Mark Harris

Sony RDR-GX7 DVD recorder Can't decide which recordable DVD format will triumph? Hedge your bets with Sony's new dual format video recorder

Kit: Sony RDR-GX7 DVD+RW and DVD-RW recorder
Cost: £650
Company: Sony
Contact: 08705 111999

In the old days, different formats had different names. Betamax or VHS – how easy was that? Nowadays, not only do rival recordable formats DVD+RW and DVD-RW have just a tiny vertical dash to distinguish them, there’re not even alone, with DVD-RAM, DVD-R and DVD+R all hovering on sidelines. A confusing free-for-all like this needs a sensible grown-up to sort it all out, and Sony has been the first to step forward. Their latest DVD video recorder straddles the digital divide, capable of burning both DVD+RW and DVD-RW re-writable discs, as well as write-only DVD-Rs.

Taking the widest view, this can only be a good thing, persuading consumers that the fight is over and that both sides have won. But such fence-sitting has its price. For a start, the GX7 is a monster of a unit, nearly 10cm deeper and two kilos heavier than Panasonic’s neat DMR-E50 DVD-RAM recorder. And if you thought programming your VCR was hard, wait until you see the GX7’s mammoth manual.

More serious are the compromises Sony has made in order to shoe-horn two formats into a single unit. Unlike DVD+RW, for DVD-RW discs to play on all players, you have to sacrifice the ability to edit or overwrite the tail-end of existing recordings. For the sake of simplicity, the GX7 dumbs itself down to the lowest common denominator. So if you want to use more advanced editing and recording functions, you need to record in the dedicated ‘VR’ mode rather than the backwards compatible ‘Video’ mode.

These issues aside, the GX7 is a typically polished Sony machine. Build quality and usability are excellent, with helpful on-screen menus and a very low level of disc noise – just a gentle rumble rather than the high-pitched whine some players emit. Connectivity is superb, with S-Video, digital coaxial, optical and component ports joined by that all-important FireWire input for camcorders. You can trade image quality for extended recording time, but Standard Play offers the best bet – two hours of sharp, colourful images with stereo sound on a 4.7Gb disc. Image quality is outstanding, free from artefacts and almost indistinguishable from broadcast digital TV, even on fast-moving scenes. Playback of commercial DVD-Video discs is equally smooth, although we found the loading time longer than a standard player.

Ultimately, whether you opt for the GX7 will depend on whether you really need to create both DVD+RW and DVD-RW discs. Most home users will be happy with a single re-recordable format for their own use, and the ability to burn cheap DVD-R discs for friends.

Verdict: The GX7 is an excellent recorder and a beacon of sanity in a world of DVD confusion, but most of us simply don’t need the flexibility of dual formats.

Key Features
Recording Technology: Real-time MPEG 2 recording to DVD+RW, DVD-RW (Video and VR modes), DVD-R, up to 4.7Gb
Recording Modes: 6 modes from HQ (60mins/disc) to SLP (360mins/disc)
Audio: 2-channel Dolby Digital recording, NICAM decoding
Timers: Videoplus+, PDC, manual (8 events/1 month)
Playback: DVD-Video, DVD+RW, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD-R, Video-CD, CD, CD-R, CD-RW
Features: Video Mode for best compatibility,
Processing: 12-bit/108MHz video D/A converter
Inputs: 1RGB SCART, i.Link (FireWire), 2 analogue line, 2 S-Video, 2 composite
Outputs: 1 RGB SCART, 1 analogue line, 1 optical, 1 digital coaxial, 1 component, 1 S-Video, 1 composite
Dimensions (width x depth x height): 430x381x89 mm
Weight: 5.7kg

Format Frenzy
The first re-recordable DVD format was DVD-RAM, which sold well to PC users and has some great features (such as time slip recording) but has yet to make a big impact in the UK. The next format, DVD-RW, grew out of the read-only DVD-R from the official DVD Forum, and offers the best compatibility with standard DVD-Video players. Lastly, DVD+RW was launched in 2001 by the rebel Alliance of HP, Sony, Philips and others, with the advantage of a slightly faster and more efficient writing technology. As many DVD-Video players had trouble playing DVD+RW discs, the Alliance then launched the write-once DVD+R format, which has excellent backwards compatibility. Nowadays, there's little to choose between re-writable formats for video recording, especially as all the available recorders can also burn vanilla DVD-R or DVD+R discs for playback on old machines.

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