- Review Price: £212.61
Over the last few years digital recorders have morphed into multi-faceted entertainment hubs that not only record TV programmes but also act as pseudo media servers. However, Toshiba has always eschewed such cutting-edge frills, instead letting its hard-drive/DVD combis focus on the ‘recorder’ part of their job description. Its latest model, the RD99DT, is clearly aimed at those who simply want to watch, record and burn Freeview programmes without being dazzled and daunted by a barrage of complex features.
The RD99DT is one of two DVD/HDD recorders in Toshiba’s current range, alongside the RD329DT, which features a 320GB hard-disk. The RD99DT’s hard-disk is a respectable 250GB, which equates to 424 hours of recording time, in the lowest quality setting (SLP) of course. In best quality (XP), the figure obviously smaller. In between these modes are SP, LP and EP, which give you the flexibility to trade off picture quality for recording time.
Because of the built-in hard-disk, the deck can emulate some of the recording tricks made popular by hard-disk PVRs like Sky+. You can watch a programme while it’s still being recorded and pause live TV, although for the latter the deck has to record the programme you want to pause, eating up vital hard-disk space
The DVD recording side of the RD99DT is more limited than rival models from Panasonic and LG in that you can only record onto DVD-RW/-R and DVD+RW/+R. There’s no provision for DVD-RAM or dual-layer discs, which limits the amount you can fit on a disc to eight hours. Thankfully the deck’s ability to format DVD-RW discs in Video Recording (VR) mode means you get a decent range of DVD editing functions – but with a hard-disk on board that lets you record, edit and dub to disc, DVD-RW editing seems somewhat redundant.
The RD99DT features a Freeview tuner with the full range of Freeview+ features, such as Series Link, Split Recording and Alternate Instance Recording, which alerts you when programmes clash and suggests other slots when that same programme is being shown.
Of course, had the RD99DT been fitted with twin tuners, as we’ve been urging DVD/HDD manufacturers to do for years, then recording clashes would be much less of an issue. As it stands, the single tuner means you can only record what you’re watching, so if you want to watch a different channel you have to call your TV’s tuner into action. Sky+ this is not.
Still the Freeview+ functionality is neatly integrated into the recorder’s operating system. Select a programme in the eight-day EPG, hit the yellow key on the remote and up pops a list of all the times it’s being shown over the coming week – a feature not found on every hard-disk recorder. In the EPG, the Series Linked programme is indicated with a big green ‘S’.
The EPG itself looks different to the guide found on this deck’s predecessor, the RD98DT, but the revamp doesn’t really make it any easier to follow. The channel grid is squashed up and the whole thing looks a little cluttered. The design isn’t particularly sophisticated either, a criticism that can be levelled at the entire GUI – the use of basic white on blue is looking a bit dated now, particularly when compared to the snazzy new Sky+ HD EPG or Humax’s Freesat boxes.
If you want more information about a programme, the ‘now & next’ onscreen banner provides key details and a synopsis, but it can’t be used to browse schedules or see what’s on other channels. It’s a more essential function than you might think, and something that even basic Freeview boxes offer (like the TVonics MDR-240 for instance) making its absence here all the more annoying.
The remote is also disappointing. It’s easy to miss the channel change, playback and Info keys, all of which should have been a lot more prominent, and there’s no real attempt to arrange the buttons into logical sections – although the most-used menu controls are conveniently placed for the thumb.
On the plus side, the Title List menu (where all your recordings are stored) is excellent. Each title is displayed with a moving thumbnail, and unwatched recordings are flagged as ‘New’, but only timer recordings made from the EPG are tagged by name – everything else is just listed with the date and time. Select any title and a menu appears, giving you the chance to play, delete or edit the recording, or add it to a playlist.
There’s a terrific range of editing features. You can remove whole chunks by entering start and end points, split it at a given point or fuse two parts together, and it’s all carried out from a slick and easy-to-follow virtual editing suite that previews each edit on a small screen. A smart auto chaptering mode that detects the start and end points of adverts would have rounded off the editing roster nicely, but you’ll have to make do with the preset intervals or add them manually.
Elsewhere, you’ll find some other handy, if not groundbreaking features. The deck will upscale Freeview and DVD pictures to 1080p, and there’s a USB port on the front for playing back MP3 and JPEG files, but as mentioned at the start you can’t transfer them to the hard-disk. DivX can be played back from DVD or CD, but HD files are off limits.
On the outside the RD99DT is dressed in Toshiba’s customary black finish with a slim, sleek casing that’s been tweaked slightly to distinguish it from the RD98DT. The display panel isn’t huge but big enough to read from a fair distance, and the flap on the front conceals the USB port plus DV, composite and analogue stereo inputs.
On the back are all the sockets you’d expect including HDMI, component and RGB Scart outputs, plus pictures from external digiboxes can be fed into the unit via the RGB-capable Scart input. There’s no IR set-top box control but the Satellite Link mode starts the deck recording when it detects a signal on Scart pin 8. For audio there are coaxial digital and analogue stereo outputs.
Onto picture quality, and as a straight-up Freeview receiver the RD99DT falls short of what we’ve come to expect. Pictures have a distinctly gauzy air about them, with soft detail and the occasional jagged edge. You can also see mosquito noise buzzing around most moving objects, which impacts on the overall clarity and colour purity.
We compared the same channel (in this case, ITV1) on the Tosh and our Sky+ HD box and these artefacts are much less noticeable on the latter. In its defence, Freeview picture quality is generally noisy anyway, but we’ve seen recorders that tame it better than this.
Despite this mild disappointment, the RD99DT’s recording faculties are intact. It doesn’t record the broadcast stream directly – DVD/HDD decks like this have to decode it first – but in XP mode the RD99DT captures the signal faithfully without introducing any additional noise, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
SP mode also achieves superb results, giving you almost XP-like quality but using up less disk space in the process. LP, EP and SLP should be used only when you want to squeeze every last drop of space from the hard-disk – they certainly shouldn’t be used to archive your wedding video. The blurred and jittery pictures are just about passable if you squint really hard or get drunk first.
As a DVD player the Toshiba does a fine job, particularly when you engage 1080p upscaling. Kingdom of Heaven looks adequately rich and cinematic during both light and dark scenes, while the sharp, artefact-free detail reproduction gives sweeping shots of armies and fleets of ships the impact they deserve. It doesn’t stand up to the rigours of the Silicon Optix HQV disc as impressively, with some jagged edges letting the side down, but on the whole it’s a superb effort considering that DVD playback isn’t its primary objective.
Recorded sound is encoded by Dolby Digital Stereo Creator, and despite being more efficiently packed than a PCM track, it doesn’t struggle for dynamism. Speech is clear and articulate, plus the vociferous peaks and troughs of your average movie, drama show or football match are conveyed with pleasing energy. These characteristics are also apparent when you feed sound to a TV or home cinema system through the analogue outputs.
If you like your recorders to be slick, cutting-edge and packed with multimedia playback features, then the RD99DT probably isn’t for you – go and check out the Panasonic DMR-EX89 or LG RHT-497H instead. There’s no hard-disk jukebox functionality, it can’t record onto dual-layer discs, the operating system is clunky and Freeview picture quality is disappointing.
But that’s not to say it’s completely without merit – there’s an excellent array of recording and editing features at your disposal, connections are plentiful and it’s a pretty impressive DVD upscaler to boot. And at just over £200 online the RD99DT is fairly good value for a 250GB model, which might just persuade you to take a punt despite its limitations.
Score in detail
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