With the analogue switch-off approaching, it's surprising how few DVD recorders have digital TV tuners. While most of the bigger brands are slowly incorporating Freeview into their decks, the budget end is still saturated with machines containing legacy analogue tuners. Yamada, though, is bucking the trend with its DTR-1000HX - a bargain digital HDD/DVD recorder with a few surprises tacked on to boot.
Unsurprisingly, considering its price point, it' no looker. Fiddly buttons, custom-designed legends (implying a lack of licences) and a front panel that looks as if it's been lifted from an alarm clock from the 1980s are only part of its aesthetic troubles.
On the plus side, it is - unlike previous Yamadas - remarkably thin, so you could always hide it underneath some better- looking kit.
More commendable is its connectivity. A front flap hides a range of inputs containing composite video, analogue stereo, FireWire (for DV camcorders) and, usefully, a USB port to play content from compatible solid-state media. The rear is even more impressive, proffering a cornucopia of interesting socketry: further video inputs come in Scart (albeit non-RGB), composite and S-video flavours, while the same are offered for output purposes, alongside prog scan-enabled component jacks. Analogue stereo inputs are present, while audio feeds are catered for with outs for coaxial and optical digital, plus a set of 5.1 jacks that can also be used for stereo.
Two sets of antenna throughputs are supplied, as there are two tuners; one analogue and one digital. However, if you intend to loop your aerial through the system and into a separate STB or TV, remember that loop-through works when the machine is on, but not in standby mode. This is also true with audio. Looping video through the Scart sockets works well, but if you connect audio to a receiver in digital, 5.1 or stereo fashion you have to turn on the 1000HX if you want hassle-free sound from that set-up box through your audio system.
But for every sweetener Yamada gives you, it follows up with a punch in the AV kidneys. Take the hard drive. It has a whopping 160GB of space (with 80GB, 250GB and 320GB versions also available) that is capable of storing up to 204 hours of footage in its lowest bitrate (34 hours in near perfect mode). However, the user interface is an ugly, confused mess resembling early computer operating systems. Rather than the simple browser screens found on previous models, the company has opted for a list structure that is functional at best.
Another sugar-coated pill concerns the digital tuner. On the plus side, it keeps stable pictures even if the signal quality dips below 60 per cent. But it's undermined by a shocking EPG, no interactivity and, bafflingly, an automatic scan function that places channels in the order it finds them, unsorted.
The EPG quibbles are the most serious. It's only accessible through the setup menu, and only shows you the 'now and next' for each channel. Also, you can't set a recording from the guide - it may as well not exist. Recordings, for digital, analogue or an external source, can only be set in advance through a conventional-style timer screen - there's not even VideoPlus. It implies that the digital tuner has been chucked in without the software really being able to support it.
The 1000HX can work as an MP3 and WMA jukebox. Music files transferred onto the hard drive can be played through a list structure (which is even uglier than the recordings menu). But that's not all; video files can be stored and played too. MPEG4 files, such as DivX and Xvid, can be streamed from the drive (or played from disc). It essentially turns the Yamada into a wannabe media player.
Dubbing from HDD to DVD benefits from a 'fit-to-disk' feature which performs real- time bitrate conversion on footage that may otherwise be too large to store on a single-layer disc. And high-speed dubbing lets you move files rapidly and without loss to DVD R or DVD RW media. Editing too is surprisingly thorough: recordings can be split, renamed, joined together, and a 'segment' feature lets you mark sections to be ignored when viewing or dubbing. Unfortunately, none of these are particularly user-friendly, but if you're au fait with technology, you shouldn't struggle too much.
Picture quality bears many of the same dichotomies as the rest of the machine. Recordings are impressive, and any of the top three bitrate settings copy very well, with only the latter SP mode suffering from artefacting during detailed scenes.
However, the broadcast Freeview pictures display a slight shimmering around edges that, while unnoticeable on a screen under 32in, is more obvious on larger TVs. One reason is that, on inspecting the deck's interior, the tuner was found to be connected to the recorder via a composite connection. Converting digital pictures to analogue and back again is bonkers and always going to create problems. But as the poorly translated manual describes the HQ recording quality as 'best resolution, a boss-eyed recordable DVD disk can record 1-hour programs', that's no surprise.
Sound is fine, if unspectacular, and the inclusion of 5.1 outputs is fairly superfluous as it sounds much better through the digital audio outputs. It also holds its own with recorded audio and plays MP3s and WMAs with little or no further quality loss.
There's a geeky charm to the 1000HX, despite its problems. As a family DVD recorder, the lack of EPG functionality and poor user interface will dissuade anybody who wants an easy life. But functions such as the multimedia jukebox may pique the interest of the techies among us.