We'd have hoped that the player would support DVD+R/RW media as opposed to (or maybe as well as) DVD-RAM. The RAM format's major selling point is that it can act as a scratchdisk, so that you can delete advert breaks after you've watched a programme or watch the beginning of a recording while it's still being made, otherwise known as timeslipping. However, thanks to the integrated hard drive, we don't think that this will be high on a lot of user's wish lists. Instead, we suspect that the hard drive will be used as a platform for all recordings, while DVD media will be used for archiving.
Thankfully, the RD-XS34 has a number of tricks up its sleeve in compensation. One of the best features on it that elevates it beyond the status of the competition is the included infrared control lead that can be used to control your FreeView or Sky box. By telling the RD-XS34 what manufacturer made your set top box, it will synchronise recording schedules to make sure that the box is on the correct channel. You shouldn't underestimate the utility of this function, especially if you're going on a long holiday.
We have to say though, isn't it time that FreeView was included on these recorders as standard? Sony did package Freeview in a DVD recorder for the rather high premium of £500, and there are a few integrated HDD boxes out there for under £150, but if you had it all in one box your system would be much simpler. The same goes for DivX playback, which is also omitted on the RD-XS34.
The picture quality from the RD-XS34 is incredibly detailed. You can use the RGB Scart or component sockets to output everything to your TV, meaning that anything you're inputting looks just as good once it's passed through the machine. Whether it's a manufactured or home-made DVD, playback quality is superb, offering a great amount of detail and solid, judder-free movement. The best output to use is component if it's available when linking to your TV, but RGB Scart is also sufficient.
Recording modes are wide enough to accommodate a full range of picture qualities, and while you probably wouldn't want to sink lower than SP, using the 'High Rate Save' mode you can let the unit intelligently decide where to use the most compression. When using the hard drive, a rating of 6.6 or more is pretty indistinguishable from the original broadcast, while the two hours per DVD mode of 4.6 is more than enjoyable. It's great to see a unit that offers so much choice of quality recording modes.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Tom Espiner