- Review Price: £140.00
There’s no denying that Freeview PVRs are a wonderful invention, offering revolutionary recording flexibility to people who don’t want Sky. But ever since their inception, Freeview PVRs have lacked the necessary features to mount a serious challenge to Sky+, making even the best models seem like poor imitations. Until now, that is…
You see, the good people at Freeview have introduced an initiative called Freeview Playback, which lets you know that a digital terrestrial TV recorder is equipped with a range of advanced features that enhance the user experience. In other words, they behave more like Sky+.
The Goodmans GHD1621F2 is one such recorder, an attractively priced unit with twin tuners and a 160GB hard-disk drive. In terms of build quality, it’s surprisingly well constructed for such an affordable unit. It’s crafted from metal as opposed to plastic, which makes it feel reassuringly weighty and durable. The only down point is that the unit emits an audible hum that kicks in when the hard disk is engaged.
Not only is it well built but it’s also rather attractive, featuring a sloping mirrored fascia that sets it apart from its boxy-looking rivals. There are only a few buttons on the fascia, which keeps things looking fairly minimal, while the information panel on the front helpfully makes it clear when the unit is recording and which channel it’s tuned to.
Connections include two SCARTs, one of which offers best-quality RGB for connection to a TV, and the other is designed to be connected to a DVD recorder or VCR. It only outputs composite video, which is a shame given that most DVD recorders accept RGB signals – you’ll have to swap SCART cables round if you want to archive in the best quality.
The SCARTs are joined by analogue stereo and coaxial digital audio outputs, the latter being a useful addition if you want to listen to TV sound through your home cinema system.
As we mentioned, the GHD1621F2 packs a 160GB hard-disk, which equates to around 80 hours of recordings, and is adorned with the Freeview Playback badge, which puts user-friendliness at the top of the agenda.
Twin digital tuners allow you to record one channel while watching another and to record two different channels simultaneously, as well as pause live TV and chase playback. Series recording makes it easy to record every episode of your favourite programmes, while split recording allows the unit to recognise when a programme has been interrupted (by the news, for example). And in the event of a schedule clash, the unit suggests alternative times when the same programme is broadcast. Genius.
The GHD1621F2 is clearly aimed at technophobes who want installation to be as simple as possible. When you first boot it up, it walks you through the basics and the main setup menu helpfully describes the options as activities (such as ‘Change the TV settings’). The menus are clearly laid out and logically sequenced, except for the Timer List, which is inconveniently buried in one of the submenus.
There’s a choice of two different 7-day EPG layouts – Timeline and Schedule. The layout of the former is impressive as it squeezes all the programme information, along with a small box playing live TV, into one screen. It even crams in a colour-coded key showing which button does what. Yes it’s cluttered but you can always switch to the stripped down Schedule EPG.
Another feature that makes the unit easy-to-use is the onscreen information banners, which go far beyond the ‘now and next’ displays offered by most Freeview PVRs. You can scroll through the entire Freeview schedules without having to change channel or enter the full EPG. On the downside it doesn’t offer a programme synopsis.
The remote, meanwhile, looks dull but sports a logical button layout with coloured keys at the bottom that work in harmony with the unit’s menu screens.
On the whole, the unit delivers a strong picture performance. Recordings onto the hard-disk look identical to the live broadcast, sharing all of the same high levels of colour and detail.
Colour reproduction is strong and vivid, particularly with bright, studio-based material, while detail levels are high enough to ensure crisp, well-defined image quality with the vast majority of Freeview channels. There are no traces of colour bleed around the edges of objects, while MPEG noise is kept to a minimum, though lower quality channels can look blocky.
However, there were problems with the tuner’s stability. During live TV viewing of Channel 4, the GHD1621F2 became intermittently glitchy, with the picture stuttering and breaking up to the point where we felt the need to unplug it from the mains.
To check if this was a possible problem with the signal reception, we rigged up a couple of Freeview-equipped DVD/HDD recorders, neither of which suffered problems with Channel 4 or any other channel.
Also, on two occasions the audio went out of sync with the pictures while recording two channels simultaneously.
But apart from these glitches, the unit is generally slick and frustration free. Channels change quickly and digital text pages appear instantly when you select the desired option. Likewise, navigating the setup menu, EPG and Video Library is a smooth process thanks to the unit’s quick response to remote control commands.
At around £140, the GHD1621F2 is great value for money considering the amount of features on board. But what’s really amazing is that you get all of the Freeview Playback features at a cheaper price than some non-Freeview Playback products, such as the Daewoo 9503T.
In fact, the GHD1621F2 even challenges more expensive Freeview Playback PVRs like the Evesham DTR250 and TVonics DVR-FP250 in every area except hard-disk capacity – highlighting what a bargain this unit is.
Our only concern is over the occasionally unstable performance, but this intermittent flaw may be peculiar to our review sample and may not constitute a serious problem.
Score in detail