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Pioneer DVR-560HX DVD/HDD Recorder - Pioneer DVR-560HX
The complex nature of the unit means that the long, thin remote is densely packed with buttons, but the excellent labelling and helpful placement of frequently used keys give it a fairly intuitive feel.
Live Freeview pictures look clean and sharp, and compare well with dedicated Freeview receivers and rival recorders. To test the DVR-560HX's recording quality, we tuned into some Wimbledon coverage on BBC Two using the built-in Freeview tuner, and recorded a few minutes in each of the preset recording modes. The fast-moving action caused no problems for the 720 x 576 XP and SP modes, which delivered superb results. The movement of the players and ball was tracked easily with none of the picture break-up or blocking that occurs at lower transfer rates. The green grass of the Wimbledon courts looks bold and noise-free and detail is surprisingly sharp, given a spit and polish on our HD Ready TV by the clean 1080p upscaling.
In LP the resolution drops to 480 x 576 but the deck subjectively retains a lot of detail. The drop in bitrate, however, causes extra pixel noise around the edges of the running tennis players, resulting in softer and less satisfying pictures. Panasonic's LP mode pictures are arguably better, but if you want to squeeze a couple of movies onto a DVD in watchable picture quality, then this mode is a perfectly acceptable way to do it.
In EP mode, onscreen text becomes blurred and noise increases, giving the image a somewhat hazy, almost ethereal look. These artefacts increase exponentially in SLP and SEP to the point where tennis becomes unwatchable - a large, distracting halo of feathery noise surrounds the players and crowd shots are a queasy mess, making these modes better suited to more static material.
We also loaded Magnolia into the tray to test pre-recorded DVD playback, and the Pioneer reproduces this vibrant movie with aplomb. The early scenes in the dark apartment during the pre-credits sequence reveal no MPEG block noise on the internal walls (cheap DVD decks have struggled with this in the past), plus there's a great deal of detail in the picture and colours are strong without looking garish.
Although the deck was never intended to deliver world-beating music playback, it's competent enough to make MP3, WMA and internally ripped LPCM tracks sound crisp and detailed. Pioneer's enviable audio heritage can also be heard in the smooth CD playback.
The DVR-560HX is a mightily impressive DVD/HDD combi, offering a stupendous amount of features at a much lower price than you may have expected for a Pioneer product. Freeview and DVD picture quality is of the highest order, it plays a wide array of formats and build quality is exceptional. The only negative thing we can think of is that it doesn't quite mask its inherent complexity quite as well as the Panasonic DMR-EX88, which boasts a more user-friendly interface. But if you do opt for the Pioneer, you won't be disappointed.
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