If you can live with its looks, you'll have a good Freeview PVR on your hands
Well specified overall
Easy to use
No upgrade path for pay-TV
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Sagem's latest Freeview PVR, the DVR6400, is a strange-looking digital TV recorder. The front of the lightweight plastic case is completely devoid of any front-panel controls, ensuring that even the most basic of operations requires recourse to the remote control - a rather tacky affair that better befits £20 DVD players.
In fact, the only indication that the DVR6400 actually works is a four-digit display that indicates channel number, recording-mode or time.
The backside is a bit more revealing.There's no HDMI output or upscaling - long-overdue on PVRs - but you do get a pair of Scarts. A dedicated analogue audio output is absent, but Sagem has at least attempted to compensate for this with both coaxial and optical digital outputs.
They're Dolby Digital-ready, too - hopefully Freeview broadcasters will start exploring this area, then the DVR6400's digital outputs, like those of countless competitors, would come into their own. And when I say Freeview I mean it. There's no TopUpTV CAM, and no means (like a CI slot) of adding one in future. You have been warned!
Thanks to twin tuners, you can simultaneously watch one programme while recording another, or record two while watching previously-recorded material. Sagem has generously included 250GB of hard-drive space - enough for around 120 hours of digital TV.
A timeshifting buffer allows you to instantly-rewind the current channel by up to two hours. Furthermore, the buffer's contents can be preserved as a permanent recording should you decide they're worth keeping. Chasing playback - viewing the current recording from the beginning - is also allowed.
The Sagem supports a seven-day EPG, from where a 30-event timer can be programmed. Setting this, and the largely-automated initial setup procedure, is easy enough.
Also friendly is the DVR6400's quiet running. A fan is fitted, but even on a hot summer's day the whirring of neither it nor the hard drive was obtrusive.
With so many Freeview channels, the presence of a favourites list (seven of 'em, actually!) is welcome. Picture-in-picture functionality is also onboard.
Recordings are shown in a list with EPG-derived programme details. Editing functionality is good. Recordings can be merged, divided or partially-erased (as well as deleted altogether), and if there's a programme you want to keep, you can eliminate the adverts (or the unwanted bits of other programmes) and reclaim hard-drive space into the bargain.
But glitches aren't uncommon. Recordings that exceed a certain age-level (defined in the parental-control settings) will only be found in a special PIN-protected 'restricted' list.
However, there's no means of 'grouping' recordings; with 120 hours of potential storage at your disposal, such lack of organisation could prove problematic. In addition, there's no Sky+ style 'copy' facility for dubbing multiple programmes to a recorder in one go.
Some basic multimedia playback is offered here, via a sound-mounted USB port. MP3 files or digital photos can be played or copied to the unit's own hard-drive (copying such media in the other direction is also allowed).
Playback of video files is forbidden, though - MPEG-4 files (DivX, etc) aren't recognised. Neither are PC-derived MPEG-2 digital TV recordings, which is odd given that the hardware is obviously capable of decoding and playing them!
And note that you cannot copy recordings from the main drive to an external one, for archiving or PC transfers.
This box is fairly responsive, reliable at receiving and capable of excellent AV quality. With live material, be it an outside broadcast or studio shots, the picture was characterised by crisp detail, pleasant colour rendition and smooth movement.
All of the vitality of the Wimbledon tennis tournament (when rain didn't stop play!) was, as a result, conveyed superbly. Artifacts weren't a significant problem on a 28in CRT, but they became rather more visible on a 32in HD Ready LCD.
With the 70in image thrown by a projector they were more prominent still. Ultimately, artifacts are determined by the bitrates chosen by the broadcasters - and the right decisions aren't always made here.
The limitations of Freeview are, of course, outside the control of manufacturers like Sagem. Still, some kind of on-board digital noise reduction facility wouldn't have gone amiss.
Sonically, the DVR6400T fares well - a good test here are the BBC radio channels, which were audibly superior to the lower bit-rate DAB simulcasts.
Overall, Sagem's DVR6400T is a decent Freeview PVR, with ample storage, competent AV performance and easy setup. Just a shame about that styling!