Philips HDT8520 £249
14th Sep 2010 | 11:30
A difficult birth, but this Pace/Philips Freeview HD PVR is now as able bodied as any
Philips HDT8520: Overview and features
It's taken almost four months to get our hands on the Philips HDT8520, and having set it up and used it for over week, we're not surprise it wasn't Fed Ex'd to our test benches in the run-up to the World Cup.
Back then, anything with a Freeview HD badge on it was selling like England scarves, but like Capello's men, it seems this Pace-produced Freeview HD recorder – the first of its kind at the time – wasn't well prepared.
Bugs a-plenty pretty much stalled it progress, but happily the arrival of some new software this week – version 4.22, to be exact – has helped the HDT8520 become the Freeview HD recorder par excellence we'd always hoped it would be.
For those put off by bad reviews, the highlights of the mammoth 4.22 update fix some very basic issues. It's now possible to select a channel from the electronic programme guide by pressing 'OK'. Imagine that! Scrolling around the EPG has been sped-up, as has rewinding live TV, while 4.22 even reaches advanced functionality features like … pressing standby while using the EPG puts the unit into, err, standby.
We jest, but it's a serious faux par to issue a product with so many bugs. That said, Philips – or rather, British box makers Pace, them of Sky+ fame – are forgiven simply because the HDT8520 is now a rather swanky and enjoyable Freeview HD PVR.
We'll start with the essentials. The HDT8520 has two Freeview HD tuners, which makes it possible to record two channels simultaneously to its 500GB hard disk while watching a recording. That equates to around 220 hours of SD channels and 110 hours of HD.
Those who care what their black boxes look like should know that the HDT8520 is just that, though its laptop-style external power pack and (albeit fairly small) square design might annoy – as could its wraparound beam of light that pulses when you least expect it.
Philips HDT8520: Freeview HD performance
In a simple act of synergy we reviewed the all-new HDT8520 with a Philips LED TV. During testing the HDT8520 lost a few channels despite being in our usual reviewing position, which could be a cause for a concern (we had a similar issue on its little brother, the DTR5520), though its picture performance is otherwise excellent.
Highly detailed broadcasts from BBC HD were presented crisply and with plenty of life, while SD channels hold up well. Sure, there's the odd wobbly edge and a touch of picture noise in backgrounds, but there's some decent upscaling going on.
Philips HDT8520: Value and ease of use
The HDT8520's user interface lacks a little in terms of pixels – it's not hi-res enough on a big screen – though it's a simple to use system. One major complaint we have is that the electronic programme guide is entirely separate from live TV; choose the Guide button on the excellent remote control and the picture and audio cuts out. It's a similar state of affairs when any other menu is called-up.
That lack of integration is a shame, though the EPG's recording functions are as joined-up as you could wish for. Simple taps of the remote's record button record single episodes and install series links (the latter take a few seconds and a 'booking in progress, please wait' message) direct from the EPG, which is quick to respond to button presses from the remote.
If a recording clash occurs, if gives you a choice to delete named programmes, while a HDD library includes icons for individual programmes and folders for programmes that result from a series link. Oddly, recordings are locked, and deleting one means a merry dance on the remote.
When watching recordings it's possible to scan at high speed – up to 128x, in fact, which is a very welcome feature – though there's no option to skip to a particular time of the recording, or in 10-minute chunks.
On the audio side the HDT8520 can't translate Freeview HD's native HE-AAC audio format to Dolby Digital, so surround sound is off the menu – one for the next software update, perhaps – though it does have a plethora of audio outputs.
Philips HDT8520: Verdict
The software update has made this a Freeview HD recorder of some status in terms of functionality, and though it's not the finished article the HDT8520's picture quality and ease of use should be enough to please most users.
There's nothing flash about the HDT8520. There's no dabbling with USB playback, BBC iPlayer or any kind of networking, while the lack of Dolby Digital support and a Common Interface slot – for Top-Up TV – makes the HDT8520 a closed, albeit impressive, experience.
A solid performer, but there's nothing flash about the HDT8520. And though it comes with no extras, if you're after fairly advanced Freeview HD recording functionality it's a good option. As a bonus, its poor rep pre-software update would appear to be translating into a discount price.
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