one of it's recordings on another deck, are a bit poor looking.  The background's low resolution, and descenders on the text can get sliced off.  More bad design…  Oddly enough, the deck always uses its own menus, and ignores the menus it records onto the disc.  You won't notice that until you put one of it's discs into some other player.

It records onto plus and minus discs, rewriteables, and dual-layer discs (including all the possible combinations of those—there aren't dual-layer rewriteables discs). There's several recording quality modes, offering 1, 2, 3, 4, & 6 hours per disc.  While it can only make DVD recordings, it can play back many different formats as well as DVD, including audio compact discs, discs with MP3 and/or JPEG files, discs with individual MPEG and DivX video files, VCD and SVCD.

You have the usual S-Video and composite-video inputs and outputs, DV input, component video outputs (which also supports interlaced or progressive scan), stereo audio inputs and outputs (two outputs), an electrical digital audio output, a RF input for recording analogue television off air, and a RF output for passing the antenna signal through to something else, but you can't play discs through the RF connector, you need a monitor with video signal inputs.  You also need to leave the recorder fully turned on to watch television signals being passed through those RF connectors, as the signal level drops when the machine is in standby; you'd be much better off using an external splitter.  Unfortunately, Philips really cut corners with the video outputs, too.  Apart from using awful RCA sockets commonly used on most domestic gear, none of the outputs are 75 Ohms.  This can mean bad signal quality on long video cables, or even with any short cabling (if they introduce their own impedence problems), or at the input stages of some other equipment even with good cabling (depending on how the input stages are designed).  Considering that many people use rather awful quality RCA leads between equipment, and the deck comes with the thinnest RCA leads that I've ever seen, this is just asking for trouble.  Video input and output stages should be properly designed 75 Ohm terminated circuitry, there's just no excuses for this.

(Picture of inside the unit.)
Inside the unit
(Picture of the connectors on the rear of the recorder.)
Rear-panel connectors
(Picture of the connectors on the front of the recorder.)
Front-panel connectors
(Picture of the remote control unit.)
Remote control unit

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