Toshiba has an impressive new lineup of DVD recorders fresh from Japan, and the first to wash up on UK shores is the RD97DT.
It sports multiformat DVD recording, analogue and digital tuners, and a healthily-sized 250GB HDD. Its HDMI output will upscale up to 1080i.
The front-panel design is smartly understated, with a bright display and a drop-down flap that conceals the front AV inputs, a DV socket, and, er, not much else. There are no luxuries like memory card slots or USB interfaces on this no-frills deck.
More savings have been made around the back with the composite video input disappearing altogether.
Bizarrely, only the Scart output is RGB enabled, so recordings made via the Scart input (such as those from a Sky or freeview box) are actually being fed a composite signal and therefore, to all intents and purposes, comparably crap.
On the plus side there are two TV tuners, analogue and digital, which will be welcome news for the unlucky few living in poor Freeview reception postcodes who want to cling on to their analogue signal until the bitter end.
My analogue signal is nearly unwatchable, but the Tosh had no trouble auto-detecting and organising my Freeview channels and pulling up an interesting eight-day EPG. I say interesting because you will either love or hate the way it only shows you 'now and next' on the first page instead of the whole day's scheduling. It's a case of clicking on a channel to find out what is on the rest of the day.
The OSD is quite primitive, but faster to navigate than some. Within it you can adjust the output resolution via HDMI up to 1080p, but when the scaler is specified on a budget like this, 1080p is stretching things a bit and the result is nothing like real Full HD.
The 720p signal improves things, but the Tosh loses points on picture quality overall. Colour reproduction is okay, but with the challenging camera pans in 28 Weeks Later on DVD, when we fly over central London, the edges of the buildings blur, diagonal lines become stepped, and the background is filled with image noise. It's not a big problem, but it is noticeable.
Recordings are easy enough to edit down afterwards if you wish to remove adverts and insert chapter breaks.
Compatibility with MP3, JPEG and DivX media is all fine, but your choice of recordable disc media is more limited as it won't recognise RAM or either of the dual layer formats.
Toshiba has done well to include all the key features at this price point. DVB tuner, HDMI socket and 250GB HDD are all present, but the lack of RGB on the Scart input and omission of double-layer disc recording reduces it to mediocrity.