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Tested: Toshiba's RD-A1 HD-DVD recorder

After beating competitors out of the gate with a high-definition video disc player, Toshiba launched its first high-definition recorder in Japan in July.

The RD-A1 is the world's first HD-DVD recorder and it's a monster of a machine. Weighing in at 15kg and at 160mm tall, it will make quite a statement in your living room - if you can afford the price tag of ¥368,000 (about £1,700).

For day-to-day recording, there's 1TB (terabyte) of hard disk drive space. That's enough storage for 130 hours of HDTV. A 30GB HD-DVD-R disc will hold about 230 minutes of video.

Recording and navigating are easy through a high-definition graphical interface that ties together the EPR (electronic program guide), the library of recorded content and the recording of programs to disc.

It's all quite easy if you can navigate the confusing world of Japanese digital TV. Most programs are tagged with a no-copy signal. This means that you can't copy them to a disc but you can move them from the hard disk to the HD-DVD. The system, which is tied in with a smart card in your recorder, also requires you to use blank media with support for the AACS (advanced access content system) DRM (digital rights management) system.

The good news is that the machine records the incoming digital TV stream without any change so what's played back shows no discernible loss in quality to the original broadcast.

It's Toshiba's first HD-DVD recorder but the company launched a player earlier this year. One of the biggest criticisms with that product was the long wait while the machine powered up. Unfortunately, the RD-A1 isn't much faster.

You'll have to wait 27 seconds for the Toshiba logo to appear on-screen from pressing the power button and a further seven seconds for TV images to appear. Then, there's a further 49 second wait while the machine reads the discs and gets ready for use. That's a grand total of one minute and 23 seconds from switching on the power to being able to do anything.

A look inside reveals a possible reason why. The RD-A1, like Toshiba's previous player, looks a lot like a personal computer. It's powered by an Intel Pentium chip and has many of the other components you'd expect to find in a PC. There's also, of course, the hard disk storage and optical drive. So if you think of it as a modified PC, then perhaps the physical size and bootup time isn't so unreasonable. As a consumer electronics product, it's a little on the large and slow side.

In one place, this size is a good thing. The rear of the recorder looks like something you might find on the space shuttle. It's a forest of sockets and connectors for all sorts of outputs and inputs and the bulk of the machine really helps separate them out.

Also be prepared for the manuals. There are several and they're thick. Despite their thoroughness, I never did discover the meaning of DEPGT that kept appearing on the display.

Toshiba has yet to announce international launch plans for the RD-A1. It's now on sale in Japan.

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