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Also onboard is a staggering array of recording and editing features. Unlike most digital recorders, which offer a range of about five or six recording presets, the Sony offers 34 quality settings, allowing you to record in bitrates ranging from 0.75Mbps to 15Mbps (the latter used by the HQ+ mode, which offers better-than-DVD recordings from DV camcorders). But to make things easier, there’s also a choice of nine presets.
Depending on which of these recording modes you use, it’s possible to fit between one and 17 hours on a dual-layer disc, or up to 340 hours of TV on the hard disk, which even Jim Royle would have trouble filling.
After you’ve made your recordings, you can delete chunks of them using A-B Erase, or divide and combine chapters. If you’re using the HDD or DVD-RW/-R discs formatted in VR mode, the Playlist feature allows you to piece together sequences of clips without affecting the original recordings. Recordings or edited playlists can be copied from HDD to disc (or vice versa) at up to 6x speed, depending on the disc type.
Despite its vast array of functions, the HXD870 is easy to set up and its features can be mastered quickly thanks to the intelligently designed user interface and remote. The deck is slick and responsive, and the menu screens are not only practical but attractive too – the Title List screen features moving thumbnails, for example.
The Freeview EPG is also easy to use. It’s laid out in a Sky+ style grid, making it simple to set timer recordings. It’s backed up by superb Now and Next banners, which can be called up while watching a programme to check what’s on the other channels – not all Freeview recorders allow you to do this.
The only let-down from an ease of use perspective is the Guide Plus EPG, designed to bring Freeview-style channel navigation to the analogue TV domain. It’s sluggish, counter-intuitive and a pain to setup, so thank goodness you can set the timer manually.
To test its picture prowess, we hooked the Sony up to a Hitachi 1080p-capable plasma via HDMI and we were blown away by the results. Pictures from the built-in Freeview tuner are sharp, colourful and clean (provided you’re tuned into a decent-quality channel like BBC News 24), and generally free from noise and other MPEG-related anomalies.