Pros: Receives all unscrambled HD channels on basic cable service or over-the-air, fastest functionality
Cons: Lacks a ?favorite channel? button on remote
After deciding that Cox Cable was ripping me off by charging approx $300 a year for HDTV service and a box that would only record 6 hours of TV shows, I started a search for a less expensive and possibly better alternative.
My current big screen is a Samsung DLP HLT5087W which has 1080p capability but lacks the QAM tuner to detect unscrambled HDTV signals from the cable company. Research told me I needed to find a DVD recorder with a QAM tuner to solve this problem.
Looked at several dozen models by all the major brands. Tried 4 Philips units (2 DVDR3575H/37 both defective tuners, 2 DVDR3505/37 one of which had a defective tuner), 1 Toshiba DVR650, Samsung AR-650, LG RC797T and LG DR787T. At one point, I purchased a new Samsung DLP TV with the QAM tuner built-in (HLS5076), so I could compare the HDTV picture quality vs. keeping my current TV and using the external DVD recorder as the HDTV tuner. Both TVs had exact same 50 inch screen size, 10,000 to 1 contrast ratios, 1080p specs, even use the EXACT same quartz lamps so this was a totally fair comparison. After two months of trial & error, realized that I needed 2 DVD recorders so I could use one as a tuner if there was an HDTV show on another channel that I wanted to watch at same time.
Kept the LG DR787T and the Samsung DVD-AR650.
Here's what I found & learned from this ordeal:
1. You MUST have a digital tuner with QAM to receive unscrambled Hi Def TV channels,.
2. Some of the manufacturers use the term "S" in place of QAM and some with QAM don't make it clear at all.
3. If the unit says Analog tuner only, it definitely won't be able to show HD channels.
4. By default, most DVDRs go to the analog channel, such as 3 vs. the HD 3.1 or 3.2 channels.
5. Most DVDR's take several seconds to display an HD channel.
6. Some units contain TV tuners that are simply garbage, meaning they only pick-up some of the HD channels, randomly lose some HD channels, generate "less than" HD quality pictures or poor audio quality.
These are the reasons why I went through 7 DVDR units before I arrived at keeping the Samsung DVD-AR650 and LG DR787T. I rate the Samsung the BEST because:
A. The HDTV picture quality in 1080i is as good as the having the QAM tuner built into the TV.
B. Samsung AR-650 detected more HD channels than any of the others.
C. The HD TV show appears almost instantly.
D. HDMI output from DVDR works with Samsung DLP TV (LG DR787T doesn't. Requires using the 5 Component connections).
E. Audio is crystal clear and in sync with HTS (Home Theatre System) when using the Audio Out to Aux inputs. Using the Digital audio connection between DVDR and HTS does create an unacceptable time lag.
F. Time recording functions are fast & easy. You can use the number keypad part of remote to enter the exact start and stop times. In contrast, the LG DR787T forces you to click your way through the entire hours and minutes to set the timer.
G. Playback features include commercial skip functions and you can choose the skip time (30 second or 1 minute).
H. Can record up to 11 hours of TV shows on 1 blank disk (in HD mode it will record 2 hours on a standard 4GIG DVD).
I. Receives more HD channels than what I had going through the Cox HD box.
J. Samsung is the fastest DVDR for inserting and removing a blank DVD or DVD movie.
K. Samsung is the fastest for turning the unit on or off.
NOTE: The Samsung DVD-AR650 separates the analog from digital channels when you are selecting input source. This means using it to set a timer record or using it as a tuner, you can only record or receive one group of channels at a time. Example: In the analog input mode, you can watch or record channels 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, etc. while being in the digital input mode it goes ONLY through your local digital channels such as 3-1, 3-2, 3-3, 5-1, 5-2, 8-1, 8-2, 10-1, etc. Since I only care about watching or recording shows on the digital HD channels, I leave mine in the digital input mode all the time.
My only complaint with the Samsung is the lack of a Favorite Channel button so I can instantly switch between the digital NBC, FOX, CBS and ABC channels.
UPDATE 3/6/08: Bought Logitech Harmony One Remote. It let me program my favorite channels with logos network logos I created from images found by Google.
Recently went back to Circuit City and Best Buy to look at latest DLP TVs again. Still convinced that my older Samsung DLP with AR650 acting as tuner is comparable to any TV on sale today.
P.S. Went to January 2008 CES Show in Vegas to see if any of the manufacturers introduced any new DVD recorders. Didn't find even one. Did see newer DLP TVs that will likely come out Fall 2008. Slightly brighter and sharper but not enough to make me trash my 2 year old TV and spend a few thousand for a new one.
UPDATE 4/1/08: Accidentally discovered a "cool new feature" of the AR650. If you have it connected to certain Samsung TV, simply pressing the OPEN tray button to insert a DVD movie results in following:
* Automaticaally turns on the DVD recorder
* Automatically turns on the Samsung TV
* Switches to HDMI input (assuming you've connected the DVDR using an HDMI cable)
* Starts playing the movie when you close the tray
Can't say if this will work with ALL Samsung TV and in fairness, the automatic functions did not work with my HLT5087W. However, despite what I said above about not spending $$$$ for latest DLP, when the price of the HLT5087S dropped to $1149 delivered, I surrendered and got the TV with built-in QAM and LED lamp. Despite my prior comparisons, I now realize it is considerably brighter, on in 1/3 the time and now I can watch and record different HDTV channels simultaneously.