Sony's DVD recorders are famed for their ease of use, and even when the company has included features such as hard-drive recording and Freeview integration, it has never complicated things. Its latest way of upping the ante is through dual-layer recording, offering twice the capacity of a normal recordable DVD, and as yet there have been very few models to offer this. Sony's first model, indeed the first one we've seen, offers DVD+R dual-layer recording and an 80GB hard drive.
So, this is a DVD recorder that includes cutting edge tech for the price of a decent-sized hard drive. The recorder is extraordinarily easy to use and looks delicious, from the outside chassis to the recording menu system. If you like to make high-quality movie recordings to one disc (and DVD+R DL discs are now just about cheap enough to do so), then the RDR-HX510 is an attractive upgrade.
Like most Sony products, the RDR-HX510 looks extraordinarily cool. The company excels in clean design and high build quality, and they combine here to fight the forces of evil -- cheap, plasticky DVD recorders. The main unit itself is thinner than most recorders we've seen, despite housing that 80GB hard drive.
Connectivity is just as we'd expect from a mid-range recorder. There are RGB Scart inputs and outputs, so you can record and transmit a high-quality signal. If you get stuck, there's also S-video and composite inputs/outputs, but they don't offer the same level of quality. Then there are progressive-scan component video outputs, so you can send a rock-solid picture through to your flat-screen TV or projector. This is particularly useful if you plan to use the recorder as your main DVD player, as component offers a high-quality video stream. If you want the highest quality audio as well as video, you can use either the coaxial or optical outputs, both of which are digital. If you plan on using a home-cinema system with the device, you should be making use of either of these.
Camcorder owners will be disappointed to learn the box features no i.Link (as Sony calls FireWire) input. This is a worrying trend -- a few of the mid-range boxes we've seen omit this connector -- as DV editing is much easier with i.Link. It's a hassle to use a slow, standard video input when you want to edit and backup your home movies to DVD or the hard drive.
The design of the remote control on a DVD recorder is paramount, because editing and dubbing from hard drive to DVD can be a daunting task. Sony's remote is big, but it looks just like a DVD player remote. In fact, unless you pull down the slider at the bottom, it's difficult to tell that it goes with a DVD recorder at all. Underneath the slider you'll see three big red buttons (which scream "don't touch me unless you know what you're doing") that control recording, as well as controls to let you set up chapter stops. It's annoying if you record regularly, but if some innocent visitor tries to watch a DVD on the machine, at least they won't be scared off by a remote that has about 700 buttons.
When you kick the machine into life, you'll notice how silky the Sony interface is. The menu fades in smoothly and spreads itself across the screen -- it's one of the many small touches that are missing from the simple, static interfaces found on nearly every manufacturer's products (even Panasonic's superb recorders). We set the box up through its first-time installation wizard (encouragingly named 'Easy Setup'), at which point we told the box in which country we resided and our language. The RDR-HX510 then scanned for channel lists and clock data, a process that took a long time -- we clocked it at eight minutes from start to finish. The box failed to find the time automatically (possibly because of a weak TV signal) so we had to enter it manually.
The Sony RDR-HX510 supports recording to DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW discs, so the only format missing is DVD-RAM. Sony has never supported Panasonic's proprietary format, which is a shame as it is slightly more versatile than the RW formats and more durable thanks to a plastic chassis. The hard drive is 80GB in size -- not huge by any means, but it will store 33 hours of recordings at the standard SP recording level. Even Sony's website admits that this hard drive is 'low capacity'.