The RDR-HXD870 comes from a new breed of cutting-edge digital recorders that offer 1080p upscaling, allowing you to make the most of DVDs and TV recordings on Full HD TVs. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg, as Sony's 160GB deck offers a truly staggering array of other features that will have its rivals running for cover.
Most significant is Series Recording, which uses information provided by the 7-day Freeview EPG to automatically record every programme in a series, just like Series Link on Sky+. It'll even recognise when a programme has been split in two (to accommodate the news, for instance).
The deck also records onto every type of recordable DVD except DVD-RAM and with 34 levels of recording quality at your disposal, you can fit between one and 17hrs on a single dual-layer disc. Its connections roster is highly generous too.
The rear offers HDMI, component video, two Scarts and digital audio output, while the front panel adds a USB port, iLink input and PictBridge output for printing JPEGs from the HDD on a compatible printer. Other features include the Guide Plus EPG for analogue broadcasts, Jukebox and Photo Album functions for playing MP3s.
Plus JPEGs can be stored on the hard-disk, and a vast selection of editing functions (including playlist creation) and 6x high-speed dubbing are also included. Despite the deck's inherent complexity, it never feels difficult to use, thanks to the well-designed remote, menu system and digital TV graphics. Our only complaint is the sluggish Guide Plus EPG, which is in serious need of a redesign.
The deck's recording quality doesn't disappoint, particularly in the top-quality HQ mode. BBC2's series Rome from the built-in Freeview tuner looks terrific, boasting high colour saturation, minimal block noise and a satisfying amount of detail. It's virtually indistinguishable from the live broadcast, which is the mark of any good high-bitrate recording mode.
This remains the case until you drop to SP, where there's some minor twitching on fine details and more block noise on background walls, but nothing serious. The EP, SLP and SEP presets still produce perfectly enjoyable pictures, provided you accept that the extra softness and noise are part and parcel of low-bitrate recording.
Pre-recorded DVD playback is magnificent, making Scorsese's The Departed look sharp and cinematic, thanks to excellent detail and black levels, which are clearly aided by the deck's competent upscaling abilities.
The Sony RDR-HXD870 also pulls a blinder in the audio department, making everything from CDs and MP3s to Dolby Digital soundtracks sound great by DVD recorder standards - rounding off a top-drawer performance from a sophisticated yet strangely affordable digital recorder.