TVonics DTR-Z500HD Freeview HD DVR
Review Back in October 2010, Reg Hardware looked at TVonics’ first Freeview HD recorder, the curiously styled DTR-HD500. The DTR-Z500HD is a more conventional 'shoe box' shape, though much smaller than many of the others I’ve looked at, but it once again packs in a good spec.
DTR-Z500HD: a more sober design than the last TVOnics DVR
There’s a 500GB disk drive, Ethernet network connectivity – BBC iPlayer isn’t supported yet, but is in the works, apparently – and twin tuners, so you can watch one channels while recording another, or record two at a time.
The TVonics doesn’t have the network media functionality of Humax's Freeview HD DVRs, such as the HDR-Fox T2, but a look at the back panel reveals a useful extra: three HDMI ports. Two are inputs, and there’s a built in HDMI switch, which will be welcome to those who only have one or two ports on their TV.
There’s also a Scart output, optical S/PDIF, and a rear-facing USB port, as well as one on the front panel. Power comes from a small plug-top PSU.
If you’re hoping for media playback from the USB ports, you’ll be disappointed. They’re strictly for photos and firmware updates, rather than video or audio playback.
No BBC iPlayer on board... yet
The remote can be programmed to work a range of TV sets, but not other devices. At the top a row of buttons allows you to select DTT – the built in tuners – the two HDMI ports, or USB for photos. It’s a fairly well built remote, with a decent feel to it, though a single key is used for ‘back’ and ‘exit’ which may confuse users of some others. There’s a dedicated key for Audio Description, with an on-screen notification to let you know when it’s turned on, too.
Next page: Easy to use
It's been sitting here for around a month or so now, and I've not had any mysterious things happening (or at least none that I can't put down to other causes; for example, watching a recording of The Event from C4HD last night, one segment had the audio messed up, with no dialogue, but I've seen that happen on 4HD with other recorders too - seems they don't always switch back from stereo to 5 channels after the ad breaks properly).
So, I'd give a qualified yes, and it was happy even at the end of the chain of devices connected to my aerial, where other boxes have suffered failed recordings due to low signal.
It'll be interesting to see how HD boxes fare over the summer, with any tropo lifts, together with the increased power on digital muxes around the country as switchover proceeds.
A couple of points; a mistake I made (mea culpa) - there is an EPG search; it's just not immediately obvious.
Fast forward is tolerable at the highest speed, though you do get some of macro-blocking. There are other options worth using too, though. First, there's resume playback, so you can jump back to where you were. And the same screen allows you to enter a number of minutes to jump to and then start playback. Finally, there are the skip buttons; admittedly they are limited in duration, but the combination of those will likely cover most common needs.
As for the score, I think it does deserve the figure it got; we do have a standard way of calculating the ratings for RegHardware. Essentially, this doesn't offer as much as the Humax, but it does provide features (notably Dolby Transcoding) that are missing from some of the others I've looked at.
It's got a pretty straightforward interface that should be simple for most people to grasp (even if they don't find the EPG search), but lacks some of the extras found on, for instance, the Digital Stream or IceCrypt boxes.
Have you been using it long enough to have a handle on its reliability? As you know, just about every box out there seems to suffer mystery missed recordings, library disappearance, resets to defaults, loss of record list etc - but often only manifesting after a few weeks' use. Any confidence at this point that this is any better than the field?
Knowing the search function is in there could just tip in its favour if the dependability was there.
Getting squeezed out of the market
And for twice the price, you can buy a whole new 40" television that does most of that (except record one thing and watch another - yet to see a dual tuner TV). It's just not worth that price to most people. The component costs are quite low, so I imagine it's mostly profit to them.
My iMac does a lot more than this
I purchased an iMac and Digital TV USB clip for my family last Xmas and it does a lot more than this - probably cheaper to get a Mac Mini in my opinion.