- Review Price: £184.99
Inside the unit is a 320GB hard-disk drive, which allows you record up to 284 hours of digital TV in its lowest-quality recording mode, or 68 hours in the highest. These recordings can be copied onto DVD using the built-in DVD-R/-RW and DVD+RW/+R drive, which also plays DVDs and CDs. Sadly you can’t record onto dual-layer discs, but the eight hours of recording time available on a single-layer disc should be enough for most people.
On the outside the unit is a good-looking machine – slim, sleek and dressed in a dashing all-black finish. A silver stripe runs through the middle of the fascia to break up the blackness and there’s a tiny LED display panel showing the Freeview channel number and other info like elapsed time during playback. The lower half of the fascia drops down to uncover a few buttons and connections. There are DV, composite and analogue stereo inputs, a USB port plus play, stop and record buttons, as well as keys to switch between HDD and DVD.
On the back is a decent selection of sockets, including an HDMI output that provides upscaled DVD and Freeview pictures. You can upscale them to 720p, 1080i or 1080p and switch between resolutions using the dedicated ‘HDMI’ button on the remote or the setup menu. On the fascia, a row of lights indicates the current HDMI output resolution. Non-HDMI TVs can be connected using the component or RGB Scart sockets, while a second Scart allows you to input signals from external equipment for recording or looping through. The Satellite Link feature triggers the Toshiba to start recording when it detects a signal on the Scart input. On the audio side there are analogue stereo and coaxial digital outputs.
The RD329DT’s feature list may not be as plentiful as that of a Panasonic or Sony recorder, but there are some useful inclusions. One of the highlights is the USB port, which makes it possible to play MP3, JPEG and DivX files from USB storage devices. Not an extensive range of formats perhaps, but at least it tackles the main ones.
The deck’s most alluring features are in the recording realm – it’s a Freeview+ model, so that means you get Series Recording, which is programmed in a slightly different way to most recorders. Select a programme in the EPG (which we’ll come to later), hit the yellow button and you get a list containing all the instances when that programme is shown over the coming week. Hit OK and series recording is set. It’s slightly long-winded, but that series overview is still a useful and unusual feature.
There’s also a pause live TV function called Time Slip. Instead of hitting the pause button, you have to hit Time Slip twice, which isn’t the most intuitive way of using it. Also, when using Time Slip the programme is recorded onto the main HDD rather than a separate buffer memory, so it takes up space in your recording library – be sure to go through and delete these regularly as Time Slip could clog it up pretty quickly.
The Chasing Playback mode lets you watch programmes from the start while they’re still being recorded, plus you can play something from the library while another programme is being recorded. All of which is great, but we’d trade it all for a second Freeview tuner and the ability to watch one channel while recording another – sadly that’s not something you’ll find on DVD/HDD combis outside of Panasonic’s mega-pricey Freesat/Freeview HD models.
There’s also a decent range of editing features on board. Call up a recording in the Title List and the Edit menu allows you to cut out a chunk of the recording, rename, divide, combine and add or delete chapters, although chapters are added automatically while recording at set intervals. The editing screen looks rudimentary but is easy to follow – the recording plays in a small box with a timeline below, which lets you select start and stop points for deletion.
Additionally you can create playlists of titles, which will allow you to play them back in the order of your choosing without affecting the original. Hard-disk titles can also be dubbed to DVD at high speed, while an Auto mode calculates how much disc space is left and sets the appropriate recording mode to fit. There are five recording modes available that let you trade off picture quality for recording time – XP, SP, LP, EP and SLP.
Onscreen presentation is best described as basic, with its white text on blue backgrounds and sparing use of graphics, but the cursor moves around without hesitation. The Setup menu uses a clear structure and covers all the settings you need, including a surprisingly long list of recording options. It’s easy to install too thanks to the fast Auto Tuning mode and despite its basic feel the RD329DT operates with generally pleasing slickness.
The eight-day EPG is very cluttered, even without the addition of a live TV box. It shows seven channels at a time, but the programme blocks are small and squashed up and there’s too much going on above and below the grid. All the usual controls are provided – skip back/forward 24 hours, call up a synopsis, schedule a recording, some of which utilise the coloured keys on the remote. To de-clutter it slightly, you can switch to a daily view in which programmes on a single channel are listed vertically. Not a disaster then, but certainly not one of our favourite EPGs.
Recordings are stored in a clear, attractive Title List that uses moving thumbnails and gives the recording properties (including logo that tells you if a recording is new), but doesn’t tell you the name of the programme. There’s a separate Timer list that summarises forthcoming recordings. Like the rest of the GUI, the Freeview info banners have a rudimentary air about them but convey a healthy range of information clearly, including the synopsis, remaining time, genre, audio type and so on. Sadly though, they are limited to now and next information.
We’re not impressed by the remote. It’s packed with buttons laid out in a regimented way that makes it hard to find certain functions quickly, plus the EPG and programme change keys are awkwardly placed towards the top of the handset. Thankfully the often-used menu controls are intuitively placed.
The RD329DT’s live Freeview pictures didn’t blow us away either, due to the presence of block noise and jagged edges in the picture, slightly more that we’d normally expect there to be. Certain channels look worse than others (ITV’s channels in particular) and they have a gauzy, jittery look that doesn’t help with the legibility of small text or fine detail. It’s not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination – pictures are generally watchable, and with Freeview many of the problems stem from limitations of the platform itself – but there’s no denying that images aren’t as clean and sharp as some other combis and PVRs we’ve tested.
And because XP mode recordings look identical to the live broadcast, these artefacts rear their ugly heads when watched from the hard-disk too – but hats off to Toshiba for its faithful video encoding quality. SP recordings also look strong but from LP downwards the low recordings bitrates start to introduce extra levels of blurriness and block noise that should only be tolerated for temporary timeshifting and not archived DVD recordings.
When upscaled to 1080p, the Toshiba produces solid DVD pictures that boast lots of detail, natural colours and judder-free motion. The DVD version of Avatar, for example, is a visual treat, with the RD329DT reproducing Pandora’s vibrant colours with the requisite vivacity, plus the small leaves and shading amid the jungle scenery look sharp and well-defined, without excessive artefacts to sully the clarity.
The RD329DT also reproduces TV audio with pleasing clarity, particularly when it comes to speech, and it also makes a serviceable CD player.
On the whole the RD329DT is a basic DVD/HDD recorder that does a good job at the basics without pushing the boat out. In the cons column, we’d have to list the dated onscreen presentation, limited USB format support, lack of dual-layer recording, average Freeview pictures and cluttered EPG, plus the lack of a Freeview HD tuner will be an instant turn-off for many. But among the pros are a useful range of recording and editing features, a 320GB hard-disk, solid DVD upscaling and generally smooth operation.
Score in detail