Initial setup is easy, although not especially fast. Immediately though, we ran into an issue. The RDR-HXD995 refused to tune many channels and claimed that the signal strength was far too weak, but we have a Sony TV and a Humax PVR hooked up to the same aerial and they both provide a full selection of channels. The only conclusion we could reach was that the Sony doesn't have a particularly sensitive tuner, and as such, it wouldn't be much use if you live a long way from your local transmitter. We even tested different cables, and the Sony TV was connected via the aerial loop-through from the HXD995, which ruled out any cable issues or problems with our aerial.
On the channels that were strong enough for the Sony to receive, the picture was excellent -- in fact, we felt it beat the internal receiver on the Sony TV we were watching. Colours were bright and there wasn't any noticeable degradation using this external box over the TV's built-in receiver.
For the most part, we consider 1080p upscaling to be something of a red herring. Sure, if your TV doesn't have very good internal scaling and processing, it can make a massive difference, but these days TV manufacturers are generally doing a great job with the digital signal coming in to most flat-panel TVs.
Even so, we liked the DVD playback on the Sony and we thought the detail was well preserved. We used our regular test disc, X-Men, and were very impressed by some delightfully natural colour and truly amazing detail on the faces of the characters. Wolverine's stubble was a particular source of joy. So once again we're reminded that as good as Blu-ray is, DVD can still hold it's own, and shouldn't be binned just yet.
Programme guide data on the Sony is provided by Guide Plus+. (Is it pronounced Guide Plus Plus, or is the + symbol purely decorative? We'd love to know.) We also find the system a bit of pain. For one thing, there are adverts all over it, which is a cheek. It also needs 24 hours to update itself, and needs access to ITV1 to do so. This could be a problem if the Sony throws a fit with your aerial and refuses to tune into that particular channel. Of course, because the HXD995 can record from non-Freeview channels, an EPG not tied to Freeview is essential, which is where Guide Plus+ comes into its own.
Happily, if you don't want to record from external sources, you can switch back to the less complicated Freeview EPG, which allows you to record anything on in the next eight days. More than enough for most people most of the time. Setting a timer is as simple as selecting the show you want to watch, and hitting the record button.
It's nicely styled, the picture performance is great and we got on okay with the menu systems, but the Sony RDR-HXD995 isn't perfect. If you don't live in a strong signal area, you're going to be in for a big disappointment. That said, the price is sensible for a well-built, smartly designed piece of equipment with sturdy picture and sound quality.
For alternatives, check out the Panasonic DMR-EX88 for Freeview and DVD burning, and the Humax 9200T and the soon-to-arrive Humax 9300T, which adds 720p upscaling for the Freeview programmes you've recorded to the hard disk.
Edited by Nick Hide