Freeview HD has hit the headlines, but as for "World Cup recorders" there's scant few available on the new platform, making Digital Stream's debut DHR8203U something quite special - and not only because of its uniqueness.
In fact Digital Stream's only real rival at time of writing is Panasonic, whose £800 DMR-BW780 acts as both a Freeview+HD and a Blu-ray recorder. Panny has also just put its £480 DMR-XW380 DVD recorder-come-Freeview+HD box on sale, though we're on the cusp of seeing various cheaper boxes from Philips, 3view and Sharp.
Equipped with two terrestrial digital DVB-T2 tuners, the DHR8203U can record in either SD or HD to its built-in 320GB hard disk.
And despite its rather ambitious nature, the DHR8203U's features are relatively easy to wade through. Its front-end interface is the highlight, consisting of six icons (Media, Guide, Schedule, Preferences, Installation and Others) that lead to rather more basic pages, though everything works quickly and is in high resolution.
It's nicely presented with nuanced graphics that help make it easy to use, though it's too slow - scanning through a day's TV schedules can be frustrating. Setting recordings is simple and a list of scheduled recordings can be inspected, where plans can be edited or deleted. An option to put a Series Link on any programme is available every time a recording is scheduled, while - for the first time on a Freeview box - the DHR8203U can schedule new recordings from trailers; just press the green button during a trailer for a programme and it will be recorded.
In terms of picture quality, the recordings made by the DHR8203U are every bit the same as its pictures from live broadcasts - and that means pin-sharp for high-def channels, and solid, cleverly upscaled standard channels. Around 60 hours of HD programmes and 150 hours of SD programmes can be recorded, though it's likely you'll want a mix - we'd bank on an average of around 100 hours.
The DHR8203U then goes beyond simple Freeview HD receivers. Its picture-in-picture feature also works well, with some dedicated controls on the remote able to change channel and even swap between the main and inset pictures from two channels. That's a useful feature for the World Cup, as is an "instant replay" feature that winds back live TV in 15-60 second clumps.
Further still, the DHR8203U proffers three USB slots, two of which should be able to play digital media from a USB stick or drive. Behind a flap on the front fascia a Common Interface slot (for Top Up TV viewing cards) and a USB slot, though in our test we couldn't get this slot to accept a stick packed with digital media. Instead we had to reply on a less convenient USB slot on the machine's rear panel.
Choose the "media" option from the GUI that accesses recordings and it's possible to enter a USB device that's connected through that rear slot. Unfortunately it has to be in JPEG or MP3 mode before it can find examples of either files, with no other file types supported. Any files on a USB stick or drive can also be moved, deleted, copied, or the file name changed.
This large machine's touch controls and subtle red and blue display lend a classy feel that's carried over into an easy to use interface. And though the 8-day EPG can be sticky and slow to navigate and the remote control is poor, the quality of both live HD and SD broadcasts and recordings isn't in doubt. Quality upscaling and a relatively low price make Digital Stream's debut worth considering.
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