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This translates into excellent hard-disk and DVD recordings. In HQ mode, recordings of Without A Trace on Channel 4 look identical to the live broadcast, with high amounts of colour and detail, plus solid black levels. There’s also a pleasing lack of MPEG block noise or shimmering, even during fast-moving action.
In fact, it’s only when you drop down to SP and LSP mode that you notice any difference between live and recorded picture quality. Some areas of the picture exhibit some twitching and pulsing on large coloured areas (particularly when shadows are involved) but overall the quality is still exceptionally good. The good news is that LSP offers longer recording times at the full DVD resolution of 720 x 576 pixels.
The lower-quality ESP and LP modes use a resolution of 544 x 576, and despite looking a touch softer the results are still eminently watchable. However, the low-bitrate EP, SLP and SEP modes look soft and unnatural, so it’s best to reserve them for emergency use only.
The deck’s upscaling is hugely impressive, boosting DVD and TV pictures to 720p, 1080i and 1080p without introducing any artefacts into the picture. Don’t expect miracles when watching TV recordings in 1080p though – it’s not quite the detail boosting revelation you might expect (the deck can’t add detail that isn’t already there) but because the signal is kept in the digital domain, programmes look crisper and cleaner than ever before.
1080p upscaling comes into its own with The Departed on DVD. The excellent black level and impeccably presented detail make Scorsese’s blistering cop drama look effortlessly rich and cinematic. Motion is smooth, and there are no pesky MPEG artefacts to spoil the image clarity.
We had no trouble playing back DivX files on the Sony, but we were disappointed by the lack of WMA support.
Audio performance is impressive. Hooked up to a good home cinema system, Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks are clear and dynamic, while stereo CDs sound better than we expected through the analogue audio outputs. Tricky jazz tunes like Miles Davis’ Blue In Green sound surprisingly well-balanced and uncoloured.
The RDR-HXD870 is a magnificent hard-disk/DVD combi recorder that boasts a staggering array of features (including the all-important Series Recording) and killer performance. But the biggest bonus is the price – at just over £200 it’s much more affordable than its spec sheet would suggest, making it a real bargain to boot. Given Sony’s usual ‘pricier than thou’ attitude, this deck makes a refreshing change.
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