Pioneer`s PRV-LX1 DVD-Video Recorder

Pioneer`s PRV-LX1 DVD-Video Recorder
Tapeless Recording
Pioneer’s PRV-LX1 DVD-Video Recorder
An exclusive first look
By Bryant Frazer
N
ever accuse the folks at
Pioneer of lacking ambition.
DVD specialists have been
paying attention to the company’s every product launch for years.
Pioneer was first out of the gate with an
“industrial” DVD player sporting
enhanced functions and durability for
educators and corporate and institutional users. It was first to market with a
DVD-R drive for authoring, an essential
QC tool in the format’s early days. And
now, it’s the first to debut a stand-alone
DVD recorder—combining optical disc
and hard-disk technology to great
effect—for professional users.
Pioneer’s first set-top DVD recorder
was the $2,000 PRV-9000, reviewed here
in March 2002. That one was technically a consumer product—but it sure
made a neat toy for DVD professionals.
The quality of its MPEG-2 encoding
wasn’t perfect, but it did the job for
most non-Hollywood clients. What
held appeal was the promise of near-
automation. For any DVD facility, time
spent on an authoring workstation is
money. A PRV-9000 sitting in the corner
of your facility with a video source
attached to it can be quietly chugging
along, encoding your client’s linear
video in real time while you dedicate
yourself to more complicated work on
the PC.
The PRV-9000 was a nice little
machine, but as impressive as its capabilities were, its limitations were all the
more frustrating. For instance, the
unit’s coolest feature—the ability to
perform light-duty editing tasks on
captured footage before finalizing a
disc, or to make some tweaks to the
automatically generated menus—
could only be used in DVD-VR mode,
which renders a disc unwatchable on
most DVD players. Even more egregiously, there was no way to do something as intuitive as specify a chapter
stop on the fly. The problem is that
everything a DVD recorder does has to
take place within the notoriously rigid
confines of the DVD-Video spec, which
is not traditionally a real-time environment. Doing anything “on the fly” is a
tall order. But Pioneer figured it out.
Built to Last
If you think of the new PRV-LX1, which
I spent a few days with in March, as just
a souped-up version of the PRV-9000
and its ilk, you’ll be a little surprised
when you see one in person. The thing
is rack-mountable, and it’s built like a
tank. It handles up to two DVD-R/RW
drives, and also has a 120 GB hard disk
under the hood, giving you enough
room to hold more than 20 DVD projects with lots of breathing room. It has
an MSRP of $3,995, and you’ll feel you
got your money’s worth the first time
you try to lift it out of the box. (It is
expected to begin shipping in June.)
The prototype that we test-drove
weighed about 30 pounds—heavy, yes,
but not impossible to cart around if
need be.
The recorder runs on an embedded
Linux operating system. It wisely
eschews the DVD-VR format, a needless complication for anyone who
makes a living creating discs that must
be playable on somebody else’s
machine. And one look at the back
panel will be reasurring—there’s a jack
for anything you want to throw at it,
including composite video in and out
(via BNC jacks), component video, SThe PRV-LX1’s back-panel jacks
can handle just about any video
source you throw at it.
Tapeless Recording
video, DV, balanced XLR audio and
unbalanced RCA audio. Also on board
is a standard RS-422 port for machineto-machine control. (Build an EDL
specifying in and out points on, say, a
Digi-Beta tape and walk away—the LX1
can automatically grab the content and
burn a custom DVD.)
to step forward and back through the
file to find the right frame. Select from
several different canned menu designs,
or import a graphic file created on your
PC. Burn it to a DVD-R and pop it in, or
plug the LX1 into your own network via
the Ethernet port on the back of the box
and push your custom content down
the wires.
Keep it Simple
What’s very reassuring about this otherwise intimidating big black box is the
friendly white light-up pushbuttons on
the front that control basic functions
like record, play, step frame and chapter skip. Connect a video source, put a
blank disc in the drive, and then press
record. Voila. Instant DVD.
But you’ll want to do more than
that. Pressing the gray “function” button brings up a menu on your video
monitor (not included) that unlocks
the PRV-LX1’s heavy-duty capabilities.
The basic stuff is self-explanatory.
Anyone with a little common sense will
be able to specify a video bit rate (granular in 32 steps from 1.7 Mbps to just
under 10 Mbps), choose between
Dolby Digital and PCM audio, and set a
level of video filtering that makes life a
little easier for the MPEG hardware.
Select automatic chaptering at three,
five or 10 minute intervals—or pick
“manual” chaptering, which allows you
to hit a button to insert chapter stops
on the fly. Very cool.
Recording can take place directly to
DVD, to the hard disk, or to both simultaneously. If a VOB (the structural unit
that makes up a DVD project) has been
recorded to the hard drive, it can be
trimmed and placed in order with other
clips before you burn an actual DVD.
Perfectionists can specify in/out points
and chapter stops from the hard disk
using an overlay menu that allows you
Quality Control
Of course, MPEG-2 encoding is the raison d’etre of any stand-alone DVD
burner. Pioneer’s engineers are not miracle workers—MPEG is as MPEG
does—but the real-time encoder in this
box is clearly several steps above that
found in the company’s consumer-level
DVD recorders. The LX1 produces more
impressive streams with fewer visible
artifacts. Cleaner source material—
such as D1, Digi-Beta and even DV originals—will obviously compress more
easily, but given the nature of this deck,
I’d expect to see it hooked up to all
manner of input devices, from pro
decks to old-fashioned laserdisc and
VHS machines.
As we went to press in March, many
functions of the LX1, particularly those
involving the use of the hard disk to
store, edit and re-author acquired AV
footage, were unavailable or compromised. That means that, although I verified that the basic functions were solid,
I couldn’t drive the deck as hard as I
would have liked. Further, the firmware
was still being refined, which is a very
good thing—easily the most puzzling
aspect of this machine is figuring out
what the seemingly endless lists of
menu options actually have to do with
your DVD content. To get this beast
under control, you’ll definitely want to
connect a keyboard and mouse to the
USB ports provided.
Video pros who want to create custom menus on highly interactive discs
will find that desktop authoring systems offer a more productive working
environment, but for simple demo reels
or other relatively linear projects, the
LX1’s video-capture process is so foolproof that the overall DVD-creation
workflow may be faster, even if you take
some time to trim and re-order footage
before finalizing the disc.
Value Proposition
But is it worth the four grand it’ll cost
you? That’s a question only you can
answer. (Add $495 for a second DVD-RW
drive and $1,995 if you want the forthcoming SDI/AES interface.) Pioneer
expects the LX1 to go over well in the
advertising industry, where firms are still
delivering demo reels on quarter-inch
tape or, yuck, VHS because nobody there
has the time or inclination to learn DVD
authoring. It will certainly appeal to anyone who needs to transfer lots of existing
video assets from their native formats to
high-quality DVDs.
My biggest reservation, ironically
enough, has to do with the LX1’s versatility, which seems to conflict with the
stripped-down simplicity that is the
biggest draw of a standalone DVD
recorder. After spending a couple of
hours with it, I thought, “Holy moley—
what kind of user will access all these
features on a regular basis?” Well, who
knows? But it’s hard to argue that it’s not
awfully nice to have them available.
This is that rarity in our business, a
groundbreaking machine that essentially defines its own product category
right out of the gate.
■
Bryant Frazer is the executive editor of PBI
Media’s Film & Video magazine and the editor of the DVD Report weekly newsletter.
For more information, please contact:
Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc.
2265 East 220th Street
Long Beach, California 90810
Toll Free: (800) 527-3766
Telephone: (310) 952-2799
Website: www.pioneerelectronics.com
Reprinted from the April 2003 AV Video Multimedia Producer | a v v m m p . c o m |
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