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Sony RDR-HXD890 DVD/HDD Recorder - Sony RDR-HXD890
The user interface is identical to the one found on Pioneer's latest recorders, but it's excellent nonetheless. In the Initial Setup menu, the options are clearly presented in friendly pastel-coloured boxes and go into obsessive detail, while the ‘picture adjustment' menu offers a bunch of presets for different display types (it's basically Pioneer's Video Adjust menu).
The ‘digital' EPG is also very easy to use thanks to the straightforward grid structure, and far superior to the cluttered, cumbersome Guide Plus+ EPG. But because it's not superimposed over live TV you can't keep watching the current programme as you browse. Recordings are selected from the Title Menu, which shares the user-friendly logicality of the other onscreen displays.
In action the RDR-HXD890 is fantastic. Channel changing and digital text are very fast, and it delivers sharp, stable live Freeview pictures. With the upscaling set to 1080p, colour and detail levels are high, edges are crisp and fast-moving objects are reproduced without much evidence of block noise or break-up. And like any digital recorder worth its salt, these pictures are captured on the hard-disk in top-quality HQ mode without any reduction in quality. Pictures recorded in HSP and SP look almost identical to HQ but use up less space, making them the most useful presets of the lot.
When you dip down to LP, the recorder uses the 720 x 576 resolution used by the higher modes, which means it retains more detail than you'd normally expect from an LP mode, but the lower bitrate makes the picture start to look soft. In EP mode and lower, the 352 x 288 resolution combined with the rock bottom bitrates make the image look really rough round the edges, but strangely they're still quite watchable.
As a DVD player it's fairly competent, turning in a sharp and vibrant performance with movie discs but it trips up on the HQV DVD, displaying significant jaggies on the diagonal filter and flag tests. It does handle detail very well though, both with test patterns and moving video clips. As for audio there are no problems - CDs and MP3s sound perfectly enjoyable and stereo Dolby Digital recordings are clean and audible through TV speakers or a home cinema system.
With great recording quality, a slick operating system, loads of features and an alluring price tag, we think this is one of the best DVD/HDD recorders on the market, which is hardly surprising given its similarity to the Pioneer's machines we already know and love. There are a few niggles, such as the removal of RAM recording and the inability to play DivX from USB devices or transfer them to HDD, and as ever the inclusion of a single Freeview tuner on board is a major limitation - but none of these factors greatly affects our admiration for an otherwise excellent recorder.
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