Typically bright daytime programmes such as Countdown appear evenly balanced, with black levels deep enough to offer crisp detail and good contrast. Picture noise is carefully controlled, with only the odd shadow gradation or expanse of a single colour exposing any instability. It finds movement more difficult to process, with fast-paced music videos and sport such as Champions League matches causing occasional smearing.
Using the three highest-quality recording modes produces copies that are extremely accurate to the original. Recordings of The Natural World wildlife programme, for example, retained plenty of composure with a young cheetah's movement and detail, while colours were untainted. But there's a definite decline when you move to the LP mode and below. Edges become gradually more frayed, picture noise worsens and movement staggers awkwardly across the screen -- leaving these lowest quality modes largely redundant.
As an upscaling DVD player, the Pioneer is competent but not the best. Playing Superman Returns demonstrated both the strengths and weaknesses of its playback performance. The rooftop scene where Superman stops a bullet with his eye boasts excellent detail and deep contrast without losing definition in the darkness. But, again, it's movement that creates a problem, with some of the flight sequences, including the aeroplane rescue, not appearing as fluid as some rival recorders can manage.
Pioneer's DVR-545HX offers a fistful of features for a reasonably affordable price. The impressive specification includes an integrated 160GB hard drive, digital TV tuner, complete recording compatibility and video upscaling. If you ignore the lower-quality recording modes then copies are excellent and the user-friendly menu system and programme guides are incredibly easy to use. But alternative models such as Sony's RDR-HXD860 and Panasonic's DMR-EX75 offer better build quality and playback performance for around the same price.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide