The pastel-coloured onscreen menus are easy on the eye and simple to digest, particularly the no-nonsense setup menu that thankfully isn’t overburdened with unnecessary submenus. The EPG is similarly neat and tidy, cramming in a lot of information without looking cluttered. You can switch between daily and weekly views and use the remote’s colour-coded keys to view series details or set the timer.
The RD-97DT’s remote hasn’t been improved however, which means there are still banks of similar-looking buttons and the programme change keys aren’t obvious enough. That said, the well-placed central controls allow for intuitive menu navigation, and the dedicated HDMI resolution and recording mode buttons are handy.
If you plan to use the RD-98DT to watch digital TV, then live Freeview picture quality is excellent, particularly when upscaled to 1080p and viewed on a Full HD TV. Colours are rich and natural looking, edge-definition is razor-sharp and fine detail is crisply reproduced. There’s no escaping the shimmering pixel noise that surrounds moving objects and blights camera pans – an unfortunate part of the Freeview experience, we’re afraid – but on the whole pictures are highly watchable.
When recorded onto the hard-disk in XP mode the results are impressive, keeping colour and detail levels the same as the live broadcast without increasing the amount of noise. SP pictures look a little twitchier but the difference is almost imperceptible. In LP there’s a big drop in picture quality, with the image suddenly looking blurry and alive with noise – much more so than Panasonic’s LP mode. And the EP and SLP modes make the picture look like a YouTube clip blown up on a big screen, so they’re best avoided unless you’re desperate.
The great work in the picture department continues with pre-recorded DVD playback. The kaleidoscopic colour palette and busy intergalactic landscapes of ”The Fifth Element” look utterly gorgeous through the RD-98DT’s HDMI output, thanks to the sharp detail reproduction, vibrant colours and artefact-free upscaling. It’s backed up by top-notch Dolby Digital playback (delivered as a bitstream via HDMI).
MP3, JPEG and DivX playback is also highly enjoyable, but as we’ve grown used to playing them directly from the hard-disk or bunging in a USB stick, loading up discs felt like a slight imposition (lazy though it may sound).
The RD-98DT is a very competent combi recorder that demonstrates a huge improvement over previous versions. The unit is a lot more responsive, the onscreen design is more accessible and the addition of Freeview Playback takes the hassle out of everyday TV recording. What’s more, its 1080p upscaling, useful recording/editing features and excellent picture quality make it a terrific all-rounder.
But even though Toshiba’s improvements have paid off, the RD-98DT still suffers by comparison to its more sophisticated rivals from Pioneer, Panasonic and Philips, which offer HDD media centre functionality, dual-layer recording and USB ports – none of which you’ll find on the Toshiba. Perhaps next year we’ll get the all-singing, all-dancing Toshiba recorder that we’ve been waiting for.
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