Sharp TU-T2HR32

As always, the cable and satellite boys have already gone one-up in anticipation of this first batch of Freeview+HD recorders - Sky's added 1TB hard drive models to its HD boxes, and Virgin Media's V+HD has had three tuners for yonks.

Which all leaves this two-tuner, 320GB Freeview+HD recorder looking a little conservative, though when it's put to the test it proves to be the best in its category - and with no subscriptions, could entice some Virgin and Sky subscribers out of their expensive contracts.

Key to the TU-T2HR32 are its twin Freeview HD tuners. Able to tune-in BBC HD, ITV HD and either 4HD (England), S4C HD (Wales) or STV HD (Scotland) if you live in the right area (check your postcode at www.freeview.co.uk), this black box with blue LED lighting on its front can record one channel while you watch another - or even record two while you watch a recording.

Its other talents come largely from its Freeview+ specification, though the way Sharp has presented some nifty features makes this as friendly - and fast - as boxes from the big boys of broadcasting. Shuffling around the 8-day electronic programme guide is a breeze, with one-button options to record programmes throughout the schedule, or even set series links. Even if you find a programme on an HD channel you want to record, the box gives you the option to take it as a SD stream to save space - and on a 320GB hard drive, that could be crucial (we figure that the HDD can take around 80 hours of HD broadcasts, or 160 hours of SD - though more than likely you'll want a mix of both, of course).

Recordings - which are identical to the broadcasts and rich in detail, with SD channels upscaled just enough - are presented in a list with a neat preview function that starts to play the recording in a small window. Recordings can then be protected or deleted, though it lacks basic editing functions such as name changing, splitting or merging. This box is also able to pause and rewind live TV; when paused the box counts the seconds and minutes in the bottom-left-hand corner of the screen, which is accompanied by slightly unnecessary blue flashing lights on the box.

What we did notice is that during operation that hard disk gets hot - with the result being the constant whirring of a fan in the back of a unit. It's not a deal-breaker, though it's almost as loud as the dreaded Xbox 360.

Connectivity-wise the Sharp has it all. Two RGB Scarts (why, we're not sure - they don't handle high-def resolutions) join the all-important HDMI output, while there's even a RS-232 port in case you want to merge it into a full draw-the-curtains-and-dim-the-lights style custom installation. More versatility comes in the shape of both coaxial and optical digital audio outputs, though the Sharp TU-T2HR32 can't convert Freeview HD's audio streams into Dolby Digital so - baring a firmware update - surround sound from TV channels is off the menu. The USB port is similarly redundant, being only for software updates and not for MP3, JPEG or DivX file playback.

Our final very minor criticism is that the remote control is distinctly low-rent. Although it's mapped out relatively well, the remote control suffers from some small buttons and a rather cheap build quality; we even had trouble getting the batteries to stay in.

Verdict

Lively, colourful pictures from both standard definition and HD channels are an essential part of its allure, but the way it's built around good-looking, easy to use onscreen menus - and the speed of the box itself - makes for an attractive option for anyone after HD recording.