- Review Price: £205.00
Over the last few years digital recorders have gone from functional to fun, thanks to a new breed of machines that do so much more than just record TV shows. Nowadays you get all sorts of value-adding features, like video upscaling and digital media support, essentially turning them into complete home entertainment hubs.
Toshiba’s RD-97DT is part of this recorder renaissance. It’s a combined DVD/HDD recorder, which boasts a huge 250GB hard-disk that can hold up to 424 hours of programmes in the SLP recording mode, and allows you to pause live TV and chase playback. You can also record onto DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-R and DVD+R discs.
But for added flavour, the unit also boasts 720p, 1080i and 1080p upscaling from its HDMI output and it plays a range of digital media formats, including DivX, MP3 and JPEG. Also on-board are analogue and digital tuners, the latter offering the complete Freeview line-up, a 7-day EPG and digital text.
In aesthetic terms the RD-97DT is a success, boasting the same sleek, moody black styling found on the company’s line of HD DVD players. It’s also well built and buttons are kept to a minimum, but the front is plastered with logos – Toshiba is clearly proud of what this deck can do.
Peripheral kit can be hooked up to a bank of inputs on the front, with a selection that includes DV, S-video, composite and stereo audio inputs. However, there’s no USB port, which means you can’t connect flash drives or MP3 players and transfer files to the hard-disk as you can on some of its rivals. On the rear panel are HDMI and component video outputs, plus digital and analogue audio outputs. They’re joined by two SCART sockets, one of which offers RGB output.
Joining USB connection on the list of notable omissions is dual-layer DVD-R and DVD+R recording, which would have doubled the amount you can fit on a DVD, and series link – the Sky+ style feature that enables digital TV recorders to automatically capture every programme in a series at the push of a button.
There are, however, plenty of other recording features on board, putting a reasonable amount of control over how your recordings look. There are five recording modes (XP, SP, LP, EP and SLP) which let you adjust the quality to increase recording time. Hard-disk recordings are accessed from an easy-to-use menu screen, which shows you a moving thumbnail of each title and allows you to edit titles. You can delete a scene, split a recording in two, add chapter marks or transfer titles to a playlist and watch them in a different order. These functions are intuitive, with well-signposted options and clear menu presentation.
The same can’t be said for all aspects of the operating system. The EPG, for instance, is awkwardly designed, displaying the programmes in a basic list instead of the timeline arrangement found on most other Freeview recorders. This makes timer programming much less obvious. Also frustrating is that you can’t access the EPG while making a recording.
The unit is also unresponsive, particularly when it comes to changing digital channels; press the button and there’s a clumsy pause before it moves to the next one. And our last gripe concerns the remote – many of the important buttons blend into the ranks of similar-looking keys, making it difficult to quickly find the one you’re looking for.
But there can be no complaints about the deck’s performance. As a straightforward Freeview receiver its picture quality is magnificent, delivering solid and realistic colour tones, smooth movement, clean edges and impressive levels of detail. The signal is also consistently stable, demonstrating the robustness of the built-in tuner.
This is great news for recording quality, as the unit’s XP mode is able to preserve these high quality pictures intact. You get the same levels of colour and detail, while the high bitrate means that no extra MPEG block noise is introduced into the picture. The large hard-disk capacity means that you can record everything in this mode and it’ll be a while before you run out of space, but since you can only fit 1hr onto a DVD in XP mode, the 2hr SP mode will come in handy. SP recordings look clean and dynamic, with a very slight increase in noise but nothing significant.
The drop in image quality from SP to LP is very clear, with Freeview recordings looking softer and hazier with dotty pixel noise dancing around the edges of moving objects. These artefacts increase even more in EP, making recordings look like YouTube clips, but at least you can make out what’s going on. And as long as you stick to static or slow-paced material (and don’t sit too close to the screen) SLP offers watchable results and a long recording time.
Switching to DVD performance, our copy of ”King Kong” was beautifully presented. The deck’s solid 1080p upscaling fended off unwanted artefacts and the rich, solid black reproduction kept pictures looking punchy and film-like. Colours were treated with respect too, as Naomi Watts’ realistically peachy skin tones demonstrated.
The RD-97DT’s picture and sound performance is of the highest order, both in terms of live Freeview broadcasts and recordings. We’re also impressed by the deck’s handling of DVD discs, which makes it a great home cinema source – plus the range of editing and playback features is not to be sniffed at.
But we’re less than impressed by the unit’s generally cumbersome and unresponsive operating system. And despite the presence of 1080p upscaling and digital media playback, the feature list is limited, lacking many goodies found on similarly-priced rivals such as a USB port, series link, a jukebox mode and dual-layer DVD recording. Here’s hoping the RD-97DT is merely a blot on Toshiba’s otherwise impressive copybook.
Score in detail