Freeview HD is perfect for those who want high-def and can’t stomach paying subscriptions, but we’d all rather a Sky+ experience, wouldn’t we? In the rush to bring out Freeview HD recorders, summer 2010 saw some less-than-brilliant efforts, most often because the software wasn't up to scratch, which is why South Wales-based TVonics has waited until now to issue its debut in the genre - so the DTR-HD500 comes with high expectations.
Aside from its gloss black front, it’s designed like no other set-top box we know; it’s oval-shaped and leans back on itself. It might be attractive, but it could be tricky to house in an AV rack.
Before delving into Freeview+ HD we performed the usual inspection of the rear panel. And it’s exciting stuff - the DTR-HD500 has two HDMI inputs. That’s right, folks, you can feed an HDMI cable into the box from other devices and use it as a switcher. If your TV has only one or two HDMI inputs, this is an absolute boon, though its primary reason is to allow you to hang a TV on a wall and keep trailing cables to an absolute minimum.
We hooked-up an Xbox 360 and a Blu-ray player to the unit’s HDMI inputs without any problems; switching is a simple process that brings the added bonus of not needing to use your TV remote at all - the TVonics remote’s dedicated button can switch-off most mainstream brands of TV.
The remote itself is scarred by some very tiny buttons, though there is more to squeeze on here than the average set-top box - the remote even has dedicated source buttons so you can switch between digital TV, USB, and those two HDMI inputs.
Multimedia capabilities are limited. Despite its two USB inputs and dedicated source button on the remote, all we could do was begin a slideshow - there’s no support for MP3 or any video formats. At least this feature does work quickly and automatically - there’s no hunting around for individual files or any pretence of being a media hub of any kind - but it’s all rather basic for this kind of money.
Despite the interface’s alarmingly brash yellow and lime green graphics on a black background, it all works well - the EPG is quick to skip around, recordings are a simple affair (select programme to record, then press OK) and clashes are flagged-up immediately.
Freeview+ HD functionality is excellent, with features such as trailer booking (setting a recording from a trailer - as featured on Sky, though not yet available on Freeview), accurate recording (the recording continues after it’s scheduled if the programme runs over), pause and rewind live TV, and series links from the EPG. Recordings are made to the unit’s 500GB hard disk, though we can’t help thinking that it ought to go a tad higher than that.
Overall, the user interface does just enough, but it’s not helped much by the remote and the overall user experience is a tad below our expectations at this price.
Picture quality, meanwhile, is excellent, with Freeview HD channels presented with strong colours and contrast to accompany the sharpness. Standard definition channels are treated to a similar solidity, with few occurrences of digital blocking within a nicely upscaled image.
Boasting an unusual design of box and interface, this Freeview+ HD recorder does just enough to impress. Recording functionality is good, as is the picture quality, though HDMI switching will widen the DTR-HD500’s appeal to those with older - or wall-mounted - TVs.