Look away now if you're on a tight budget. Pioneer's DVR-LX70D is a deck designed with luxury in mind, which is why it's significantly dearer than most other big-name recorders. But Pioneer has packed it to bursting point with all the latest features, and spared no expense when it comes to build quality.
As a result, it's one of the most solidly constructed hard disk/DVD combis we've ever seen and it's gorgeous to boot, with an alluring black gloss finish, silver buttons and a smooth drop-down flap that hides the AV inputs and some buttons.
The real action is inside the deck. It's equipped with a massive 500GB hard disk, which is the largest on the market, and lets you store up to 1,422 hours of TV programmes while facilitating features such as pause live TV and chase playback.
The built-in DVB-T tuner puts the full range of Freeview channels at your disposal, as well as a seven-day EPG and the fantastic Series Recording feature that enables you to record a whole series by setting the timer just once. It also alerts you if a scheduled timer recording clashes with another and suggests an alternative recording time. The lack of a second tuner stops the deck achieving Freeview Playback status, but it's great to see manufacturers building this user-friendly feature into their products.
As you'd expect of a recorder at this price, the connections roster is comprehensive. Taking centre stage is the HDMI output (version 1.3, no less, with Deep Color and CEC support) which can pipe upscaled video to a suitably equipped display in 720p, 1080i or 1080p.
It's accompanied by all the usual suspects, but sadly there's no Ethernet connection. The front panel offers a good selection of sockets, including two USB ports (type A and type B), a DV input for hooking up a camcorder, a set of AV inputs and a common interface slot for adding pay TV channels.
You can plug a PC running Windows Media Player into one of those USB ports and transfer MP3, WMA and JPEG files to the deck's hard disk, then play them using the magnificent Jukebox feature. The USB ports also enable you to play MP3 and WMA files from flash memory devices or MP3 players, or print pictures from the hard disk on a PictBridge-compatible printer.
Also impressive is the integral Gracenote database, but we're not done on the feature front, either. The unit plays DiVX files from CD-R/-RW and there's a vast array of recording and editing features on board, including a manual recording mode that enables you to alterthe quality of recordings in 32 incremental steps, plus six presets (XP, SP, LP, EP, SLP and SEP).
In manual mode you're additionally offered a high-bitrate XP+ setting, designed for transferring DV camcorder footage, and a version of XP mode that records audio as LPCM instead of the usual two-channel Dolby Digital.
As for editing, you can erase unwanted sections from hard disk recordings, split them in two, change the thumbnail in the Disc Navigator menu and edit chapter points manually. The unit can also set automatically insert chapter markers at natural breaks in the programme, which is generally reliable, but not failsafe.
There's no playlist mode however, which means you can't edit scenes into a new sequence. Recordings can be copied to DVD at high speed, even while you're recording something else, plus, you can back up home-made DVDs on the hard disk and duplicate copies.
Ease of use
Other companies could take lessons from Pioneer on how an operating system should look and behave. Despite the wealth of potentially perplexing features onboard, the DVR-LX70D is one of the slickest and most responsive recorders we've encountered, with attractive, easy-to-follow menu design and an ergonomic zapper that has all its buttons in the right places.
There are a couple of niggles - you can't enter the EPG while recording, for example, and Guide Plus (the EPG used for the analogue tuner and recordings from external set-top boxes) is still cumbersome.
As a straight Freeview receiver, the DVR-LX70D delivers superb picture quality. Strong colours are forcefully reproduced without looking overdone, edge definition is crisp and the robust tuner ensures smooth stable pictures at all times. This great picture quality is preserved when recorded onto the hard disk or DVD, especially when using the highest quality XP+ or XP modes. They capture every detail of the source broadcast, as well as delivering pure, vibrant colour tones and keeping MPEG noise at bay.
Pictures remain impressive until you dip down to LP mode, where you'll notice a distinct loss of sharpness. It's no worse than you'd expect though, and compares well with similar LP modes from the likes of Sony and Panasonic.
In SLP and SEP mode, the jagged edges and block noise makes pictures borderline unwatchable.
And, as a blast of Superman Returns demonstrates, DVD playback is sublime. Pictures are rich in detail, contrast and colour, making the movie look great on a largescreen TV, especially when you upscale to 1080p.
The quality of the Dolby Digital-encoded sound from TV recordings is impressive, making dialogue sound clear even at low volumes.
The unit also makes MP3 and WMA files sound terrific whether they're on the hard disk or removable media. But CD playback is even more engaging, as Pioneer has put its esteemed audio heritage to surprisingly good use.
That £900 is a huge outlay for a digital recorder, but with a 500GB hard disk, true multiformat recording, superb 1080p upscaling and unmatched ease of use, the price somehow seems justified.