This is about as close as you can currently get to a Sky plus for Freeview
Good picture quality
Ugly product design
Relatively small hard drive
No card slot for Top-Up TV compatibility
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Thomson used to make TVs where you could clip on your own choice of coloured frame to match your decor. If only it did the same for its PVR, because this is an ugly box that seems more like an unfinished prototype. Thankfully looks aren't everything and this one is slimline enough to hide well out of the way.
The DHD4000 is a prime example of how PVRs can be reinvented with automatic over-air downloads. You can't do much about the rather paltry 40GB hard drive, which gives about 20 hours of TV recording, unless you're handy with special screwdrivers and don't care about your warranty.
However, the revised software expands on an otherwise solid base. The last over-air update, for example, added the full 14-day programme guide (not available in all areas) and instant recording. More updates will follow in the future, so it's well worth emailing the newsgroups and you never know, the features you want just might appear.
The PVR has two built-in Freeview tuners so you can keep watching Sky News while recording CSI, for instance, or record two overlapping programmes and even play something from the hard drive while your recordings continue in the background.
If you want to start watching a current recording, one confusing thing is that you must access it from the TV programme guide, not the recording library. Another awkward point is that the on-screen display gives you 'time remaining', which on a current recording, of course, doesn't go down.
Like many PVRs, there's a 30-minute rolling buffer to give you instant replays of the current channel and the new software means you can save this to hard drive in case a programme has started that you then decide you want to keep.
As with the Digifusion and Inverto, the Thomson's EPG doesn't rely on Freeview's own version, but a third-party source that gives more data - especially beyond 48 hours - which is handy for planning a block of recordings in one go or if you're going away for a fortnight.
Although no integrated Freeview recorder currently has an intelligent Series Link or Season Pass feature, the DHD4000 adds a quick manual repeat option to record a given timeslot again, whether it's daily or weekly. As long as the programme doesn't move around, it's a decent alternative but it can't beat the much more flexible Sky or TiVo approach.
Sharing some electronics with the Digifusion and Inverto means that the DHD4000 also has a compression option. This steps down the quality of a recording to give you about 25 per cent more hard drive space.
If you want to archive recordings on to DVD or VHS instead, then one of the best features is the user-defined bookmark. The Thomson automatically puts chapter marks at one, three or five-minute intervals (depending on your preference) and you can add your own at any point. Then you can edit out any marked section, which is ideal for topping and tailing overruns and chopping the ads.
Our main niggle is the fiddly little remote control which makes it too easy to hit the wrong buttons and delete entire programmes by mistake. If you want to do your archiving when the box isn't going to be used, you can set a timer to play programmes individually or in blocks.
If your DVD recorder responds to an external set-top box coming on (as Panasonic models do for instance) then you can leave the two machines alone to get on with it. Other frills include optional subtitle recording and, at last, a resume play feature to remember exactly where you left off if you don't finish watching something. The trick-play modes to zoom through ads are quick reacting and, apart from a brief audio stutter when doing so, it's a stable machine.
As an integrated recorder, you can enjoy CSI in full forensic detail with no loss of quality from the original broadcast. With its all-new software enhancements, this is about as close as we've seen to a Sky box for the Freeview sector.
It even looks the biz, though in a rather tacky retro Buck Rodgers kind of way. It's the handset that really lets it down. It's nothing short of bloody awful, clearly an afterthought, although if you have a learning universal remote you can resolve that.
And that's it as far as PVRs with integrated Freeview is concerned. There's still much to be done in this particular product category.
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