TVonics DTR-Z500HD £230
31st Mar 2011 | 12:15
This Freeview+ HD recorder with HDMI switching is as slick as they come
TVonics DTR-Z500HD: Overview and features
Overview and features
Its two Freeview HD tuners and 500GB hard disk suggest that TVonics' latest stab at digital greatness is a high-end option indeed.
And around the back is immediate proof that this diminutive, though heavyweight, box is a serious attempt at making a one-of-a-kind Freeview HD recorder.
The usual ins and outs, such as a Scart, RF in and out, two USB slots and an HDMI output are present, but so too are two HDMI inputs. It means the DTR-Z500HD can act as a HDMI switcher itself if other HDMI gear – such as a games console and a Blu-ray player – are attached to it.
Although it won't cut out the need for additional remote controls, it does mean just one cable needs to be attached to your TV. In that regard, the DTR-Z500HD seems perfect both for those with a TV that has only one HDMI input, and anyone wanting to wall-mount a TV in the tidiest possible way.
Attached kit is selected using the 'HDMI1' and 'HDMI2' buttons on the remote; it's a completely unique feature, and one we like. Its ability to switch external HDMI courses also explains the DTR-Z500HD's 1080p output, which isn't otherwise necessary; Freeview HD channels are currently broadcast in 1080i.
There is a counterpoint. Despite the fact that the DTR-Z500HD can be fitted with a network cable, there's no media streaming features or DLNA functionality. That's a real shame, as is the limited talent of the front and rear panels' USB slots; they merely play photos, not digital music or video files.
Our sample, which was loaded with the latest software (V1.2.A1550.D280.F10), included all the latest Freeview+ HD features you might expect, include accurate recording, series links, one-touch recordings and even recommended programmes based on the recordings you make (this depends on information from broadcasters; during our test BBC programmes such as Casualty, QI and Doctor Who, and C4's One Born Every Minute, had this data).
Live TV can be paused and rewound; you can designate the size of the buffer as one, two or four hours, though this obviously ropes-off a portion of the hard disk.
TVonics DTR-Z500HD: Performance
The user interface is quick and slick, with great use of colour and, most importantly, speed. Pictures from Freeview HD channels are stunning, and though standard-definition channels are upscaled to a reasonably good standard, we've seen better.
Watched on a mid-size TV you're unlikely to have any complaints, but the low bittrate of some channels is obvious if you attach the DTR-Z500HD to any display above 42-inches.
Audio is punchy with enough bass response to impress in a home cinema setting, too. Surround sound can be a confusing area since most boxes now offer 5.1 despite it not being broadcast much on Freeview HD.
Happily, when it is broadcast – in the compressed HE-AAC format – the DTR-Z500D converts it into Dolby Digital 5.1 (which all AV amplifiers can handle) to send over both HDMI and optical audio. There's also a Dolby Surround option, which puts normal stereo into a Dolby format that all AV amplifiers can then convert into 5.1 using one of the Dolby Pro Logic codecs.
TVonics DTR-Z500HD: Value and ease of use
Value and ease of use
Its USB inputs and Ethernet LAN port suggest some significant digital trickery, though that's not the case. Both the rear and front USB slots play only photos from either a USB stick, card reader or direct from a camera.
Accessed only via the remote control's 'USB' button up top, the software immediately begins to play photos – both JPG or BMP formats in our tests – with now/next functionality from the red and green Fastext buttons.
The software works quickly and is effortlessly simple, fading-in photos and loading each one instantly, though an option to create an automatic slideshow using the yellow Fastext button didn't work.
The box's web connectivity is even more of a dead end. It's part of the Freeview+ HD specification, so while the DTR-Z500HD might be able to claim that it's future-proof, it's not got the DLNA networking or online content dimensions that could claim it all-round 'media hub' status; this is a Freeview+ HD box, and little else.
The remote is a cut above most, with large numbered buttons giving a passing resemblance to a Panasonic remote, though it's actually a lot easier to use despite being a tad too lightweight. That said, the 'Guide', 'Info', 'Text' and that all-important 'Back' buttons that surround the usual clickwheel are too small.
The remote also includes a toggle switch between TV and radio while inspecting the EPG, and shortcuts to lists of recordings and planned recordings, a screensaver, clock and picture-in-picture option.
Crucially, none of these functions is accessible in the on-screen menus, so losing the remote would be disastrous – especially since the exceptionally solid (and childproof) metal casing of the DTR-Z500HD doesn't sport any buttons whatsoever.
Although the DTR-Z500HD can record two channels to its 500GB HDD at the same time as a third channel is being watched (depending on the multiplex being used), we can't help but think Freeview+ HD boxes should offer a bit more.
After all, Sky now offers a 1TB box, and Virgin's V+HD box has three tuners; shouldn't Freeview+ HD boxes be trying to offer a better – as well as cheaper – service?
TVonics has probably concluded that two tuners and 70 hours of HD/255 hours of SD is enough for most users, though heavy users will likely head for the Icecrypt T2400, a similar product with 1TB (£329.95) and 2TB (£389.95) options.
But the interface on this TVonics box is simple, super-fast, hi-res and impeccably consistent. Kudos to TVonics for matching the likes of Humax and Panasonic in this regard.
TVonics DTR-Z500HD: Verdict
Perfect for anyone wanting to cleanly wall-mount a TV thanks to its novel HDMI switching feature, TVonics has come up with a Freeview+ HD recorder that's hard to beat.
The DTR-HD500 delivers on its core features so well that it's hard to beat on pure Freeview+ HD performance. The user interface is good-looking and fast working, the recordings options myriad and the picture quality from Freeview HD channels is stunning.
HDMI switching is arguably more useful to more people than home networking and DivX playback – and that's the main difference between the DTR-Z500HD and the Humax HDR-Fox T2.
Networking, digital music and video file playback, and a Common Interface slot are the three main issues with regard to absent features, while the remote – though a decent effort – needs some fine-tuning. SD channels, while upscaled reasonably well, can look soft.