Prior to recording you can select from seven modes offering varying levels of picture quality – HQ uses the highest bitrate but only lets you record one hour on a DVD (or two hours on a DVD+R DL disc), whereas the lowest-quality SEP mode offers eight hours on DVD but with poor picture quality.
After making a recording, a limited but useful array of editing features are available. You can split or merge chapters, divide titles and set chapter markers to hide sections that you don’t want. These basic edits should suffice for casual users, but if you require more flexible non-linear functions (like RAM-style playlist editing, for example) then look elsewhere.
In the past, operating Philips’ digital recorders has been like wading through Marmite due to their sluggish response times and illogical menus. Thankfully Philips has put that right this time round with a much zippier operating system and a terrific menu system that resembles the one found on the company’s flat-panel TVs. Other onscreen displays, like Time Shift Buffer and the recorded programmes list are also well presented.
The only ease-of-use issue we encountered is the lack of a dedicated button for changing the recording mode, which means you have to do it via the setup menu (which annoyingly clears the Time Shift Buffer).
Before moving onto performance, a word about the deck’s design – it’s one of the slimmest and most attractive DVD/HDD recorders we’ve ever encountered, sporting a lovely mirrored fascia and a red ring that illuminates when recording.
With only an analogue tuner on board, the unit struggles to match the sort of live picture quality you get from a decent Freeview-equipped recorder. Edge definition is softer and colours lack the noise-free intensity that DVB-T broadcasting affords. Pictures are actually pretty decent as analogue TV goes but when compared with what you could be watching, pretty decent just isn’t good enough.
Another let-down is that the unit displays live TV in the currently selected recording mode, which is fine when you leave it in HQ but a problem when set to anything lower than LP.
However, the quality of the unit’s MPEG encoding is impressive, with recorded pictures looking exactly the same as the live broadcast in the top-quality HQ mode. This is great news if you’re feeding in an RGB signal from an external digital terrestrial, satellite or cable receiver as the resulting recordings are superb, characterised by vibrant colours and sharp detail reproduction.