We've seen a spate of hybrid digital recorders recently, all featuring similar 160GB hard drive specifications and all from big name brands. Pioneer's DVR-540HX is one of the more expensive models and its price tag is some way justified by an impressive feature count.
The DVR-540HX boasts integrated analogue and digital tuners, universal disc compatibility, a full range of user-friendly functions and recording performance is excellent if you ignore the lower quality modes. However, build quality is surprisingly average and for this price you can get a model that includes HDMI connectivity if you want it. DVD playback performance also struggles against the class leaders.
So, while this is a feature-packed recorder that's more than capable, there are more attractive alternatives out there for the same price or even less.
Compared to some of the recently reviewed slim recorders, Pioneer's DVR-540HX appears somewhat chunky -- the construction looks more like an outdated VCR than a piece of state-of-the-art technology.
It's also comparatively more expensive than most of the similarly specified models, although you wouldn't immediately tell from the average build quality. The front section is divided into a dark display housing the disc drawer with a silver fold-down panel beneath that conceals numerous controls and a set of easily accessible AV inputs. Both sections are constructed from lightweight plastic materials with ordinary finishing that fails to impress at this price.
You can use the standard front AV inputs to connect devices like a camcorder, but there's no dedicated DV input for direct copying of digital camcorder footage -- a surprise omission in this day and age.
Otherwise, all main connections are arranged across the crowded rear panel. There's a reasonably comprehensive collection that includes a pair of RGB-enabled Scart terminals that let you input and output high quality signals -- this is particularly useful if you want to connect a separate device like your old VCR or satellite receiver and record without suffering a loss of quality. If you are connecting another set-top box then you can link the two devices using the supplied G-link cable, which allows you to change channels and set up timer recordings from the recorder using the GUIDEPlus+ system.
There are also component outputs capable of supporting progressive scan video, but you might expect a little more for your money. Digital connections are still a rarity among recorders but Panasonic's DMR-EX75 does afford an HDMI output for around the same price. But, HDMI connectivity has been ignored on the DVR-540HX so you won't be able to improve the quality of standard DVDs by playing upscaled images using a high-definition display.
There is a coaxial digital audio output that will carry Dolby Digital and DTS signals to an external home cinema amplifier used in surround-sound systems, as well as a pair of standard stereo outputs that can be connected directly to your TV.
The remote has been intelligently designed with plenty of space reserved for oversized keys controlling primary functions, and a comfortable central cursor for scrolling through menus. All other keys are concealed beneath a slide-down panel, which keeps them from being pressed accidentally and appears less intimidating.
As far as features go, this hybrid recorder has it all and advanced usability means it's exceptionally easy to operate -- although with so many options for playback, editing, copying and recording it takes time to explore everything.
Both analogue and digital TV tuners have been integrated. Unless you are unable to receive digital broadcasts we advise you use the Freeview tuner as performance is better and the accompanying Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) eases recordings.