Combining a TiVo hard-drive video recorder and a DVD recorder in one device seems logical: You record the programs to the unit's hard drive using TiVo, and then move them onto DVD if you want a copy on disc. And generally speaking, the Humax DRT-400 delivers on this simple premise.
The unit uses TiVo's cleanly designed, brilliantly easy-to-navigate program guide, which simplifies the task of scheduling a show for recording, whether by searching on a keyword or by picking a program from the program grid. You can even seek out and record programs with a specific actor, director, or release year. Note, however, that you must subscribe to TiVo's program guide service for $13 a month (or $299 for the lifetime of the unit) on top of the Humax's $400 price tag.
Since this is a Series 2 TiVo device, you can use a third-party USB-to-ethernet adapter to put the unit on your home network via TiVo's Home Media option, which allows you to view images and play videos from your PC (among other things). The model I reviewed can hold up to 40 hours of video at the lowest recording-quality setting: PC World has also reviewed a model that can accommodate 80 hours of video.
Once you've recorded the shows, copying them to DVD is easy: You insert a blank DVD-R or -RW disc and select the Copy to DVD option from the Now Playing screen. The process runs in the background, so you can watch recorded programs or even record another show while transferring programs to DVD. Conveniently, the discs you record will contain TiVo's graphic menus, complete with the recorded shows' TiVo data including title, date recorded, and episode summary.
As convenient and intuitive as the Humax is, a few caveats constrain our enthusiasm. For starters, the system provides no way to edit recorded video, so you can't chop out the advertisements or set custom chapter points. You can set up multiple programs to copy to DVD, but you can't add programs to a previously recorded disc--for DVD-R media, the Humax automatically finalizes the disc after the recording is complete, and for DVD-RW media, it erases anything on the disc if you try to reuse or add to it. You can't burn any program that has copy protection either, a consideration for a future in which networks may decide to implement limitations on analog broadcasts.
Another limitation: You can't record a show directly to DVD; instead, you have to record it to the hard drive and then copy it to DVD. And the transfer from hard drive to DVD was among the slowest of any recorder the PC World Test Center has tested recently. It took 9 minutes, 24 seconds to transfer 1 hour of video at the highest quality setting from hard drive to DVD--that's about 3 minutes, 20 seconds longer than the same task took on the Panasonic, Pioneer, and Toshiba units.
Though the DRT-400's image quality is passable, it disappointed us a little. Particularly when viewing cartoons, we saw noise on areas of flat color and a shimmer effect (presumably caused by the way it compresses the video) that made motion look blurry. The colors seemed rather bland, too, which made the video look flat and two-dimensional.
But these shortcomings aside, the Humax was by far the easiest to use for regularly recording TV shows and occasionally saving them to DVD. The TiVo program guide is far superior to the TV Guide On Screen service (which the other hard drive recorders use), and image quality is adequate if you're not overly fussy.
The Humax was the best of the bunch at scheduling TV recordings, and transferring these recordings to DVD is easy. But there's no way to edit them.