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View topic - Dual-format DVD recorder Sony's RDR-GX7

Dual-format DVD recorder Sony's RDR-GX7

This forum addresses questions on installation, configuration and troubleshooting you might encounter with your Sony DVD player.

Moderator: jttar

by -W- » Thu Jun 19, 2003 7:08 am

NY Times of 19 June...


June 19, 2003
DVD Recorders Reviewed

Q. How many Microsoft programmers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A. None. They just declare darkness to be the standard.

WHAT makes that old joke worth retelling isn't just what it says about Microsoft, but also what it says about standards. The truth is, the best standards don't always win. But as long as everybody adopts the same system, whatever it is, life can go on.

This is the story of the new Sony RDR-GX7, a DVD recorder that arrives in stores next month, and how its creators ignored that golden rule.

Now, the playback-only DVD is one of the greatest format success stories ever. The DVD Forum, a consortium of 230 electronics makers, worked up this format for its members' mutual benefit. As a result, any commercial DVD plays on any DVD player. Prerecorded DVD's today are like light bulbs, VHS tapes or Phillips screwdrivers: in general, you just know they'll fit.

The next step was the recordable DVD: a disc you could fill with your own video from the TV or a camcorder. Once again, the DVD Forum collaborated on a technical specification. This time, the result was a blank, rerecordable DVD format called DVD-RW (short for rewritable).

That's where the trouble began. A faction of eight companies, including Philips, Hewlett-Packard and Sony, broke away. Unhappy with what they perceived as technical limitations of the DVD-RW, they devised a rival format called DVD+RW. (Don't blink or you'll miss the slightly different punctuation.)

Each kind of machine burns DVD's that play in most recent DVD players, which is good. But a -RW recorder can't erase, record or edit +RW discs (and vice versa), which is bad. Hundreds of people every day buy the wrong format of blank discs. (To make matters even more annoying, you now have to say either "DVD-plus-RW" or "DVD-dash-RW," to make clear which kind of disc you're talking about.)

Predictably, the format battle quenched sales. People wanted to wait until the format war was over so they wouldn't get stuck with an obsolete recorder.

Oddly, however, Sony remained a member of both groups. Where was its loyalty - with the -RW regulars, or with the +RW renegades? Or was Sony just trying to avoid angering anyone whatsoever, becoming a format doormat?

None of the above. Its ingenious strategy was to introduce DVD recorders capable of burning both formats, -RW and +RW. Consumers, no longer worried about gambling on the wrong format, responded happily. In short, Sony exploited the very format fear that it had helped to spread in the first place.

In any case, Sony's RDR-GX7 is the first dual-format DVD recorder designed to connect to your TV. (Sony sells another model for PC's.)

In principle, the GX7 (with a list price of $800) works just like a very expensive VCR. You can record TV shows by using a timer, by using VCR+ Plus codes from the newspaper or just by pressing the Record button. You have a choice of six quality levels, which can record anywhere from one to six hours on a disc.

But you're not using tape, so there's no rewinding or fast forwarding. You never have to find a blank spot to record, and you can't record over something accidentally. Even at medium speed settings, the quality is superb. And each disc shows a little table of contents so you can jump directly to any recording. You won't care if you ever see a videocassette again.

Sony has made enormous strides in making all of this easy to use. The control screens are attractive, graphics-intensive and, unlike the manual, clearly worded. That's a breakthrough for this kind of machine; the screens on earlier DVD recorders look less like Macintoshes and more like the White Pages.

That emphasis on good looks isn't confined to the software, either. The GX7 itself is so beautiful, TV's in the appliance store would whistle at it if they could.

One crucial mission for a DVD recorder is to rescue aging videotapes by transferring them to DVD's. Here, the Sony is an able assistant. If you're converting old VHS or 8-millimeter videos, the deck performs some subtle but noticeable sharpening work on the signal. And if you're converting digital camcorder tapes like MiniDV or Digital8, you really have it easy. Once you've connected the camcorder to the deck using a FireWire cable, one button press transfers the whole tape to a DVD and builds a menu of scenes automatically.

In short, the Sony has the potential to achieve the elusive trifecta of DVD recorders: compatibility, editability and ease of use.

The problem with this deck - and it's a big one - is that confusing multiple-format business. As you read the following paragraphs, you may want to keep pencil and paper handy.

The GX7 can record onto discs in these formats: DVD-R, DVD+RW, and DVD-RW. To make matters more complex, you can format an -RW disc either in VR mode (editable, but incompatible with most DVD players) or Video mode (compatible, but not editable).

So why do you care? Because on Sony's deck, each format offers different features and must be treated differently. Abandon all hope, ye who try to make sense of it.

For example, you may have to "finalize" the disc before playing it on normal DVD players - a one- to 60-minute process in which the deck seals the disc. Then again, you may not. Here's what the manual says for each format:

"DVD-RW VR: Finalizing is unnecessary when playing a disc on VR format compatible equipment. You may need to finalize the disc depending on the DVD equipment. You can edit or record on the disc even after finalizing. DVD+RW: Finalizing is unnecessary. However, you may need to finalize the disc for certain DVD equipment. You can edit or record on the disc even after finalizing. DVD-RW Video: Finalizing is necessary when playing on equipment other than this recorder. After finalizing, you cannot edit or record on the disc." And then there's a note: "Discs may not play even when the discs are finalized."

If you can make heads or tails of that, there's a job waiting for you on the United Nations translation team.

Perhaps Sony's overwhelmed manual writers were simply trying to express the same morass of exceptions - and exceptions to exceptions - that my own compatibility tests uncovered.

Discs you record in either -R or -RW Video format work in other players, but you can't edit or erase individual segments from them. Discs in -RW format, VR mode, don't work in regular players. I couldn't get an unfinalized DVD+RW disc to play on any other machine; once finalized, it played on a Sony DVD player but not a laptop DVD drive.

Now, one genuine advantage of the +RW format over -RW is that you can edit recorded material right on the disc. On +RW decks from, say, Philips, you can chop out sections from a recording, for example, commercials. You can add chapter markers anywhere you like. And you can add a little thumbnail picture to represent each recording, instead of all-text listings.

But bizarrely, you can't do any of that on the Sony's DVD+RW recordings. Inexplicably, Sony has deliberately crippled the editing features of its DVD+RW personality, turning it into little more than a second DVD-R format.

In that case, why buy a dual-format deck at all? You could save $300 by buying a less expensive, single-format DVD recorder from, say, Panasonic, Pioneer or Philips. Or, if you think you'll want to edit the stuff before freezing it onto a DVD, consider one of the combo hard-drive-DVD recorders that most makers will offer by this fall. (Speaking of value and formats: although the progressive-scan GX7 is a state-of-the-art DVD player in many ways, it can't play photo CD's, video CD's, DVD audio discs or even Sony's own SuperAudio CD discs. For some reason, it can't record onto non-rerecordable DVD+R discs, either.)

Pandora's box has already been opened, unleashing a confusing flood of incompatible recordable-DVD formats. Sony may have hoped to triumph by betting on all the horses, but even its best effort to tame them saddles it with mind-numbing complexity. Forget about DVD-recordable; what the world needs now is DVD-understandable.

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