TVonics DTR-HV250 DVR
Freeview+ recorder for yer folks
Review British Freeview box maker TVonics currently eschews the dark arts of HDTV or satellite content and seems content to plough its own furrow providing well made and easy to use Freeview and Freeview+ devices. This equipment is aimed more at the man in the street or tech fanatic's mum, than tech fanatics themselves.
Easy does it: TVonics' DTR-HV250
The new HV250 sits at the top of the TVonics DVR range above the 250GB DTR-Z250 and 500GB DTR-Z500 devices and the family resemblance is clear with the casings of all three devices being exactly the same size and crafted from the same black sheet aluminium.
The obvious external change is the front panel, which now houses an LED display to let you know what channel you are watching and the time rather than the wholly decorative wavy metal panel of the older machines.
Take a shufti around the back and you will find that TVonics has addressed one of the criticisms levelled at its previous DVRs by fitting three HDMI ports. The one outgoing port connects the unit to your telly while the two incoming ports let you hook up other devices such as a media streamer or Blu-ray player and switch between them – handy if you want to connect more devices than your telly has HDMI ports.
Both the HDMI-in ports can handle 1080p content and can pass through HD audio but it's worth noting that the HV250 has to be in operation rather than just on standby to work as an HDMI switch. Also new to a TVonics device are the USB ports. These can be used to display JPEG images or instal new features and firmware updates as they become available.
Multiple HDMI interfacing with Scart too
We are not entirely convinced the HV250 needs two USB ports, given the rather limited use they have, especially when the one at the front rather spoils the looks of the unit. Still, maybe a future firmware update will add to the USB functionality. Alongside the HDMI and USB ports you also get a single RGB Scart socket, optical digital audio output and RF in/out sockets.
Once we had the HV250 out of the box, plugged in and switched on it pulled in all available Freeview stations in double quick time. We are not entirely sure an operation this simple can be dignified with the term 'set-up', but such as it is, set-up is very easy.
Eight day Electronic Programme Guide
Being a twin tuner device the HV250 will let you either watch one channel while you record another or record two channels while watching either one of them or something previously recorded. Surely enough permutations to keep most folk happy.
Picture quality was excellent on every telly we tried the HV250 with right up to a 50in plasma which proved the value of the players ability to upscale content to 720p or 1080i. Beyond that you get all the usual Freeview+ refinements such as an 8-day programme guide, series-link, Alternative Instance Recording to work around recording clashes and Accurate Recording for when the EPG and reality decide to part company.
The system also includes a time-shift recording buffer that can be set to anything between 10 minutes and two hours and a picture-in-picture feature which lets you watch one thing while keeping a beady eye on something else. You can also set the unit to search for new channels every day so your EPG is kept bang up to date.
The EPG and menu system are essentially the same as the ones seen on previous TVonics DVRs, so they forego graphical extravagance in the name of simplicity and logic. This has always been one of TVonics' strong points and it renders the user guide irrelevant.
Video library listings
A fine example of TVonics thinking is the indication of how much space you have left on the hard drive - the HV250 gives you the information in terms potential hours of TV rather than as the simple percentage of the total storage capacity found on the Sky+ system.
The speed with which the system skips from one station to the next was the fastest we have come across on a set top Freeview box of any type. Ease of use is further enhanced by the bundled remote which is the same, excellent, Sky-type device TVonics has been offering for a while.
Not the cheapest, but arguably the swiftest
Despite the HV250 standing on its own two feet, TVonics also describe it as a "stepping stone" towards a Freeview HD DVR device to be released later in the year. So, the 50 per cent of the UK population who should be able to receive Freeview HD by the time the World Cup kicks off, may want to keep this in mind.
At £230, the HV250 is not what you would call cheap. The obvious competition comes from the Humax PVR 9300T, which will set you back around £180 but only has the one HDMI port though you do get a larger, 320GB hard drive. Also, Sagem makes a 250GB Freeview+ box that can be picked up for under £150 - the DTR 67250T.
Yet with the Sagem, you only get the one HDMI port and there are reports of sundry UI and firmware problems. Apparently, owners have described the DTR 67250T's hard-drive as making more noise than a cement mixer having sex, which we took to be a bad thing. The HV250, however, is also designed and made here in Blighty and many will be happily cough up a few extra quid just to support local talent .
As a standard definition Freeview recorder, the HV250 is hard to fault. It's well made, attractive, easy to use and does everything you would want it to do and we can see the three HDMI ports coming in very handy. Not the cheapest of devices though and fans of hi-def TV will have to wait until later in the year for the Freeview HD version. We'd also like to see a 500GB version version - 250GB is good for about 125 hours of programming, but you can never have too much recorded telly. ®
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