Reviewed in the United States on July 11, 2011
I would have given this machine five stars except for a few oddities in the user interface. Even then, by itself, I would probably have given it five stars, but the oddities are things that work better and more smoothly in other *Toshiba* products. Why they chose to do them differently in this one is a mystery to me.
I've had this machine since February, 2011. It has been trouble-free electrically and mechanically. I record one hour every week day and a couple of other shows once a week to the DVDRW drive. I watch a few hours a week of VHS taped shows. I occasionally (maybe once a month) dub a VHS tape to DVD-R. At that rate of use, I have not had any problems so far.
I bought this machine because my latest VCR had a bad head. I still watch VHS tapes which are recorded at another location and I wanted something to record shows at home. This machine is a very good solution, providing a way to play VHS tapes, but allowing me to migrate my home recording to DVD, and to dub the occasional VHS tape to DVD if desired.
If you don't need/want to watch VHS tapes, then there's no reason to get this machine. Get a DVR machine with a built-in hard drive instead. If you want removable media, get one that includes a DVD-RW drive.
The built-in tuner is an excellent feature as others have mentioned. After the conversion to digital broadcast (I do not have cable -- all my viewing is Over The Air, OTA) I was using one of the "free" tuner boxes. That was horrible for recording because one had to set the VCR, but then also remember to set the digital tuner box to the proper channel, and there was no ability to change the channel while recording or between recordings without being present to do it manually.
Obviously, the built-in tuner solves that issue and the tuner seems to be of good quality. We have a lot of trouble with multi-path signal interference since the switch to digital broadcast. The "free" tuner boxes are terrible with respect to multi-path interference. Channels which would futz out in a wind storm with the digital tuner box continue to work fine for the tuner in this recorder.
The video quality of the VHS side is okay, not great. IIRC, it only has two heads. So paused images tend to flicker and are not so sharp as they would be with a high quality four head deck. The quality is about equal to the old 2 head VCR I had for fifteen years before the four head deck. So I would guess that this is normal 2-head quality. Four heads would be better, but it would probably also be more expensive. The unit does seem a little slow to adjust tracking when beginning VHS play. Also, fast forward and rewind are slower than I am used to. Be prepared to watch something on the DVD player (or have a book handy) while rewinding or forwarding through tapes.
I do all my DVD-RW recording in the mode which gives 4 hours per disk. The quality here is also okay. It is somewhat better than the VHS quality, but again, not fantastic. It would probably be better at the 2 Hr/Disk or 1Hr/Disk setting, but I don't want to reformat the disks or swap them out that frequently. It is good enough.
While DVD+/-RW media costs a few times more than DVD+/-R media, you can reformat and reuse it many times, just as you would a tape. It pays to pick up some RW media if using this machine to record programs.
You will definitely want to read the manual for this machine. If you are temperamentally incapable of reading the manual, then get something simpler. There are a few oddities in the use of this machine which make the manual essential. The machine is very feature rich, and all those features take a lot of explanation. Fortunately, the manual is clearly written, with steps clearly demarcated and capabilities spelled out.
One thing that is an irritation is the zoom function. On this unit when you hit the "zoom" button, a drop down menu of magnifications appears and you must select a magnification. But before it executes the zoom, the viewing area must be selected while still in 1X zoom. After selection, if you want to select a different viewing area you must go back through the menu again, and change magnification twice to get back to the desired magnification with the viewing area selectable. Also, a menu bar stays across the top of the screen the whole time, unless you use another button sequence to dismiss it.
On other Toshiba units I own, which are just simple DVD players, each press of the zoom function increases magnification immediately. Press it enough times and it circles back to regular size. Once the image is zoomed, simple use of the arrow keys moves the view area around on the fly. No move a box and then select it forever. If one dismisses the view-area-move box with the players, another single press of the zoom button brings it back.
This is a simple, elegant way to handle zoom, which Toshiba already knows about. Why switch to something so awkward and inefficient in this unit?
The second awkward thing is setting daily, weekly, etc. timer recordings. There's no menu item for it in the set-timer-recordings screen. The way you get to those options is to attempt to select a recording date earlier than the current date. This leads to those options. This is clearly explained in the manual, but it's pretty frustrating if you think it is a function you should be able to figure out from the on-screen menu.
The third awkward thing is enabling timer recordings. As you might expect, the unit needs to be turned off in order to allow timer recordings. However, the unit has what amounts to two "off" buttons. If you turn it "off" one way, any timer recordings you have set are enabled. If you turn it "off" the other way, the timer recordings are not enabled and your program will not be recorded. This is also explained in the manual, but it takes some getting used to, if you expect to use the same button to turn it "off" as you used to turn it "on".
I've missed a few recordings by turning the machine "off" in the wrong manner.
I think this two-"Off"-buttons confusion may be logical necessity of the multi-function nature of this thing. For example, you can let timed programs record to the DVD-RW while you are watching other shows on the VHS deck. Probably vice versa as well, though I have not tried it in that direction.
Being able to play from and watch one unit while recording something else to the other unit is a very nice feature.
The inputs include front and rear A/V inputs as well as a front Firewire (IEEE 1394) input, which is very handy for some camcorders. USB would have been nice, but I believe it lacks that. I think it was designed when Firewire was still prominent on Camcorders.
The extra inputs are also handy, if one doesn't have quite enough inputs to one's television. You can hook this machine to the television, route other devices through this machine's inputs and just set the input for this machine to whatever port the extra device is plugged into, when needed.
There is a 30-second skip button for the DVD side which is great. Most commercial breaks are in 30 second increments. One may repeatedly push this button to accumulate a skip period up to three minutes. It does a sort of super-fast-forward through the skipped time, so you can see enough to know if you're missing that commercial about pizza specials that you really wanted to see.
There is also a function that allows one to play a program at an increased tempo with the sound adjusted to have the proper pitch. I haven't tried that, but it could be useful for boring training videos, or take-home Defensive Driving shows. I can't remember if it works on VHS, DVD or both.
Anyway, it's a pretty cool machine. Seems to do what it claims reliably. Isn't the greatest in image quality, but it's not the most expensive either, although I liked it better for under $200; it seems to be going up in price. A few things could be better, especially given that Toshiba has done them better in the past. However, a lot of imagination went into making the machine very feature rich and versatile. It's an especially good unit if you need a convenient way to preserve old VHS or Firewire equipped camcorder tape to DVD.
10/10/2011 Update: My unit is still working perfectly. My friend's unit, which was purchased a couple of years earlier had problems with the VCR portion last week. It was eating tapes when using FF or Rew. It also was not ejecting properly, and ultimately, would not play a tape after loading.
I opened it up, compared it to the guts of my unit, and found that (bear with me, I don't know the correct names for these things) there is a clear/white plastic strip which goes around a wheel in the front bottom of the mechanism. I think the strip puts proper tension on the wheel. The little strip is hooked into place at both ends. On the end towards the back of the unit, the strip had come loose and was no longer hooked in place properly. This probably resulted in improper tension on the associated wheel, leading to the tapes not transporting properly. After I rehooked the strip the unit went back to proper functioning.
However, while I had both units open, I noticed that in FF and Rew the VCR mechanism does not disengage the head. Most VCRs disengage the head during FF and Rew. This is probably why these units are so slow during FF and Rew. And no, I did not get confused and have the unit in Play when I hit FF or Rew. This was FF or Rew. from Stop.
This will probably result in more wear on the head and tape when using FF or Rew.
I wonder if this is a firmware problem.