DVD Harddisk Recorder Makes My Thumbs Hurt

Last week our old DVD player stopped working, and we decided it was time for a technological quantum leap.

Amitech 736

So I ordered this DVD/harddisk recorder: Amitech 736 with all the right buzzword features:

  • DVD player/recorder
  • Built-in harddisk (I ordered the 250GB version)
  • Digital tuner as a supplement to the analog tuner (better quality of recordings)
  • One touch recording of programs
  • Timer controlled programs
  • Good looking

Features vs user experience

While the feature list was just what we needed, I wanted to put it in context with how it’s used in our home. The DVD is primarily for my 3 year old son Victor, so he can watch Bob the Builder, Koala Brothers, Postman Pat, Noddy, Curious George, etc., and occasionally cartoons recorded from morning television.

DVDs in the hands of a 3 year old get worn and it would fit perfect to copy DVDs to the harddisk. Most important feature! Second, to record the programs like Mickeys Clubhouse (broadcast in Denmark only Sunday morning, but could come in handy every afternoon if my wife and I wanted to calm Victor’s temper after a long day in kindergarden). Second most important feature: Record from TV.

But what always surprises me is that features are nothing: It’s how the features are executed. The user experience is very important to me (I’m a usability geek, of course). But as an end-user in this case, i found the following astonishing findings after the first weekend’s use:

First weekend, many wasted remote control presses

  • Uses 25 seconds for startup. I can’t even eject the cd tray and load a dvd before the software is ready for taking my orders. Also there is no signal transmitted to the TV before everything is up and running.
  • The harddisk is audible and makes me want to turn off the dvd recorder as much as possible. There is some kind of vibration noise that gets amplified by the (wood) shelf that the recorder is standing on. I’m trying now to put it on a silencer mat (magic fleece) I had to order in Germany. Dont know if it will work, but I’m now spending 16EUR to find out. I’d rather waste the money than live with the noise from the harddisk. Ideally, Amitech should of course use low-noise harddisks AND use a vibration damper that prevents harddisk vibration to move through the cabinet and down to the shelf. And of course some vibration-damping pads under the box.
  • I tried to record some cartoons with the timer Sunday morning. Only Bananas in Pyjamas succeeded. (I recorded that as a non-repeating timer. The two other programs (Mickeys Clubhouse and Lazytown) dissappeared. They were set up as “weekly repeated” timed recordings. I suspect that the machine never recorded them. I can’t find them anywhere in the menu.
  • No public forum for the product. So I can’t see, if anybody else have had the problems I’m experiencing.
  • Not possible for me (yet) to record a DVD to the harddisk (not even when following the manual — Danish link). According to the manual I’m supposed to select the DVD at one point in the menu just next to the harddisk, but it’s not there. I have no clue if it’s me who’s looking the wrong place or something else? Could it be that the dvd’s are copyright protected? At least the system should tell me and show a disabled possibility.
  • Different ways of naming recordings: One place, there is a keyboard for entering text, but some other places I have to use only up/down arrows for writing. (And here, the space bar is placed illogical after all lower-case letters, not before.)
  • Channel numberings are strange: The two tuners are managed differently, so you have to set up channels for the analog tuner independently of the digital tuner and vice-versa. Each has in my case the numbers 1-4 in the setup menus. This makes it kind of a voodo-like experience using the channels outside of the setup. And result on my remote control: Channel 1 and 2 is actually the same channel (digital DR1), for some reason.
  • Slow reactions to channel changes. We have only 5-6 channels at home. Whenever I press a number on the remote control it reacts slowly. For instance, I press “4”, and a status display appears on screen telling me which channel I a shifting away from. Approx. 1 second later it shifts to the new channel.
  • The manual is written very feature-centric and not really user-centered. For instance, there are separate chapters on how to setup and manage channels on the digital and analog tuner. Ideally, there should only be one way to manage channels, regardless of if it’s digital or analog.
  • After 3 days I’m able to use the following features without consulting the manual
    • play a dvd
    • watch digital channels
    • timeshift a tv-recording (I had to consult the manual to learn howto, though)


  • I’m still not able to
    • Record a DVD to the harddisk
    • Record a TV program via the timer
    • Record a TV program directly


  • Worst experience yet: My thumbs hurt. All the searching around in the menus. The timer programs I meticulously named but were never recorded. The searching for programs and features that I could not find.

How this could be improved

As you can understand, all of this is software-related issues. I’m very confident that the user experience can be heavily improved, and software can be updated, because actually, this is a very nice product with some good features, and it deserves to be used. Many eletronic products are simply put aside and not used. Videos with blinking 00:00 clocks that people never put the effort into update.What I really want to do here is not to criticize unconditionally, but to suggest some ways to improve the product. So with a colleague we plan to spend some evenings next months to come up with our own menu design. Furthermore, I hope that this can start a dialog with Amitech that can help them improve the product so that it works better for me in the context that I use it for.

The main areas for usability improvements:

  • Menus should be reworked so that the functionality and the features are present and obvious at the right points in the the context of use.
  • The content of the manual.
  • Make features more self-explanatory, and make it easier to use the many features without consulting the manual.

Please use the comments here, if you have found any issues that you want to share, and also let me know which context you use it in. Also let me know if there are things here that is not important to you, and if there is other stuff that is much more important in your use of the product.

Feature list is cool, but user experience is more than feature lists. This hopefully will show, that user experience can be improved and hopefully in the future can sell products more easily.

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10 Responses to “DVD Harddisk Recorder Makes My Thumbs Hurt”

  1. Peter Thomsen Says:

    Thank you for an inspiring article.

    The thoughts behind your purchase of the DVD recorder made me rethink our technology for our kids at home … but your review made me wish for a link to a recorder that could actually guarantee friendliness in usability.

    The return rights in relation to internet purchases might serve well here.

    / P

  2. Jesper Rønn-Jensen Says:

    For those of you fluent in Danish, there is a forum recordere.dk that has a lot of feedback on Amitech dvd harddisk recorders. Mostly the older models 721, 723, 724, 733, 735


  3. Michael Bernth Says:

    The usability of most consumer goods are notoriously shit. It seems like its the last thing that enters the whole process. From what inside information that I got, Kiss uses engineers to design the graphical user interfaces and the overall navigational structure. And I guess they are not the only ones. Usually, even the most trivial task is a pain. The only products I have seen where they take the poor end-user into consideration is the ones from Apple, but I hope that there are others.

    As far as the slow start-up and noise – that would drive me up the walls.

  4. Allan Krings Says:

    I just received my 736 DVB-T, and I like the looks and the specs. But it must be defect, ’cause I cant even play a DVD! It makes a disturbing HD noice and it is really frustrating to use. Very annoying with the upside down thumbs up icon that was supposed to tell you that you cant do whatever youre trying to do. It insist that every CD and DVD I put in the drive is empty, which makes me laugh and cry at the same time. And we’re not talkin home burned CDs or DVDs – they are bought and have been played without problems in other players (and PCs).
    It was supposed to replace both my old DVD player AND my DVB-T box, thus leaving extra space and a cleaner look (and reducing the total number of remote controls to 3!).
    It seems that Amitech was just too quick to launch this product on the market. I find that they are very arrogant not to have a forum and to charge you 4,8 dkr per minute to get phone support!
    I have filed a complaint with Amitech this friday afternoon, but cannot expect to have an answer before the middle of next week. That is shitty customer support. If they had a forum (like 95% of dealers), users could help users all around the world, but maybe they have some bad customer feedback to hide from the public????

  5. Morten Bock Says:

    Thanks for a good review. I’ve just received a special offer on this machine, but I think I’ll pass on that.

  6. Laust Nielsen Says:

    My KiSS DP-558 just died on me today and I was thinking about maybe getting this Amitech recorder instead.
    Now that you’ve had yours for a while, are there any new thoughts to be added? Like, have you seen a different recorder with the same features but with a better user interface?
    Would you recommend me buying one of these and have you contacted Amitech about the user experience?

  7. Jesper Rønn-Jensen Says:

    Thanks for your comments, and thanks to Laust Nielsen for encouraging me to post updated info. I will — hopefully within not so much time.

  8. justaddwater.dk | What It’s Like To Be A Usability Geek Says:

    […] had a chance to confirm the usability issues I have seen and written about earlier (and want to write more […]

  9. Bjarne Jakobsen Says:


    It worries me to read these complaints – considering that I just bougth one of these things and obviously did not spend enough time reading reviews beforehand.

    I plugged it in yesterday and so far have ‘only’ experienced minor annoyances like the setup system, the hopeless userguide and that unexpected infernal noise the harddrive put out. I haven’t tried to record anything yet and the DVD we played last night worked perfectly.

    I would very much like to know if you have had new or revised experiences since october. Did you succeed in creating your own menu setup ? Did the noise dampening mat from germany help ?

    I still have about a week to return it to the internet vendor if I regret the purchase. Do you still have/use yours ?


  10. Jesper Rønn-Jensen Says:

    @Bjarne, i still have to publish an update with more experiences, annoyances and more.

    To address your specific issues directly:
    * the noisecontrol mat helps a lot: I cut 4 small pads from the mat to cover the rubber feet. Still you can hear the direct fan noise, but at least got rid of resonnance from the shelf.

    * DVDs work perfectly for me too. (the only thing — as I previously mentioned — i cannot copy dvds to the harddisk because of copyright issues)

    * I managed to reduce some of the pain in recording to the harddisk, by memorizing some of the stuff. One tip: when using OTR(one touch record), you have to touch these other buttons before the OTR/REC:
    1. Press “Rec to…”
    2. Press SELECT on “HDD” for selecting harddisk
    3. Press REC/OTR

    It’s your decision if you will keep it or return it. If you do decide to keep it, you can have a piece of the noise mat from me.. I only used a fragment of the entire mat. Let me know if that can help you (my phone number is on the contact us page)