Pioneer doesn't do things by halves. Whatever type of product it makes, whether it's TVs, DVD decks or Blu-ray players, it's sure to be packed with all the latest technology, offer astonishing build quality and more often than not deliver exceptional performance. Of course, you end up paying a higher price for the privilege but that's Pioneer's modus operandi these days - if you want the best, it's gonna cost you.
But its latest DVD/HDD combi, the DVR-560HX, is an interesting anomaly - yes it's stuffed with a remarkable range of hi-tech features and features high-end build quality, but it's actually cheaper than the Panasonic DMR-EX88 (currently the best DVD/HDD combi out there) which could give it an advantage when they're lined up side by side on shop shelves.
The unit is available in silver or black and it's on the chunky side, but its classy looks disguise this fact and the robust construction makes it feel like it could withstand a bomb blast. Under the front-mounted flap is a veritable fairground for any technophile, with loads of buttons and sockets to play with. Most notably, there's a common interface slot, which allows you to add pay TV channels to the already lengthy list of Freeview channels (courtesy of the built-in digital tuner). To the left are not one but two USB ports (one type A and one type B for PictBridge printers) and a DV input that will be a welcome sight for digital camcorder owners. On the other side are S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs for non-digital sources.
Rear socketry includes an HDMI output that sends 1080p, 1080i, 720p and 576i/p pictures to a suitably-equipped display, while the two RGB-enabled SCARTs make it possible to record from an external digibox in the best possible quality and send RGB pictures to your TV at the same time. Elsewhere there are more AV inputs and outputs, plus component video output, coaxial digital audio output (but surprisingly no optical). The line-up is completed by a G-Link port for the infra red transmitter that works in conjunction with the on-board Guide Plus EPG to make timer recordings from external set-top boxes.
On the inside, it's fitted with a 160GB hard-disk, which is relatively small compared with the Panasonic's 400GB, but the 455 hour maximum recording time should be enough to keep the average TV viewer happy. As well as the hard-disk, you can also record onto DVD and thankfully the 560HX is a multi-format affair, which means you can use any type of disc, including DVD-RAM/+RW/-RW and dual-layer variants of DVD-R and DVD+R.
And, as is the trend among the current crop of DVD/HDD combis, the DVR-560HX can store and play music, video and photos from the hard-disk, which can be transferred from a PC or memory device using the USB port located on the front of the unit, or from a DVD or CD. Transfer is quick and hassle-free and playable formats include DivX (including VOD files), MP3, WMA, AAC and JPEG. Sadly it doesn't play WMV files like Pioneer's DVD players, but overall its compatibility list is impressive.