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Philips HDT8520 - Setup, Performance and Verdict

By Danny Phillips



Our Score:


Setting up the unit is a breeze, as the crucial settings are handled when you first turn on the machine. This initial setup process asks if you want to turn on portable antenna powering, asks for the aspect ratio of your TV and then launches into channel tuning, which is carried out quickly and finds the correct regional variations based on your postcode. Any other changes are made in a clear, logical setup menu, and options include HDMI output resolutions (576i up to 1080p), which can also be changed using the RES button on the unit’s front panel.

The only setup sticking point concerns audio output. The unit cannot transcode HE AAC into Dolby Digital, which means that the Dolby Digital option may cause problems when selected. Pace is working on a fix for this, which will be included with a bunch of other upgrades available ‘later this year, probably not before November’, but until then it’s best to keep the output set to PCM (stereo).

In general, the HDT8520 is a smooth operator. Channels change with only a momentary black screen, digital text is super speedy and the menu cursor moves around with satisfying alacrity. The remote boasts a superb layout too, with rubbery, tactile menu controls, intuitive button placement elsewhere and foolproof labelling.

The HDT8520 is a superb picture performer, skilfully side-stepping the noise problems that beset the TVonics DTR-HD500. First off, high-definition channels boast illuminating clarity thanks to the crisply defined detail, which doesn’t suffer any degradation when converted from 1080i to 1080p. The procession of programmes on the BBC HD Preview looks absolutely gorgeous – from the intricate archaeological detail of Pompeii to the stunning vistas on show in Helicopter Heroes, the Philips box delivers all the razor-sharp detail and effulgent colours with aplomb. These qualities are preserved perfectly when recorded onto the hard disk. HD images lose none of their sharpness or depth, and artefacts are kept at bay.

Even standard-definition broadcasts look impressive on our 60in Sony set, whether the box’s HDMI output is set to 576p or 1080p. Programmes like Loose Women (ITV1), Homes Under The Hammer (BBC One) and The Good Wife (Five) are reproduced without the abundance of shimmery mosquito and block noise seen on some other Freeview boxes. That’s not to say that it’s completely free from artefacts but the HDT8520 seems to tame it better than the TVonics recorder, for example. Philips’ pictures are clean and more stable, and are captured on the hard disk as such. As for sound, the stereo PCM output via HDMI or S/PDIF is clear and dynamic.


Despite the lack of alluring features like USB media playback or HDMI switching, the HDT8520 remains a very likeable Freeview HD PVR. It’s well made, the operating system is slick and easy to use, there’s a sizeable hard disk on board and a healthy amount of recording functionality to go with it. We’re also impressed by its picture quality, which is cleaner and more stable than expected. At over £200, the price tag may seem steep to some buyers, but it’s cheaper than both the Humax HDR-FOX T2 and the TVonics DTR-HD500, a fact that will hold the Philips in good stead among budget-conscious buyers.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Performance 8
  • Value 9
  • Features 7
  • Design 8


September 29, 2010, 2:31 pm

Is there much content with 5.1 soundtrack broadcast on Freeview HD? I've got freesat and rarely see much 5.1... in any case shouldn't it be pretty straightforward for the box to convert 5.1 HE AAC sound into 5.1 PCM for the hdmi connection? Wouldn't you only need to transcode to Dolby Digital if you wanted to output via S/PDIF?


September 30, 2010, 4:55 am

Hey, whada ya know - you won't build Freeview into your TVs because you want us to buy it from you separately. And attached to a massive 500GB of storage too. Not my cup of tea. Just integrate the receiver into the telly and make it PVR ready so I can decide when how much storage I need, just like everyone else does, thank you.


September 30, 2010, 4:04 pm

@goldenguy roflcopter: I couldnt have said it better myself...


October 2, 2010, 5:58 pm

Philips PVRs generally suffer from huge amounts of software and firmware bugs. Wouldn't dare buy one of these; had enough of being a second class beta tester with Windows Mobile.


October 6, 2010, 2:23 pm

With two tuners, how can you record 2 channels while watching a third? Presumably this only works if 2 of the channels are in the same multiplex?


December 31, 2011, 4:38 am

Worst mistake of my life was to buy a Philips HDT8520 from John Lewis. It continually jams, almost impossible to access recordings. Customer service is appalling - only open 9.00 - 5.00 Mon -Fri so impossible to contact if you work. I eventually took time off work to phone them and was told that the problem I have is not really that bad as it only affects a small percentage of the sets!! When I asked them what I should do they said 'take it back to John Lewis'! Unfortunately I don't have the receipt so I'm the loser. So disappointed that John Lewis are selling such a poor machine.

the near side

April 27, 2012, 12:08 am

I bought for one of these for £129, but, 3 months later it jammed on (the light wrapped round the top was on all the time, but no picture - just a blank screen). I took it back to John Lewis, and they were very helpful and offered me my money back, or a credit of £189 ( the last price that they sold the device for). I took the credit and bought the humax which was then £245, about £50 cheaper than when I bought the Phillips device. And with a 2 year guarantee. The philips' picture was very good, and the unit functioned perfectly until it failed comletely. IThe Humax is definitely significantly better. I consider myself lucky to have bought from John Lewis.

not impressed

September 18, 2012, 1:53 pm

As a long time fan of Philips, this is the brand I purchase - way back from the video recorder, to 2 LCD TV's (my current Philips HD TV is great) and a shaver, so it was my natural choice to opt for the Philips HDT8520 to make use of Freeview channels.

Bad choice! Last night was the last straw and prompted my review! Two family programs set to record and not for the 1st time neither were recorded! How do I explain that to the family!

The unit can't be 100% relied on to record programs it's just not dependable, to add to that if you are recording one program and then choose to pause another, on occasion it can just stop the program you are watching, this seems to happen when the program you are recording ends, great that especially when you've been watching a film, so a waste of an hour or so.

Then sometimes although rarely, programs it has recorded are unplayable. Again very frustrating.

Another frustration is it can become "confused" and just not follow remote control requests, so you end up having to unplug and start again!

Oh one more issue, sometimes the rewind/forward facility can be awkward it can just stall or go too far or too little.

I now see the free helpline is now an 0845 number when it used to be 0800, so it will cost to call and then be referred to the Pace helpline to be queried on the latest install of software!

Marked out of 10 it just has to get a 3 from me. Pity. I would not recommend.


November 30, 2013, 5:52 pm

well,mine keeps freezing and turning its self off !!!!! it is so maddening !!!!!


February 6, 2014, 11:10 pm

This had worked well for us for over a year, but I accidentally powered it off for a few seconds and all recordings have been lost and it now won't record either. Went to Philips web site looking for support information - I can't even find it looking for the correct model number HDT852005. Very poor. A page on Philips site that Google found just comes up blank.

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