Philips DTR5520 receiver
Designed by Pace and sold under the Philips brand, this well-made and nicely organised Freeview HD box is little more than a simple receiver. Which is fine for most people's needs, but the competition in this market is fierce - can the DTR5520 hold up to scrutiny?
Equipped with Ethernet for connecting to BBC iPlayer at some future date (when Freeview gets its act together), the DTR5520 does lack a few common features. We're annoyed to find, yet again, that the USB slot on the machine's backside is only for software changes - no chance of DivX HD or MP3 trickery like on the unique Icecrypt T2200 Freeview HD box.
But it's the DTR5520's digital coaxial jack that proves a crucial difference between this and other Freeview HD set-top boxes; the DTR5520 turns audio into Dolby Digital to send to a home cinema system - 5.1 surround is the result. Basic analogue stereo sound can be output to an amplifier, too, using the DTR5520's stereo outputs.
At its core the DTR5520 is a fantastic performer; high-def TV programmes bask in some accurate colours, with depth as well as detail on show, but its standard definition fare that most impresses; they're as spotless as HD channels and thoroughly watchable on a big telly.
Although it's not quite as user-friendly as it is picture-perfect, the DTR5520 does boast a half-decent 8-day electronic programme guide. As well as "jump to day" controls, there's a nice option to quickly show "evening" (18:00-21:00) programmes, before switching back to current time.
It's also possible to delve back into recent history to see what you've missed over the last few hours - useful stuff considering that a lot of BBC and ITV programmes are available on catch-up (though not via the DTR5520 - not yet, anyway).
The way that the night's schedules on other channels can be viewed while you carry on watching a particular TV channel is reminiscent of a Sky+ box - little wonder, since that's the work of Pace, too. But here an otherwise usable interface has been Philips-ised, which means a vaguely utilitarian (and, dare we say it, European?) look has been given to the entire design. The interface and EPG also need a tad more resolution and clarity to lift it to the upper class of set-top boxes.
Oddly, the fastext options include red button recording. This is only possible if you've attached a VCR, which could seem a little quaint, but it's done well - press the button on a live programme and the box immediately locks itself to that channel.
A "settings" button brings up an option to adjust lip sync (using a visual scale) up to 250ms, while "menu" atop the remote control again kills TV dead and produces a three-pronged menu for TV guide, favourites and settings. The TV guide presents a list of all channels (though by choosing one it simply returns to the EPG) and a list of all the scheduled recordings you can make. The settings menu includes the option to set parental controls (lock channel, set PIN codes and time limits on TV), define the default volume, and assign video resolutions and audio settings for both the analogue and HDMI outputs, though most users won't need to change much out-of-the-box.
The DTR5520's faultless performance with both Freeview HD and normal Freeview channels is the kind of performance that gets top marks, but there's no getting away from the fact that this is a rather basic box. The interface is good and we like the Dolby Digital option, but with no Pay TV slots or USB functionality, it just doesn't compare well - at this price - to Freeview HD boxes such as the Icecrypt T2200.