Despite being launched under the Philips brand name, this Freeview HD recorder was actually designed by Pace, who launched the UK’s first ever twin-tuner Freeview PVR (the Pace Twin) and also makes the Sky+HD box – surely a good omen. This 500B, twin-tuner hard-disk recorder can be found online for around £220, which makes it much cheaper than the similarly capacious TVonics DTR-HD500 we reviewed last week.
Its external design is excellent. While not as snazzy or radical as the DTR-HD500, the HDT8520’s build quality is a cut above the usual Freeview receiver fare. It’s weighty, solidly bolted together and features a gorgeous brushed top panel. And while the black box shape could have been rather dull in the wrong hands, here it gives the unit a distinctive coolness that sets it apart from rivals.
We also like the little row of buttons along the left of the front panel, the dot matrix display in the middle that shows the channel name and number, plus the blue ‘HD’ icon that lights up when you’re watching a hi-def channel. The only aesthetic faux pas is the glaring white light that runs around the front and sides, which mercifully can be turned off.
On the rear panel is an adequate selection of sockets, including that all-important HDMI output, but it’s a shame there are no HDMI inputs as found on the TVonics recorder. That means you can’t use the Philips as a switcher, but even more disappointing is the news that you can’t use either of the unit’s two USB ports (on the back and side) for digital media playback – they’re for software updates only, which is a missed opportunity. There’s also an Ethernet port that currently serves no purpose, although it could facilitate IPTV services in the future. Completing the line-up are aerial input and loopthrough, optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, analogue stereo output and a Scart output, which only outputs TV pictures and not any of the unit’s menus (the screen goes black when you access the setup menu).
The big attraction behind this unit is its ability to receive and record hi-def channels, and with a 500GB hard disk you can store a lot of them – almost 130 hours’ worth, to be precise, or 259 hours of standard-definition programmes. Inside the box are two DVB-T2 tuners, which allow you to record one channel while watching another, and as a welcome surprise you can even record two channels while watching a third.
And like any good PVR, the HDR8520 offers all those essential tricks that most people can’t live without these days, such as pause/rewind live TV and the ability to watch a programme from the start while it’s still being recorded. When live TV is paused, the ‘time shift bar’ appears and helps you keep track of where you are, while functions like Instant Replay and Commercial Skip let you jump backwards and forwards in 15 or 30 second chunks. You can scan at x4, x32 and x128 or watch in slow-motion. The buffer holds three hours of programmes, and a handy list shows you the names of programmes stored within it.