The Alba DVD382STB makes a bid to reduce the number of boxes cluttering up your TV cabinet by combining DVD playback capabilities and a Freeview tuner for access to free-to-air digital TV channels in one affordable unit.

The plug 'n' play installation makes light work of tuning and storing all available channels: the Alba quickly tunes and stores 50 TV channels (including teletext and interactive channels), and 27 digital radio channels in our medium strength reception area. There's a seven-day on-screen TV guide, but there's no CAM slot for access to subscription-based Top Up TV packages.

This year's model

On the DVD side, this Alba is a playback model only. There's no HDMI socketry or video upscaling, which makes it an entry-level model and better suited for hook-up to older-style TV screens.

Functionality is a little on the clunky side, and the shiny buttons along the top operate intermittently. Also, the Alba's disc loading mechanism is skittish.

Onscreen menus are basic but informative, and a single remote handset navigates both digital TV functionalities and DVD playback.

Digital TV pictures are pleasing enough using the RGB Scart output. Closer scrutiny shows up some minor flaws with fine 'chicken wire' patterning visible on bright colours, and graphics and captions look soft and blurry. Images also have a warm hue that makes red colours look too bold as well as making the skin tones of newsreaders faces look more ruddy than they should.

DVD playback is more satisfying, with decent levels of detail, smooth colour rendition and a solidity that makes watching our DVD of Borat very enjoyable. There's a hint of low level picture noise, but this is a minor criticism on a player at this price and images are still very watchable.

Audio performance is solid from the coaxial digital output (there's no optical digital output) and Dolby Digital and DTS audio soundtracks from DVDs are expertly handled.

Clean as a whistle

Analogue stereo output is also very clean, and the volume level buttons on the remote handset provide adjustment without the need to reach for the TV set's controller.

This Alba's dual functionality is a boon for anyone wanting to reduce the number of boxes hooked up to a TV screen. Some operational clunkiness and a basic spec aren't going to make it a great partner to a main TV set, but it's an ideal bit of kit if you want to upgrade a second room TV. It doesn't look like much, but the Alba DVD382STB packs a lot in for the price.