Name: DTR-Z500HD (TVonics)
Type: Freeview+ HD Digital TV recorder
Specs: Click here for full specs
Price: £224.99 direct from TVonics
HDMI switching is a rare feature for a digital TV recorder, but the TVonics DTR-Z500HD packs it in. Does the rest of its features live up to the relatively hefty price tag attached to this PVR?
Sleek black curves and its stout boxy frame aside, the DTR-Z500HD is a rather unassuming Freeview HD set top box, completely bereft of buttons, that houses a rather unique feature. On its rear is not only a HDMI Output port, but also two HDMI inputs, allowing for pass-through switching of two further HD sources, such as a Blu-ray player or games console. Switching between the two via dedicated “HDMI 1” and “HDMI 2” buttons on the remote control, it’ll be a godsend for those with a TV packing only the one HDMI port, or those looking to tidily wall-mount a TV with the minimum amount of input cables on show. With Freeview HD broadcast in 1080i, it also reveals why the need for 1080p support is included here, as so many Blu-ray players and games consoles using the sharper picture format could potentially pass through the box.
Cramming in a 500GB hard disk, the DTR-Z500HD has all the Freeview+ HD features you’d expect from a premium digital TV recorder, including series link options, one-button recording and Live TV pause, allowing you to fence off a portion of the hard drive for as many as 4 hours of live TV to be rewound through. Dual tuners allow two channels to be recorded whilst a third is being viewed. Around 70 hours of HD footage can be stored, or 220 hours of standard definition programming. There’s even a recommendation service which, depending on whether or not broadcasters include the relevant information with their shows, will suggest programs you may enjoy based on those you’ve already recorded.
In use, the EPG and menu system is punchy and fast, skirting around the layers of programme information and channel listings briskly. Text is crisp and easy to read, and there’s even some light customisation options when it comes to the skin of the EPG and its colours.
Sharp, smear-free Freeview HD images are delivered from the box, while even standard definition channels are upscaled to a high standard. Those using larger screen TVs upwards of 40 inches may see a little softening to SD images, but only minimally. Though few shows are broadcast with 5.1 sound on Freeview HD, the DTR-Z500HD supports it regardless, converting the compressed HE-AAC format into Dolby Digital 5.1, compatible with all AV amps. There’s even a Dolby Surround option, converting stereo sources into 5.1 through an AV with Dolby Pro Logic codecs.
The remote control is very comfortable, if a little lightweight. Along with the afore-mentioned HDMI switching buttons, there’s a central click wheel, surrounded by “Guide”, “Text”, “Info” and “Back” buttons. A button dedicated for switching between TV and radio EPG listings will suit those who listen to the wireless a lot too. However there’s one pretty glaring issue with the remote set-up here. Though leaving the DTR-Z500HD without buttons makes a fairly sleek design for the box itself, losing the remote down the side of a sofa or, even worse, breaking it, will lead to you being unable to control the box at all.
If we had any other major complaints with the box, it’s how underused both the dual USB ports and Ethernet port found on the device are. The USB ports can only display photos stored on a memory stick rather than music or movie files, with their purpose predominately for updating the system software. Likewise, the Ethernet port is incapable of grabbing content from a networked PC or other DLNA compliant device, though it will be future-proofed for eventual Freeview+ HD web features.
Delivering class-leading Freeview HD images and offering a genuinely useful feature in the shape of its HDMI switching function, there’s a lot to love in this latest TVonics box. However, it’s got quite a steep price tag, and those looking for a little more storage space or a more robust feature list may be better served elsewhere.