Component Reviews

Samsung DVD-VR357 Combined Recorder

A reasonable alternative to expensive DVRs and computer software when you just want to convert your old VHS tapes to DVDs and occasionally time shift a TV program.

Published on December 15, 2008

Samsung DVD-VR357 Combined Recorder
Samsung DVD-VR357
Combined Recorder (DVD/VHS)
SRP: $179.99

Samsung Inc.
105 Challenger Rd.
Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660-0511
1-800-SAMSUNG

Features:
4 head Hi-Fi VCR
Full multi-recording (RAM/+-R/+-RW)
HDMI CEC Function
Cable box control turns on your cable box and changes channels to record at a preset time
HDMI upconversion to 720p/1080i
Dual Layer recording on all formats
Progressive scan DVD
One Touch 2-way dubbing (between DVD and VCR, either way)
With One Touch each button press extends recording time by 30 minutes to a maximum of 240 minutes (depending on recording mode)
Auto Chapter Creation: creates chapters when you record your favorite TV shows or video clips onto a DVD
Auto fit recording
DivX capability
Front DV input for digital camcorder
Playable Formats: DVD Video, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW, DVD RAM, CD-R/RW, CD-DA, MP3, MPEG4, WMA, JPEG
2 video inputs, 1 video output
1 S-video input, 1 S-video output
1 component  video output
Analog audio input/output
1 digital audio optical out
1 digital audio coaxial out


Intro

This may be the age of hi-def recording hard drives for time-shifting TV programming, and computer-related DVD burners for burning DVDs of non-copy-protected videos. But for some of us it is only occasionally that we feel a need to time-shift a TV program when we will be away from the house, and don’t mind if we view one episode in standard def. And/or although we may have a DVD burner in our computer, we’ve never gotten around to setting up an old VHS deck to play back those videotapes into our PC or Mac that we would like to convert to DVD and then chuck out for good. There are a number of combo DVD/VHS recorder units out there, but the Samsung seems to be good solution for those looking for something inexpensive in one box which they can integrate into their AV system, use for both copying VHS tapes and TV time-shifting, can record twice as much material onto Dual-Layer recordable DVDs if needed, and has both upscaling and HDMI output built-in.

The DVD-VR357 has no tuner – either analog or digital – just an AV1 IN composite jack on the rear.  After all, come this February, an analog TV tuner will be useless anyway.  However, it does have VHS – even a VHS recorder if want that – and that is now officially dead technology.  But consider how many VHS tapes many of us have sitting around, including some terrific material we would like to preserve. (Since it has both component video and S-Video out jacks, I was wishing the unit also had component IN jacks, but it doesn’t, just S-Video)  It does have a timer however, so if your reception is OTA (Over The Air) rather than cable, you can time-shift any programming as long as you remember to leave the TV on while you are gone.  The timer is even easier to program than the ones in VCRs I have used in the past. With this use, it is best to select AUTO as the recording speed – the unit will automatically adjust the most suitable mood to synchronize the length of program you are recording and the remaining space on the DVD.

Speaking of speeds, I compared the SP standard quality mode which gives you about two hours on a single-layer DVD, and the XP high quality mode which doubles the speed and gives you only one hour. After the upscaling to my 56” Samsung display I saw very little difference between them, and the sound was identical.  So I would use the SP speed for making most DVDs which you will be removing from the combo recorder to play on other DVD players.

On the rear of the recorder you will find the HDMI out port, the cable box control jack, the two digital output jacks and the stereo audio out RCA jacks.  Also both the AV In and Out – both composite if you don’t have a TV with HDMI input. There are also S-video In and Out jacks – the Input would give a better picture from your TV  or other sources than the composite, but my Samsung display lacks an S-Video out so I was forced to use the composite. However, when time shifting programs to DVD-RW I got an excellent picture.  I used the S-Video input for connections to my old Laserdisc and BetaMax players when burning DVD-Rs from those sources.

Dubbing Videotapes or Laserdiscs to DVD-R

I can’t image why anyone would want to dub from a DVD to a VHS videotape, but the Copy function on the DVD-VR357 can go either way. (Be certain you push the correct Copy button or you might be surprised.) The 90-page user manual is very complete and detailed.  The variety of DVD media and options can be very confusing to first-timers. My experience seems to indicate that for simple copying of other already-edited video material to DVD, your best bet is to purchase standard single-layer DVD-R blanks and record at the SP speed.  Then you will be able to play the resultant discs after finalization on most DVD players. Before finalization you can still add titles to the various sections using the Title List feature and clicking on the alphabet letters Dymo labeler style. The unit will automatically add chapter markers every five minutes or so and at the beginning whenever a new source is fed in.

If you are recording video material in which you want to delete sections after recording, and perhaps even move portions around – such as removing commercial from TV shows or editing your camcorder footage – you will need to use DVD-RW or DVD+RW blanks and initialize the discs before you begin recording (not required with DVD-Rs).  There are two different modes for DVD-RWs: V Mode and VR Mode – the latter allows more editing operations but is less compatible on other DVD players. After finalization the DVD+RWs will be more likely to play on other DVD players than the DVD-RWs, but are still not as compatible as DVD-Rs.  The initialization option comes up the moment you insert the disc, before you proceed with anything else. There is also a Quick Recording feature as well as One Touch Recording.  The latter allows you to add recording time in present increments up to four hours by pressing the REC button repeatedly. When dubbing VHS tapes I didn’t use either.

I used the Info button on the DVD-VR357 remote to display the start times and remaining times on both the DVD and the VHS tape.  You select either DVD or VHS with another button on the remote.  I selected the SP speed for the DVD-R, switched to VHS and played the tape thru part of the opening credits up to the actual start of the program.  During this time I fine-tuned the VHS tracking using the up and down buttons on the remote.  This function is somewhat automatic but you can improve playback by adjusting it as far as possible from the point where the image begins to deteriorate. When the tape got to just before the portion I wanted to dub, I put it in pause, switched to DVD and then pressed the Copy button indicating copying from VHS to DVD. Finally I pressed the pause button again to start the VHS tape. At the end of the videotape or laserdisc side the DVD recorder will stop, allowing you to dub from another source until the DVD is full. Info displays the remaining time on the DVD-R. When the disc is filled or the time remaining is too short to dub anything else, you Finalize the disc in the Disc Manager Menu and you are finished with that DVD.

Time Shifting of TV Programming

For time shifting you have more flexibility in selection of recording media. I haven’t worked with them, but the DVD-RAM format seems to offer the greatest options for this purpose, provided you play the discs back on this same recorder on which they were burned, or have another DVD-RAM player/recorder, since they will not play on standard DVD players. The other option is either the DVD-RW or DVD+RV format – either way you will have to purchase the proper blank media, and they are more expensive than DVD-Rs and will not play back on as many standard DVD players. So use them only when your needs require them. The Samsung has a feature allowing you to unfinalize a finalized DVD-RW or +RW if you have second thoughts and their is space remaining on the disc. You can then do additional recording and finalize it again. (This can’t be done with DVD-R or +R discs.)  

If you are recording programs over 2 hours you will need to use the LP or EP speeds on the DVD recorder.  This is to be avoided if possible because the quality goes downhill seriously – the EP 6-hour speed is worse than VHS.  

Wrap Up

This is not a heavy-duty high end model but the design and overall appearance is fine.  A glance at the user manual reveals that it may not be that simple to use, but it is simpler than dubbing videotapes and other sources into a computer and burning DVDs there, and for simple dubbing of old VHS tapes to DVD-Rs it can’t be beat for ease of use. It’s not designed for almost daily use in time-shifting TV programming as, say, a TiVo, but should be very useful for occasional capture of a program you don’t want to miss – although you won’t be viewing HD in HD. Also, really complex editing of video should be done on a computer using software especially designed for that purpose, but if basic editing is all you are doing, the Samsung should be just the ticket. There are some highly discounted online deals on the recorder, but I would recommend staying away from the refurbished models.  If your present VHS deck is an old one – and it probably is – you’ll find the 4-head VHS deck together with the upscaling to 1080i produces a quite good-looking image on a HDTV display, and there is no visible loss of quality when copying VHS, Beta tapes or Laserdiscs to DVD on the unit.  The HDMI connection also contributes to the excellent picture.

 - John Sunier




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