- Review Price: £259.00
The RHT399H is one of the first DVD/HDD recorders from LG to feature Freeview+ (a.k.a. Freeview Playback) functionality, which makes digital terrestrial TV viewing a much more rewarding experience than it used to be thanks to features like series recording and pause live TV. There are three Freeview+ combis in the current range, with the only difference being hard-disk size – this version tops the range with a 320GB capacity, but it’s joined by 250GB and 160GB versions.
On paper, the RHT399H looks pretty impressive. That mammoth hard-disk can hold up to 935 hours’ worth of MPEG-2 recordings, and thanks to the multi-format DVD drive on board it can also record or copy onto most types of disc, including DVD-RAM. DVD-R DL isn’t supported but DVD+R DL is on hand to take care of dual-layer duties.
LG certainly knows how to make kit look good (just look at its gorgeous flatpanel TVs) so it comes as no surprise that the RHT399H is a real beauty. The black finish and silver strips make it look sleek and suitably hi-tech, plus the cheeky central silver panel (embossed with the DVB logo) is a nice touch. But most remarkable is how slim it is compared with the chunky dimensions of most DVD/HDD combis, and at 49mm high it looks more like a DVD player than a recorder.
Of course, the slimline design doesn’t leave much room for up-close controls, offering just four buttons on the fascia (one of which changes the HDMI output resolution) and it’s also to the detriment of the display panel, which only has room to show the time in TV mode or the elapsed running time during DVD playback.
The unit is impeccably built, with weighty bodywork crafted from strong, sturdy materials, and there’s a healthy array of AV inputs on the front, comprising DV, composite, stereo audio and USB, which lets you stream video, music or photos from a flash memory device or transfer them to the hard-disk.
The rear panel lacks spicy extras like an infrared controller port (indicating the absence of external set-top box control) or Ethernet, but you will find an HDMI output that can fire video to your TV in 576p, 720p, 1080i or 1080p, as well as component, S-video and RGB SCART outputs. These are joined by a SCART input, which thankfully accepts RGB, S-video and composite signals – a welcome choice for owners of Sky or cable TV receivers. Hooking it up to an AV receiver is equally hassle-free thanks to the choice of optical digital, coaxial digital and analogue stereo outputs.
The remote stays just the wrong side of intuitive with an over cluttered layout and small buttons. The EPG and programme change keys should have been more prominent, and there isn’t a button to change the recording mode, which means you have to enter the setup menu every time. But at least it’s labelled with words instead of cryptic abbreviations or icons, and the core menu controls are ideally placed.
Call us superficial but the thing that impressed us most about the LG’s onscreen presentation is the way the menus dissolve as you exit them. But that aside, the interface is superb – hit the Home button and a bar appears at the top, which offers quick and easy access to all the different types of supported content, grouping it into Movie (to play MPEG-2 or DivX from the HDD or DVD), Music and Photo. Also found here is the Easy Menu option, which lets you access the full setup menu or delve straight into the recording mode settings. The setup menu is fast and logically laid out, offering a generous array of options to tweak but not to the same obsessive level as the latest Pioneer decks.
The eight-day Freeview EPG proves easy to use, enabling you to switch between a condensed now/next view and the traditional timeline layout, and because it’s superimposed over live TV you can just about keep up with what’s going on. It’s controlled using the coloured keys on the remote, but there are no + or -24 hour options – you have to hit the green button and find the relevant date, which is a little more cumbersome.
Setting the timer from the EPG is also slightly confusing. Four options appear when you hit the red ‘Record’ key, all of which are named in classic pigeon English – the record once option is called ‘Simple Recording’, while series recording is called ‘It can be recorded as series’, which isn’t particularly helpful. Also, you have to select the ‘Recording separated program’ option if the desired programme is split in two (by the news, for instance) and this lack of autonomy makes things more complicated than Freeview+ was intended to be.
That said, the programme information banners are excellent. Not only do they look snazzy, but they also include a wealth of information, including the programme synopsis, aspect ratio, genre and the availability of MHEG content, as well as basics like the time, date and recording mode. Superb.
Before making a recording, you can choose from five recording modes, ranging from the best-quality XP, which offers 1 hour maximum recording time on a DVD or three hours on a DVD+R DL disc, down to the lowest-quality MLP, which offers 14 hours on single-layer DVD or 21 hours on a DL disc. With such a big hard-disk on board, you can probably afford to leave it set to XP when making HDD recordings. The unit will add chapter markers automatically at 5, 10 or 15 minute intervals but unlike the latest Pioneer and Philips models there’s no smart chapter mode, which would have made it easier to skip commercial breaks.
Recordings are attractively arranged in the Title Menu with a moving thumbnail and the name of each programme as listed in the Freeview EPG. You can filter the list by genre (listed down the side) and each hard-disk recording can be renamed, combined with another, divided in two or partially deleted. When editing DVD-RAM or DVD-RW (VR) recordings, a playlist tool makes it possible to rearrange chapters into a new sequence without affecting the original. And if you want to back up any HDD recordings on disc then the high-speed dubbing feature makes it a quick and painless process, particularly when dubbing multiple titles.
You can simultaneously watch a programme from the start while it’s still being recorded, plus the LG also boasts a very flexible Timeshift feature that lets you pause and rewind live TV. Using the clip recording feature, you can even store a timeshifted programme as a title on the hard-disk.
The RHT399H achieves a generally pleasing level of performance. Live Freeview pictures upscaled to 1080p jump out from the screen thanks to the radiant colours, crisp edge definition and well-resolved fine detail. There’s no escaping the moiré patterning and pixel shimmering that permeates the picture and gives moving objects images a slight lag effect, but it’s not the sort of problem that’ll ruin your viewing experience.
When captured on the hard-disk in XP, Freeview programmes share the same artefacts but there’s nothing wrong with the quality of the encoding, as the recordings look exactly the same as the source broadcast. SP mode suffers only a slight drop in quality, and although LP and EP pictures get progressively hazier to the point where small text becomes quite hard to read, they remain fairly watchable. However, after recording ”Sky News” in MLP mode, the pictures are so blurred, noisy and devoid of detail that we can’t imagine why anyone in their right mind would use it.
We tried out ”American Gangster” on DVD and the LG reproduces the movie with a pleasingly cinematic palette and lots of detail, although some smeary block noise and edge ringing reduce the overall quality. The deck is a fantastic multimedia player, reading DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG files from USB device or HDD quickly and smoothly.
Overall, the RHT399H isn’t quite up to the same standards as the more expensive Panasonic DMR-EX88 or Pioneer DVR-560HX, as it’s a little clumsy in places, Freeview pictures are flawed and lower-quality recordings are less tolerable. But it’s still an impressive DVD/HDD recorder, with attractive looks, user-friendly onscreen design and loads of features, all of which makes it very good value for money.
Score in detail
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