From what we’ve seen so far, the DTR-HD500 is an impressive recorder, with features aplenty and a simple (if garish) operating system, but its picture performance lets the side down. Standard definition channels like Five USA and ITV1 are particularly disappointing, beset by mosquito and block noise that makes them look distinctly gauzy, and these are visible no matter the output resolution. Sadly, these artefacts are also captured on HDD recordings.
For example, there’s an advert for Marks & Spencer on ITV1 showing various models cavorting with umbrellas in the rain – this looks an absolute mess, with the pelting raindrops causing the picture to break out in horrendous block noise and shimmering. Elsewhere there’s significant mosquito noise circulating around the edges of most moving objects – particularly noticeable around the heads of the Loose Women in front of brightly coloured backgrounds. On the plus side, colours look strong yet natural and movement is smooth, which at least keeps pictures watchable, but that noise might be too much for some viewers to swallow.
To be fair to the DTR-HD500, we watched its pictures on a 60in Sony LED set, which is unforgiving with Freeview broadcasts, and SD Freeview channels are fairly ropey anyway, but even still, other receivers have delivered cleaner, sharper pictures on this TV – the Sky+HD box being one. The above-mentioned M&S advert looks clean and stable through Sky’s receiver.
However, turn to any high-definition channel and noise is much less of an issue (although it’s still present), which means pictures shine with eye-poppingly sharp detail, absorbing depth and radiant colours. This incisive detail reproduction and lack of noise allows you to see the dirt and mess inside Steve and Becky’s flat during BBC HD’s Him & Her in all its disgusting glory, while shots of opera performances and The Proms are exquisitely rendered.
These HD pictures are certainly impressive, but as HD channels account for four per cent of the total channel line-up it’s not enough to let the DTR-HD500 completely off the hook. Sonically we can’t fault the unit though, but it’ll be interesting to see how this sound quality survives the HE ACC to AC3 transcoding process.
Despite its flawed picture quality and hefty price tag, the DTR-HD500 still impresses on many levels. First of all, TVonics has made a huge effort with its design, crafting one of the most attractive Freeview receivers on the market. Its straightforward onscreen menus and remote make it exceptionally ease to use, while the range of recording features and digital TV functionality leaves virtually no stone unturned. What a shame, then, that standard definition pictures look so messy – a little more care in the MPEG-2 decoding department and we could have had an absolute killer product on our hands.