TVonics has previously impressed us with its knack for producing distinctive-looking Freeview PVRs that are very easy to operate – and its latest offering, the DTR-Z500, continue the good work.

Available equipped with 500GB or 250GB (as the DTR-Z250) hard discs, each is capable of storing 250 or 125 hours of recordings respectively, and both are Freeview+ certified, allowing automatic series recording, split recording and accurate recording.

The mostly black case is roughly the size of a chunky hardback book – not a slim fit in most people's AV setup but still likely to complement black-framed TVs. A ripple effect on the fascia makes it resemble a sort of futuristic car part.

Port options

The back panel has a modest line-up of connections comprising two Scarts with RGB support on the TV Scart but just composite on the VCR, an SP/DIF audio output and a hi-fi line output.

There's also a UHF loopthrough but no modulator for those without a free Scart connection on their TV who want Freeview channels.

The excellent remote is similar to previous models, being a bit like the Sky+ controller in terms of design. It can be programmed to control TVs or DVD players from other manufacturers and has a dedicated button for switching between TV and radio channels.

Channel scan

It's quick to scan for channels for which, sadly, there is no favourites list option. You can browse channels as a list by pressing OK or call up the EPG which is one of the best-looking we've seen on a Freeview PVR.

Presented as a mainly green overlay on the current channel, it presents eight days' worth of data for TV or radio channels in a grid. Here you can skip information in 24-hour periods and view synopses. Press record and you're presented with the option to record once or the entire series where applicable.

Should clashes occur you're given the option of recording a repeat if one is scheduled. The programme information banner can be used to browse eight days of information and synopses for the current channel or others.

Recording

You can record up to two (TV or radio) channels at once but, unlike some other PVRs, not watch a third if it's on the same multiplex as one you're recording. You can record two while playing back a recording or timeshift one while recording another.

Because the PVR keeps a running cache of what you watch (which can be set to last up to two hours) you can fast-forward and rewind on the fly. Recordings and timeshifted shows can be fast forwarded and rewound at four levels of speed (the top being x128) indicated by onscreen arrows.

Recordings are accessed in the library and can be sorted in several ways including A-Z, and locked by a PIN. You can resume watching from where you left off, specify a time to start watching from and set parameters for automatic deletion when space is limited.

Recording picture quality is faithful to the source; the tuners generated generally crisp-looking results for Freeview from an apparently strong signal. That said, mild pixellation was evident on many channels when viewing on our new 37in Samsung LCD panel. Audio performance is clean and clear, notably when using the digital audio output.

Verdict

The DTR-Z500 lacks some of the bells and whistles of rival boxes such as the similarly priced Sagem 67250, namely an HDMI output with upscaling, editing, the ability to export recordings or MP3 or JPEG support.

However, it remains one of the best 'vanilla' Freeview+ boxes on the market with a commendably large storage capacity for the money.