The Freeview personal video recorder is a popular little beast these days. And why shouldn't it be? After all, hard-drive TV recording has totally changed the way we consume television. No longer do we have to be in a certain place at a certain time -- we just have to press a couple of buttons on our PVR, and it will record anything we want, with no need for tapes or fiddly clock settings. PVRs can even record a whole series if you desire, meaning you won't even have to think about ever missing Neighbours again.
The TVonics brand is one we've come to respect over the last few years. Designed and built in the UK, these PVRs are well-made, long-lasting and, most importantly, offer the best-possible quality. The downside to their UK provenance, however, is that the company's products will, inevitably, cost slightly more than some competing products. The TVonics DTR-HV250 is no exception, because, at £200 for a 250GB Freeview+ PVR, it's far from the cheapest box you can buy.
Sturdy and stylish
Like all the best AV components, this high-end PVR is forged from metal. It feels like it could easily survive earthquakes, meteor storms and even zombie attacks. The body is made of a single piece of metal, into which the components and front and rear panels are slotted. This makes the machine feel much more solid than any other AV gear we've manhandled recently.
The DTR-HV250's appearance is striking, too, even if it can't be described as good-looking. The rounded edges are pleasant enough, and the front panel includes an LED display that can be set to tell you the time, or what channel you're viewing. For those who want to be left alone, it can also be switched off. We quite like a display on PVRs -- it's handy to know what's going on with your box at any given moment.
It's good to see HDMI connectivity on a Freeview PVR. While current models aren't capable of displaying a Freeview HD signal, the addition of the digital connector means you can get the best-possible quality from standard-definition signals. This is good, because many people find that using Scart with their PVR results in significantly worse AV quality than if they use their TV's built-in tuner.
Besides its HDMI output, the DTR-HV250 has another trick up its sleeve. Because TVonics realised the market is already full of HDMI-toting PVRs, the company decided to add some extra functionality to its device, namely an HDMI switch. This enables you to plug in two other HDMI devices to your PVR and then use its HDMI output to convey these signals to your TV. The remote control allows you to select the input you wish to view. We think this will really appeal to people who have TVs with limited HDMI sockets. Some older, HD Ready TVs can have only one digital input.
There are no real surprises in terms of socket options. As well as the two HDMI inputs and HDMI output, you also get aerial in and out, optical digital for audio and a Scart socket for connecting an older, non-digital TV to the PVR. You get a pair of USB sockets as well, but these aren't used for anything particularly exciting -- you can really only use them to look at JPEGs via your TV.
It would be good if these USB sockets could be used for video and music playback, as well as handling archived recordings, given the slightly limited internal storage of the DTR-HV250. We'd even be happy if these recordings were protected in some way, to prevent Internet distribution. Admittedly, this protection would be totally pointless, because every TV programme imaginable is easily downloaded via BitTorrent anyway, so preventing such potentially useful functionality is like bolting the stable door once the horse has buggered off on a two-week holiday to Portsmouth.
Hooking the DTR-HV250 up to a 40-inch Sony LCD TV, we were impressed by the picture quality via the Scart socket, and blown away by its HDMI performance. In terms of image quality, this is definitely one of the best-performing machines we've ever seen. If you're using a CRT TV with the Scart output on this machine, it's fair to say you'll be very happy with the quality. Scart with an LCD TV is also acceptable, but do try to stick with HDMI wherever possible -- it's the best solution all around.
The sound quality is, as you would expect, basically very good. You'll get fine performance if you use this recorder with an AV receiver or sound bar. It's always preferable to use the digital output if possible, as this will get sound to your ears without any degradation.
Ease of use
When you first plug in the DTR-HV250, you'll notice that it presents you with a screen offering to sort the channel tuning out, without your help. Once you press 'OK', the machine does its thing for just a few minutes, and then you're all ready to go. It's good to see, too, that the DTR-HV250 can monitor the airwaves for changes to the channel line-up and adjust itself automatically to receive them. That's super-handy if you're a technophobe.
Programming the DTR-HV250 to record is also child's play. Press the electronic-programme-guide button, select what you want to record from the eight-day EPG and you're all set. The recorder can also handle schedule changes and alternate record times if you try to record too much at once. The whole Freeview+ system is designed to make recording TV as simple as possible. We're confident that even the most technologically incompetent person on the planet could handle getting this machine to record TV shows.
If quality is what you're looking for, the TVonics DTR-HV250 won't disappoint. We don't like the price, though, and, as much as we respect its British design and manufacturing credentials, we can't believe that many people will be prepared to pay £200 when other Freeview recorders start at just £100.
The price is even more relevant when you come to look at the slightly limited 250GB hard drive. For around the same price, Humax offers an excellent 500GB machine, the PVR-9300T500. Twice the capacity for the same price will be hard to resist for the average consumer. That said, we think the DTR-HV250 is worth every penny and we're confident that, if you do end up buying one, you'll be very happy with it indeed.
Edited by Charles Kloet