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.