- Review Price: £128.99
Toshiba recently unveiled a new range of DVD and hard-disk recorders, due out in the next couple of months, but if you can’t wait that long then it might be worth tracking down this deck from its current range for a knock-down price. The D-R17DT is a standalone DVD recorder, which means there’s no hard-disk on board, making it better suited to people who don’t want to pause live TV or edit recordings before dubbing them to disc.
Its recording capabilities are limited to four formats – DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-R and DVD+R. The lack of DVD-RAM might disappoint those who favour the format’s non-linear versatility, but those people can seek solace in the presence of DVD-RW’s Video Recording mode, which makes non-linear editing a possibility. Write-once duties are handled by DVD-R and DVD+R, but the lack of DVD-R Dual Layer and DVD+R Double Layer means eight hours is the maximum recording time you can squeeze out of this machine.
The deck boasts a built-in Freeview tuner, a feature you’ll find on most new recorders in 2008 as digital switchover gathers pace, and with it comes digital text and a 7-day EPG. That means you can set the timer simply by clicking on the relevant programme in the guide, which is still one of the best things about Freeview-equipped recorders. You can’t series link a particular programme though – that talent is reserved for the hard-disk models in Toshiba’s 2008 range.
As for the outside, the recorder is styled in the same sleek black finish that made the company’s HD DVD players (R.I.P.) look so darn sexy. Buttons are sparse, and a small flap on the fascia hides the AV inputs to preserve the minimal aesthetic. The front connections include S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs, but sadly there’s no DV input or USB port for playing digital media files from flash memory drives.
The rear panel is much more generous. The most interesting socket is the HDMI output, which offers upscaled pictures in 1080p, 1080i or 720p flavours and it applies to TV recordings as well as regular DVD playback. To record pictures from an external source such as a Sky box, the unit provides a SCART input alongside a SCART output for non-HDMI equipped TVs. Component video, electrical digital audio and stereo audio outputs complete the decent connections roster.
The five recording modes (XP, SP, LP, EP and SLP) enable you to fit between one and eight hours of recordings onto a disc, but the picture quality decreases the lower down the list you go.
If you format a DVD-RW disc in VR mode, you gain access to the Playlist function, which enables you to chop out and rearrange sections from any recording into a new sequence, without affecting the originals. Slightly less advanced but equally useful is the Scene Delete function, which as the name suggests lets you accurately delete unwanted parts of a recording, such as adverts or appearances by Graham Norton. In addition, for other disc formats you can add chapter markers, combine or divide chapters and rename titles, all of which are very easy to find within the menu system.
Away from its recording talents, there are a few more appealing features, such as DivX, MP3 and JPEG playback and a 12-event, one-month timer for the analogue tuner.
After you’ve made a recording, it’s stored in the Disc Menu, which is a good-looking and clearly laid out screen that uses moving thumbnail images to illustrate each recording. The setup menu is similarly well designed, arranging all of the crucial options into logical submenus. The only let down from a presentational point of view is the EPG, which lists the programmes in a very unhelpful list format instead of the programme ‘grid’ used by the vast majority of other Freeview recorders. It’s much harder than it should be to find a particular programme, and the information is a little tricky to call up.
The ease of use factor is further reduced by the unit’s unresponsive software, which makes flicking through the channels a very laborious process. The pause is long enough to make you press the button again, only to find it registered the first time. But strangely, the MHEG digital text function is very slick, flicking from page to page with no delay at all.
Thankfully there are no complaints with the D-R17DT’s picture performance. Recording a variety of TV programmes onto a DVD-RW disc in XP reveals some very competent video encoding at play inside, producing recordings that look every bit as good as the live signal. The quality is helped along by some smooth 1080p upscaling, which keeps artefacts at bay and makes the picture seem clean, sharp and dynamic.
Tricky fast-moving material like live football broadcasts are captured without excessive amounts of pixellation or break-up, while colour reproduction is very strong and free from the smudgy MPEG noise and banding that can occur with below-par processing.
Dropping down to SP mode increases the noise but not by much, but in LP you start to notice some serious picture degradation, with small details getting blurred out and text becoming harder to read. Movement also becomes less assured, with some jagged edges and twitchy noise around moving objects. But if you accept this as an acceptable quality trade-off for longer recording time, it suddenly becomes more tolerable.
In EP and SLP modes, be prepared for even greater levels of noise and even less detail on display than LP. But as long as you stick to fairly undemanding material then these modes are perfectly watchable – in fact, as low bitrate modes go, they’re actually rather impressive.
Not only is the D-R17DT a superb recorder, but it’s also a dab hand with pre-recorded DVDs. ”Spider-Man 2” demonstrates its talents perfectly, with the New York streets providing lots of detail for the deck to get its teeth into, which it reproduces with no trouble. Strongly coloured objects like Spidey’s red suit or yellow taxi cabs are also rendered with a welcoming warmth and vibrancy that looks great on a large screen flat-panel TV.
The deck is a little picky when it comes to multimedia playback, playing DivX, MP3 and JPEG files from some discs but not others. But when it works the results are very impressive, playing compressed files without a hitch. This is backed up by clean and undistorted stereo CD playback from the analogue outputs and thrilling 5.1-channel movie sound through our test amp.
The presence of impressive 1080p upscaling and a digital tuner are commendable on a recorder at this price, and picture quality is as good as, if not better than its big name rivals. The D-R17DT’s only crimes are its sluggish Freeview functionality, poorly designed EPG and lack of sockets on the front – if these flaws are likely to bother you, then you’re better off waiting for Toshiba’s forthcoming DR-18DT, which we’re told addresses some of the operational issues we’ve identified.
Score in detail
Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think - send your emails to the Editor.