Although hard drive PVRs are growing in popularity, there are still relatively few models that feature dual integrated TV tuners. Sony's SVR-S500 is one of the exceptions that has the benefit of letting you watch one programme while you record another -- although unlike some designs you can't record two programmes at the same time.
The typically attractive design features an 80GB hard drive that stores recordings and allows various time-slip functions, like pausing live TV. There are a few usability issues and it is slightly on the expensive side, but performance is outstanding with both TV broadcasts and recordings.
Sony's sense of style is unmatched. Even with only a standard box blueprint to work with, it has managed to inspire the SVR-S500 with an elegant design that appears more attractive than most PVRs.
The slim unit is the same size and weight of a typical DVD player, but with fewer physical features. The clean front panel only offers basic controls for turning the unit on/off and changing channels, leaving all other functions to the excellent remote.
The metal-cased construction enhances build quality and features a brushed aluminium trim surrounding the dark front display, which gives the unit an inconspicuous appearance that will blend effortlessly with any setup.
Connectivity options are equally unobtrusive. You can only connect the device to your display using an RGB-enabled Scart output, which provides the best possible performance from this standard connection -- although component outputs would have been preferred, especially if you own a flat-screen TV.
There's also a separate RGB-enabled Scart input that allows you to connect a recording device like a VCR or DVD recorder. This is particularly useful if you want to permanently archive your hard drive recordings without suffering a loss in quality.
You can supplement the sound performance using standard stereo outputs connected to an external home cinema amplifier -- but, again, a digital audio output would have been preferred for this use. Otherwise, that's it, except for a pair of standard aerial connections.
Another absent feature is a CI card slot, which means you won't be able to upgrade the device to receive limited subscription channels from services like TopUpTV.
All programme and recording functions are accessed through the stylish remote. The raised central cursor makes it easy to navigate through menus, colour coded keys allow instant operation and you can control basic TV functions if you have a compatible display.
What sets the SVR-S500 apart from your average PVR is that it features dual integrated digital TV tuners. Unlike single tuners this means you can watch one Freeview channel while you simultaneously record another, enhancing recording versatility and (hopefully) putting an end to arguments erupting when competing programmes clash.