Dropping down to SP mode increases the noise but not by much, but in LP you start to notice some serious picture degradation, with small details getting blurred out and text becoming harder to read. Movement also becomes less assured, with some jagged edges and twitchy noise around moving objects. But if you accept this as an acceptable quality trade-off for longer recording time, it suddenly becomes more tolerable.
In EP and SLP modes, be prepared for even greater levels of noise and even less detail on display than LP. But as long as you stick to fairly undemanding material then these modes are perfectly watchable - in fact, as low bitrate modes go, they're actually rather impressive.
Not only is the D-R17DT a superb recorder, but it's also a dab hand with pre-recorded DVDs. Spider-Man 2 demonstrates its talents perfectly, with the New York streets providing lots of detail for the deck to get its teeth into, which it reproduces with no trouble. Strongly coloured objects like Spidey's red suit or yellow taxi cabs are also rendered with a welcoming warmth and vibrancy that looks great on a large screen flat-panel TV.
The deck is a little picky when it comes to multimedia playback, playing DivX, MP3 and JPEG files from some discs but not others. But when it works the results are very impressive, playing compressed files without a hitch. This is backed up by clean and undistorted stereo CD playback from the analogue outputs and thrilling 5.1-channel movie sound through our test amp.
The presence of impressive 1080p upscaling and a digital tuner are commendable on a recorder at this price, and picture quality is as good as, if not better than its big name rivals. The D-R17DT's only crimes are its sluggish Freeview functionality, poorly designed EPG and lack of sockets on the front - if these flaws are likely to bother you, then you're better off waiting for Toshiba's forthcoming DR-18DT, which we're told addresses some of the operational issues we've identified.