If you have a surround sound system, the welcome news is that the TVonics offers transcoded Dolby Digital audio, giving proper surround from Freeview HD, as long as you install the latest firmware. A menu option also allows you to have ‘Dolby Surround’, otherwise referred to as ProLogic, as an alternative, or just plain stereo.
Setting a series timer is simple, but the on-screen display isn’t immediately obvious
In terms of PVR functionality, I’d have to rate the TVonics as basic, but solid. It doesn’t offer some of the fancy options others do. For example, when recording two channels, those are the only ones you can view – even if they’re both on the same multiplex. And though there are skip buttons on the remote, they’re a fixed 30 seconds, so you’ll have to press a few times to get through an ad break. There’s no EPG search functionality, by keyword or genre.
There is picture-in-picture, though it’s not available with HD channels, and there are also buttons on the remote to start up the screen saver, or display the time. The pause buffer can be set to 1, 2 or 4 hours, and a nice touch is the ability to set a PIN on timers, so that if you record a programme that’s unsuitable for the kids, you don’t have to worry about them getting up early and watching it.
The DTR-Z500HD may lack the multimedia bells and whistles of some of the competition, but it also gives the impression of being the sort of unit that you could install for a relative without being subsequently plagued with tech support calls.
The DTR-Z500HD is compact, easy to use, supports surround sound, and the built in HDMI switch will be very useful to some. The on-screen interface is uncluttered, but perhaps a little too much so, and there are no media features beyond photo viewing. Nevertheless, this is a solid performer at a good price, and worth a look if you want a straightforward, well behaved box. ®
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TVonics DTR-Z500HD Freeview HD DVR
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.