TVonics DTR-HD500 £279.99
22nd Sep 2010 | 10:00
This Freeview+ HD 500GB PVR has HDMI switching
TVonics DTR-HD500: Overview and features
Aside from the curved and tilted design that recalls some of Samsung's Blu-ray players, this Freeview+HD recorder from British company TVonics has a unique feature in that it also works as a hi-def hub.
On its rear you'll find not only a HDMI output to send hi-def pictures to your TV, but also a brace of HDMI inputs. They're labeled for 'games console' and 'DVD player', though anything that uses a HDMI cable can be switched, typically a Blu-ray player.
Other connections include two USB inputs – one on the side and one on the rear – both of which can accept memory sticks or external hard drives stuffed with digital media.
If that's useful, so too is its 500GB hard disk that's able record around 70 hours of HD programmes, or around 255 hours of regular standard definition fare. It's not quite up to the standards of the latest Sky+HD box, but it's as big as they get in the Freeview HD market.
Recording functionality is relatively advanced, with its dual DVB-T2 tuners allowing you to record two channels at once. Recordings can be set from an eight-day electronic programme guide, while all the latest Freeview+HD specs are on board.
There's also a media player that shows only JPEG photos from a USB stick, and an Ethernet LAN port that's largely redundant – there's no media streaming here. And nor is there a Common Interface slot, so Top-Up TV is off the menu.
TVonics DTR-HD500: Performance
Despite its natty design and nifty extras, the DTR-HD500's strongpoint is picture quality.
Freeview HD channels are clear and easily befit a bigscreen TV. Recordings are identical to the broadcasts, with the same strong points of colour, contrast and detail holding-up.
Standard definition channels are a notch behind, but that's not the DTR-HD500's fault; it does its best to upscale, and it's best is pretty good – in fact it's as good as upscaler as we've seen in the Freeview HD market.
Ease of use
The box scans in channels quickly and orders them both in an EPG and a pop-up channel list – the only drawback being its lime green, yellow and black design that won't be easy for some to stomach. The EPG contains listings for nine channels across 90 minutes, with Fastext buttons used to scan downwards and forward eight days. It's an interface that covers all the bases, but is a touch too slow for our tastes.
Recordings are a two-touch affair; the red button to select, and either OK to confirm, or the blue Fastext button to set a series link.
Although the DTR-HD500 is fitted with 'recommendations', during our test we didn't see any evidence of suggested programmes – although if the programme you've selected to record is also being shown in HD that week, the DTR-HD500 tells you so.
Live TV can be paused and rewound, with functionality identical to the DTR-HD500's treatment of recordings; there are two scan speeds, one of which is of indeterminate speed – but incredibly fast.
Recordings, which can only be performed in high quality, are stored as a list, though accessed only via a tiny 'Lib' button that you'll do well to locate.
The remote's Fastext buttons then come into play, controlling options such as sorting (by length, newest, A-Z), editing (this is slightly misleading – it's only possible to lock or block programmes to preventing them being watched or deleted), and setting a numbered playlist. The latter feature could be useful if you want to playback several episodes of Pingu, for example, before abandoning the room to children.
Switching other HDMI kit proves a success, with the remote able to switch-off most major brands of TV – so there's no worry that the DTR-HD500 will bring yet another remote into your living room.
Slideshows via USB are clear and idiot-proof, though its USB limitations are surprising for a box this price – what no DivX?
What the DTR-HD500 doesn't have, either, is a Dolby Digital option. An upgrade will be made available, TVonics assures us, in October [www.tvonics.com/dolby], which seems par for the course for most Freeview+HD boxes.
TVonics DTR-HD500: Verdict
The DTR-HD500 is one of the most expensive Freeview HD recorders around, and though it does include a few nifty features, it does seem a tad overpriced.
The interface is easy to navigate and the 500GB hard disk, while not exactly huge, is about as big as it gets in the Freeview+HD recorder market. Its unusual sleek design works well and switching is equally unique, though it's the DTR-HD500's picture quality that really endears it to us.
The remote is a mixed bag, and the same goes for its interface – even if you like lime green, the box's menus and general operability are merely adequate. As for those USB slots, we're not sure why TVonics bothered, while the lack of a Common Interface slot could put some off.
The DTR-HD500 is all about easy recording, an unusual look, and its HDMI switching skills. Its interface is slightly too slow and largely identical to its rivals' efforts, and though there's a lot to like about TVonics' debut Freeview+HD recorder, it's a few features short of greatness.
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