Humax DRT-800 DVD Recorder/DVR 
Home Theater Media Servers Satellite & Cable Receivers/PVRs/DVRs/TiVo
Written by Matthew Evert   
Wednesday, 01 December 2004

One of the more amazing trends today is the absolute explosion in the amount of television programming available to the average person. Technologies such as digital cable and satellite TV have made the proliferation of television channels a reality. My DirecTV satellite service offers over 900 channels of programming, ranging from the Thai Channel to HBO and darn near everything in between. With programming available on most channels 24 hours a day, a nearly limitless variety of shows can be seen. Of course, you may have to be up at 4:00 AM to see that episode of “The A-Team” that you missed back in the ‘80s.

With a TiVo digital video recorder (DVR), you can now record those normally out of reach shows with a click of a button, and watch the recording at your convenience. The shows are written to the built-in hard drive of the TiVo unit, allowing you to play, pause or fast-forward through shows just as you would with a VHS tape. Still, the problem of portability and convenience remains. How do you archive that awesome “A-Team” episode, so that friends and family can see it in months to come? With a Humax DRT800 DVD recorder, you can burn a DVD copy that can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere. The DRT800 is a great package of TiVo DVR, a DVD recorder, a DVD player and an analog tuner, all in one for a retail price of $399 after a $100 TiVo service activation rebate.

The DRT800 has a silver steel case with a black plastic front display and tips the scales at nine pounds. The size and layout of the front panel buttons are similar to a DVD player. Eject, play, track advance, pause and other familiar buttons are all present, as well as a rocker control that can navigate the onscreen menu. Standing at three inches tall, 16-1/2 inches wide, and 13-1/4 inches deep, this TiVo will sit easily on top of your TV or in your AV rack. Rubber feet prevent the scratching of your other components or the stand that may rest below the DRT800.

The back panel sports a cadre of inputs and outputs for use with various types of connections. For inputs, there are two sets of composite video, two sets of analog audio RCA inputs, two sets of S-video, an RF coaxial and an IEEE 1394 DV input. One set of inputs and the DV input are also located at the front of the unit behind a hidden door. These front inputs make for easy hook-up to a camcorder or VCR, so you can record home movies to the TiVo’s hard drive or burn them to DVD. Never have the dreaded home movies been more accessible to your unexpected friends. In addition, USB expansion ports enable you to easily hook up an MP3 player or a digital camera. There are two USB ports, so you can have a digital camera plugged in and the USB Ethernet adapter plugged in at the same time. The Ethernet adapter allows for additional TiVo functionality, such as online scheduling of recording requests (you will need a broadband Internet connection for this) and sharing recordings between multiple TiVos in the house. You can also view digital photos and play music on your TV by having the TiVo serve them up from a shared drive on your PC. This is handy if you want to show all your Halloween costume pictures on the big-screen TV in your living room vs. the tiny PC monitor in your office. All of this is possible using the DRT800, an Ethernet adapter and your existing home network.

You can record analog terrestrial TV and analog cable TV through the tuner in the DRT800 by hooking the coax cable directly into the unit. Although this feature is nice, most people will want to record digital cable and digital satellite instead. In order to do this, you will need at least one digital cable or satellite receiver in addition to the DRT800. These will range in price from $50 to $300 and beyond, so be sure to factor that into your purchase decision. If you get two receivers, you will be able to watch one live show while recording another. This is an expensive but sometimes necessary evil if you frequently have “domestic battles” about which primetime sitcom is going to be watched or recorded. If “Friends” and “The Simpsons” are on at the same time, with two receivers, you can record one while watching the other or record both while you sleep. Problem solved.

You can record digital cable and satellite programs through appropriate connections from a cable or satellite set-top receiver to the DRT800’s composite video/audio and S-video inputs. I would recommend the S-video for the best video transmissi
on from the receiver to the TiVo. The analog RCA inputs are your only option for recording sound from the receiver to the TiVo. Outputs are one S-video output, one RCA/composite audio/video out, one component video and an optical digital output. You will want to use the component video and optical outputs to connect to your A/V receiver for optimal video and sound.

The TiVo portion of this unit offers all the same features that a TiVo Series 2 DVR would have. WishList™ allows you to find programs based on an actor name or a keyword, such as “soccer,” etc. Like a weekly show? Season Pass™ helps find all the episodes and will even sort out the ones you have already seen and not record them. The TiVo can be trained to automatically record anything that meets a set list of your suggested keywords. It really is as simple as you may have heard from your friends. The DTR800 can record 80 hours of programming using the low quality setting. There are best, high, medium and basic quality settings that you can choose from. The higher the quality setting, the smaller number of programs you can store. HDTV can be recorded, but the programs you wish to record will be down-converted in resolution from their original 720p (or higher) to 480p.

As a progressive scan DVD player, the DTR800 can play MP3s, CDs, DVDs or audio CDs. Most common types of recordable disks can be read, such as CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RW. The DRT800 can also decode Dolby Digital Surround and DTS Surround multi-channel audio formats. Using the component video outputs and the optical digital output, you can replace your DVD player with this unit. TiVo supports MP3 ID3 tags, so you can view the album and song names on your video screen.

The best part of this unit is the DVD recorder. The DTR800 has a “4X” DVD burner in it that can burn to DVD –R/-RW discs (sorry, it can’t write to DVD+R/+RW discs) and recording to DVD is nothing short of simple. Just select the programs you want on the “Now Playing” list and select “Copy to DVD.” It will show you how much space remains on the DVD and you can either add more or burn it. This allows you to save your favorite shows or share them with friends who have DVD players. Recording to DVD allows you to save previously recorded shows to DVD and free up valuable hard drive space. In the highest-quality mode, a one-hour TV program will take up most of the DVD. In high mode, you can fit two hours of TV shows onto a DVD-R or DVD-RW. If you still want to burn a two-hour movie you recorded in best mode, the DTR800 can span the movie to multiple DVDs. The DTR800 burns DVDs in the background, so you can still record and watch live TV while this is happening.

First, you will need to activate your TiVo by calling in and forking over some cash. You can pay for a month at a time for $12.95 or a one-time product lifetime fee of $299.

You will need to find out whether you can use the serial cable to connect your satellite or digital cable receiver to the TiVo. Careful, there are two settings for the serial cable. I chose the wrong one the first time I set up the TiVo and, after being unable to change the channels on my receiver through the TiVo remote, I traced the issue to the wrong setting for the serial cable. The set-up will take close to an hour to perform and you will need to wait up to eight hours before the TiVo can download all the program schedules. Otherwise, you can use the IR transmitters to control the receiver using the TiVo remote. Lastly, you will need to have a phone jack nearby so you can download account info and programming info from TiVo headquarters.

Now you can plug in the video, audio, phone and Ethernet connectors. When you enter the guided set-up, you will be amazed at how easy it is to get the TiVo up and running. Easy to answer questions and applications that test to see if you plugged in the A/V connections properly are there help you along the way.

Test Driving TiVo with a DVD-R On Board
As I said before, recording shows with TiVo is a piece of cake. I used the Season Pass™ to grab all my Redskins and Chargers NFL games for the winter. The Redskins vs. the Lions last Sunday happened to start during my yoga class. I used the TiVo to allow me to relive the highlights of the first half during the halftime break. Immediately, I noticed no obvious signs of video degradation compared to the live feed. The bright burgundy jerseys were perhaps not as saturated in color and as bright as the original, but the picture was a good 95 percent of the original by my rough estimate. This degradation was partially due to the fact I had to use S-video from my receiver to the TiVo instead of component video (which my DirecTV receiver has).

Being able to rewind the instant replays over and over to see how the referees robbed the Redskins of a first down completion was essential and a feature that I cannot ever live without. Those who haven’t experienced the splendor of TiVo simply need to take my word and get it. It is absolutely necessary for anyone who values his or her time and, moreover, values time in from of the tube. I also get the NFL games in high definition (HD) and the difference is night and day, even though this unit needs to downconvert 1080i and 720p versions to 480i. There are no blurry faces of players during close-ups and no jagged edges on the yard lines. I can’t wait for the HD version of this unit.

Next up I watched “I-Spy” (Columbia/TriStar) on HBO while recording it to TiVo in high mode, the Humax’s best quality storage setting. After watching it both ways, I also burned it to DVD, using the easy DRT800 TiVo interface. Again, there was little noticeable difference between the live and recorded versions in terms of video reproduction. Colors were decent and images were clear for a 480p satellite signal. Lots of explosions and action were present in this movie. The opening scene in Uzbekistan set the stage for the movie, with avalanches and machine gun fire as Owen Wilson’s character narrowly escapes the Russians. The sound of the explosions played on the DVD did not have punch in terms of bass that the original seemed to have. In general, the sound was noticeably degraded at both the high and the low ends of the frequency range. Overall sound was weak due to the fact that no digital audio was available, so rear sound effects were not obvious and some of the “wow” factor was absent, bringing me back to the days where Dolby Pro Logic reigned. If there were a built-in satellite tuner, some of these video and audio issues would be drastically reduced.

  To test just the quality of the progressive scan DVD player in this DTR800, I played “The Suicide Kings” (Artisan Entertainment) DVD. Denis Leary’s character is hilarious. Leary uses his tough guy voice to intimidate people, but then shows his soft side when helping his friend Jennifer talk to her abusive father. When the father disrespects Leary, he comes back into the room and cracks the father’s skull up with a toaster – ouch.

The sound for this scene was much improved and did utilize the digital audio output this time. Rear sound effects were now obvious when Leary grabbed the toaster from the other room and walked back into the living to clock dear old Dad. There was more bass present and less colored midrange when the raindrops fell upon Sean Patrick Flanery and his girlfriend in his car. The pelting of the rain against the steel body of the car was dramatic and involving. I compared the DRT800’s progressive scan DVD player directly to my $1,600 reference Marantz player and found the performance of the Humax to be much reduced in both picture and sound. The question remains: can you use the DRT800’s DVD player as your primary player or is this just a cool tool for backing up your recorded television? Overall, the performance of the DVD portion was decent but not something that will compete with most dedicated DVD players. If you have simple video needs, it will be fine, but if you have a 5.1 sound system that you want to sound its very best, you may want to have a dedicated player for your DVD playback.

The Downside
My biggest peeve was that there was no built-in satellite or digital cable tuner. This lack of a built-in receiver like those of other TiVos on the market can add $50-$300 to the total cost of owning this unit if you use satellite or digital cable. It also makes getting digital sound from your recordings impossible. There is no digital audio input from a separate receiver, so the best you can hope for is Dolby Pro Logic on all of your recordings. Even worse, there are only composite video and S-video inputs to the DTR800. What is the point of having component video outputs from the TiVo if the inputs from the receiver are at best S-video? Additionally, there are no modern-day digital video connections, like HDMI or DVI. There is no built-in Ethernet networking for plugging into broadband, so instead of offering a 10 to 20-minute guided set-up, the user is forced to do the current nine-hour set-up using the phone lines (including downloading the programming). You will have to buy a $50 USB to a wired or wireless Ethernet adapter separately to get all the whiz-bang music/photo sharing, online scheduling and multi-TiVo viewing. TiVo does not have a setting to toggle the type of serial connection without redoing the whole set-up over again. They really need to fix that, since my DirecTV receiver manual does not say which type of serial cable setting it uses. Either that or make a helper application in set-up that will auto-detect which setting to use, as it does with the S-video and audio connections.

Parts warranty is one year parts but, shockingly, only three months for labor. This may not sound like a big deal until you find out how much labor is involved with fixing a hard drive or DVD player.

Recently, there has been lots of talk based on a story from the Los Angeles Times about TiVo reportedly planning to interject commercials into their system when a user hits his or her fast forward button. TiVo says that the Times got it wrong and what TiVo wants to do is to put their advertiser’s logo or a “billboard” on the screen while a TiVo user is fast forwarding through a commercial. With $299 paid for a lifetime subscription, TiVo is making a dangerous gamble with their value proposition as it relates to their subscriber base. The TiVo that users are bitterly loyal to allows you to easily skip commercials and this new technology now complicates that advantage.

If you love to watch TV and can’t manage to watch all the shows you enjoy, you need a TiVo unit. If HDTV is not a big deal to you and some small degradation in sound and video are not of concern to you, then the convenience of this unit will be a blessing. If you already have a digital cable or satellite receiver, then the price of this unit is very fair for all the functionality that you are getting. The DVD recorder and much-improved Series 2 TiVo are vital additions to any TV lover’s home theater. The 80-hour capacity is ample for most people, and when it fills up, you can always burn your favorites to DVD. If you want a bigger TiVo unit and do not need the DVD recorder, you can always try the Humax T-2500 for 300 hours of recording! Handy for the vacation that happens to land in the middle of sweeps week. The T-2500 currently has two rebates on it which go through the end of the year - a $100 Humax hardware rebate and $100 TiVo service activation rebate, which brings the price down from $699 to $499.

Overall, the product is easy to use and saves lots of clutter in your probably already cluttered home theater system. Some great home networking features allow for it to act as a media center for the whole household as well. For those of who have not tried TiVo and want a feature-packed DVR, you should give the DRT800 a try. It is downright cool.
Manufacturer Humax
Model DRT-800 DVD Recorder/DVR
Reviewer Matthew Evert

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