The DTH8005 is the second DVD recorder from French giant Thomson. Like its predecessor, it uses the DVD RW format, and although the two machines look very similar - both appear influenced by the design of Philippe Starck, who has worked with Thomson in the past - there are some obvious omissions that perhaps justify the £100 price reduction.
The new model lacks satellite control (the original 8000 had a wired infra-red transmitter that plugged into its rear panel); gone too is the quirky front-panel USB interface, which could let you enjoy MP3 files and JPEG images held on flash memory storage devices or cards (provided you had a compatible reader).
Fortunately, the DTH8005 retains the original recorder's disc library feature, which is capable of remembering the details of up to 400 recordings on multiple DVD RWs. This also works with DVD R, the recordable (ie nonrewriteable) format supported by the machine.
Predictably, the machine supports Thomson's exclusive NaviClick EPG (Electronic Programme Guide). This system grabs broadcast details from the listings carried on the Teletext services that accompany analogue broadcasts.
NaviClick can be used to quickly set the eight-event/one-year timer - note that VideoPlus isn't available as an alternative, although manual programming is. But while NaviClick works for now, there's no guarantee that it always will. The system relies on standard Teletext, which is restricted to analogue TV. Teletext is no longer carried on satellite, and never was on DTT, so NaviClick is useless if you can't receive a decent analogue terrestrial signal. It is also likely to become redundant in a few years, when the analogue transmitters are turned off for the last time. In contrast, the competing GuidePlus system found on Philips recorders makes some concessions to the digital future. GuidePlus is also more intuitive, and benefits from a more attractive user interface.
The DTH8005 has a good level of connectivity. Significantly, an RGB Scart AV2 input helps you to make the most of picture quality when recording from external set-top boxes. The other Scart (AV1), meanwhile, feeds RGB output to your TV. On top of all this are composite/S-video and stereo audio inputs and outputs (another set of inputs can be found under a front-panel flap, but camcorder dubbers should note that there's no i.Link input here). Both optical and coaxial digital outputs are on offer, making it easy to feed any digital AV amp with 5.1 soundtracks from commercial DVDs.
Needless to say, two-channel soundtracks - including the DTH8005's own recordings - are also routed digitally to your sound system. Unlike rival format Japanese machines of recent vintage, there's no component video output and so progressive scan capability is out of the question.
Installation is straightforward thanks to the on-screen menus. However, I didn't find myself taken with the petite remote. It doesn't provide you with any means of selecting recording mode directly; to switch between them, you have to delve into menus and submenus. Awkward, given that switching between recording modes tends to be a frequent occurrence..
The menus are not particularly responsive either, and often you can work faster than the DTH8005. Worse still, some menu screens are 'cyclic' (in other words, going past the last option of a list jumps you to the top) while some aren't. You also have to manually-invoke the 'E-E' (Electronicsto- Electronics) mode if you want to monitor an AV source or the analogue TV tuner.
There's an annoying delay of about two seconds as the signals pass in and out of the DTH8005's digital AV circuitry. This delay can make the accurate cueing of recordings difficult - something that's not helped by an inability to first place the machine in record/pause mode. When stopping a recording, you're asked for confirmation which can cause a delay and result in unwanted 'extras' unless you're prepared.
There are six recording modes, which can be applied to both DVD RWs and DVD Rs. These offer between 1hr and 8hrs of recording per 4.7GB blank disc; needless to say, each disc can benefit from a mixture of different recording modes. Of particular note is the 3hr mode, which works at the full DVD 720 x 576 resolution for maximum capture of detail. Apart from Thomson's original DTH8000, this is unique among DVD recorders. We welcome this feature - the best of what is otherwise a basic recorder.
The DTH8005's High (1hr) and Best (2hr) modes are of an exemplary standard with true to life colour rendition and remarkable capture of fine detail. For digital TV, you're advised to stick with the 3hr mode, which only introduces slightly more artefacting than DTV gives you in the first place. Yet those natural colours and the high resolution are still apparent.
Clearly, Thomson's MPEG codec is top quality. The other three modes sacrifice detail for recording time, and are roughly of VHS standard - except for the Low (8hr) mode, which is poor. Recorded sound (256Kbps Dolby Digital) is a strong point, with plenty of guts and a wide frequency response. As a DVD player, the DTH8005 is competent but no better than the average budget model.
The Thomson is judged lacking as an editing device. DVD RWs cannot be trimmed of superfluous material (such as the delayed stops mentioned earlier).
The DTH8005 lacks the advanced divide/erase editing features that, as far as DVD RW is concerned, seem to be restricted to Philips machines. The only editing options available are clearing of the automatically-generated (every 5mins) chapters, the addition of new chapters ( RW only), erasure of a complete recording, manual naming of titles and discs (with a clumsy virtual keyboard), finalisation (making a DVD R fully DVD-compatible) and changing the thumbnail 'index' image that appears on the disc menu. The latter is, for some reason, restricted to DVD RWs.
With DVD R recordings, you're stuck with what the DTH8005 picks for you. Note that you can't play all titles on a finalised DVD R in succession. At the end of the recording, your DVD player (Thomson or otherwise) will simply revert to the disc menu.
There's no doubt that the AV performance of this entry-level recorder is top notch. And the full-resolution 3hr mode is a boon, but Thomson needs to add a few more features to stand apart for the rest, and there's a good deal of work required when it comes to usability. In many ways, frustrations cloud its finery.