The TVonics DTR-Z500HD is a PVR that has the basics nailed down, but doesn’t offer a great deal of filler features. It supports Dolby Surround in HD content, and downmixing to Dolby Digital and plain old stereo; it also has PIP (picture-in-picture) letting you watch another letterboxed channel in four different positions at each edge of the screen. That’s about it, though.
The USB image viewer can’t handle particularly large files, failing to register them at all, and the lack of any video playback over USB feels like a missed opportunity – there are two USB slots but all they’re really useful for is the occasional software update, which can also be grabbed over-the-air anyway according to the box's menu system. Recordings can’t be transferred easily to a computer either, so once you’ve filled-up the 500GB hard drive, your only option is to get deleting.
Attempting to cram in these extra features often brings with it bugs and reliability issues though – the worst of which can lead to a PVR losing your whole library of recordings. In our test period, the TVonics DTR-Z500HD was reassuringly reliable. There was a single case where the entire signal was lost, and recorded programmes refused to play, but this was fixed with a simple reset. In spite of our best efforts to trip-up the software, we couldn’t recreate this bug afterwards. Aside from this trip-up, there were no crashes or freezing. Speed of navigation within menus is predictably a lot slower than the PS3's PlayTV Freeview accessory, but is otherwise on-par with other premium-price PVRs from Humax and Sony.
It’s early days for the Freeview HD PVR. Bigger-name rivals like the Humax HDR-FOX T2 and Sony SVRHDT500B sell at a significant premium – the best part of £100 more than this TVonics solution. You can bet that rivals coming in the next 6-12 months will offer features the DTR-Z500HD doesn’t have, like recording transfers, DivX playback and access to the BBC iPlayer, but what’s included here is only ever held back in quality terms by the limitations of the Freeview stream itself – HD or otherwise.
Reliable and blissfully easy to use, the TVonics DTR-Z500HD is one of the best-value Freeview HD recorders available. It misses out on a few high-end features, but if you have a home setup consisting of just a couple of other HDMI-equipped devices resting under your TV, it’s a makes a great headquarters for your entertainment rig thanks to the built-in HDMI switch.