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TVonics DTR-Z500HD - Performance and Picture Quality

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams



Our Score:


The DTR-Z500HD uses the same interface that’s been packed into TVonics boxes for years. It’s simple, intuitive and offers five different colour schemes – some a little garish, all very clear.

The focus on ease of use means that some features are slightly hidden away from view, but the near-minimalist approach to the UI makes this PVR a joy to use. There’s virtually no learning curve to scale here, so technophobe users shouldn’t have any problems as long as they’re familiar with using a Freeview EPG.

This approach demands the occasional extra click from more advanced users though. For example, there’s a search function in both the library and electronic programme guide, but to access it you have to press the fast forward button to scroll through the functions mapped onto the coloured “Freeview” buttons. TVonics started out its life working with the UK government as part of its digital switchover plans, and the demand for accessibility that’s innately part of this is still here to see in the DTR-Z500HD’s interface.

With two Freeview HD tuners on-board, the PVR can record two channels at once or watch a channel while recording another. Unlike some PVRs, you can’t seem to record two channels and watch a third broadcast as part of the same multiplex. Try to change channel while already recording two and the DTR-Z500HD will prompt you to either cancel one of the recordings or return to watching one of the programmes currently being recorded.

Picking a programme to record is, as usual, a case of simply tapping the remote’s record button while watching a programme or browsing the 8-day EPG. Each time you start a new recording, a prompt screen pop-ups that lets you select a series link recording with a simple press of the blue Freeview button. Series link is a standard feature of Freeview+, but this ultra-intuitive integration of it is a bonus.

Over the period of a week, we set the DTR-Z500HD to recording a slew of programmes, both HD and standard definition, and it didn’t miss a beat. It has no problems recording two HD channels at once and the 500GB hard drive has enough room for around 250 hours of SD content. Typical of its simple interface, the library screen – housing all your recordings – doesn’t tell you how many megabytes each recording is taking up. It’s all about minutes rather than megabytes here, which may annoy power users recording a mixture of SD and HD content looking to free-up some space.

When connected to your TV over HDMI (and if you’re going to be using SCART you should not buy this box) the DTR-Z500HD upscales SD content. You’re given no control over the level of digital noise reduction processing going on in the background, but it does a good job of dealing with Freeview’s lower-quality broadcasts. There’s still significant mosquito noise visible around text and other defined areas of detail, but motion of more organic objects is very well-handled. Its processing appears less aggressive than the PlayStation 3’s PlayTV tuner, but the resulting images are natural and very watchable.

HD content is also well-handled. Not all of Freeview's HD content is going to inspire "ooh"s, packed as it is with the low-budget lifestyle filler that's broadcast on most TV channels, but a standard benchmark of HD content, the nature documentary, looked fantastic. With detailed and vivid images, the DTR-Z500HD has what it takes to show what Freeview HD has to offer. It had no problems picking-up all four channels currently available in the London area - BBC One HD, ITV 1 HD, 4 HD and BBC HD.

Another crucial win for the DTR-Z500HD is operating noise. Although it gets warm to the touch during use and has a fan port at the back, it’s virtually silent. You can hear the slight click of the hard drive during recording, and a slight whirr from the fan, but only if you get your ear within 15cm of so of the box. In normal usage, you won’t hear a thing.


March 25, 2011, 12:12 pm

Talking of 'missing features', why is there barely a mention of the remote? It does have one, presumably? A general impression or even a picture of it would be nice, don't you think?

Denis iii

March 25, 2011, 12:29 pm

@romseyraver +1
Why no images of the GUI either?


March 25, 2011, 1:24 pm

@romseyraver @denis iii We'll be adding in additional images shortly.


March 25, 2011, 2:50 pm

Big buttoned remote - lovely. Thanks Andrew.

Alan Edwards47c

March 25, 2011, 5:08 pm

Did you try looping a Blu-ray player or anything through the HDMI inputs? Did it have any effect on the picture quality?


March 25, 2011, 6:38 pm

@Alan Edwards I put a PS3 and media box through it and didn't see any loss of pic quality. There really shouldn't be any problems given it's HDMI.


March 25, 2011, 10:20 pm

I picked up one today and it seems great, need to do a double software update to bring it up to date via USB. Did you find a use for the network connection? I've plugged it in to the network and it's obtained an ip address but it doesn't seem to have any network functions.


March 26, 2011, 2:29 pm

@coxyuk it's possible more functionality will be added with an update. Top of my personal wishlist would be BBC iPlayer and LoveFilm movie streaming - although I'll admit I can't really see them being added to this box. At present TVonics website suggests it's for red button voting within Freeview, which I doubt too many will be particularly bothered about.


November 16, 2011, 2:47 am

Your review says that this PVR isn't the one to buy if you will be using a SCART connection to the TV. Why is this please?


March 11, 2012, 11:47 pm

I really like the machine except I keep getting an intermittent snowy screen then the machine clicks and I get the picture back. Does anyone know why I get this? Thank you


May 29, 2012, 11:28 pm

Bought mine 2 years ago, cost me £210, from day one, no end of problems, getting worst every week, l have to re tune it every month, when I watch a programme l have recorded, its like watching a dubbed movie, mouth out of sink. Like, right now, watching a programme, watching BBC2, on the screen it states "NO SIGNAL" when l bought it, from comet, they didn't want to know, pushed aside, no joy, got in touch with tvonics, they said post it back to us, which again, will cost me loads of money, l feel l have paid far to much as it is, there other option was, to send out a engineer to repair it, again would be around £45 min. my advice, is, stay well clear from this product, it's a waste of money.


August 30, 2012, 4:13 am

It should be mentioned that this company has now gone into receivership, so if you buy one of these there will be no manufacturer's support or guarantee.


October 18, 2012, 12:37 pm

two questions :
when recording a HD video from HDMI input
1/ how is it recorded : 540 720 or 1080 p ?
2/ how is it recorded mpeg-2 ? mpeg-4 ?

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