We'll make no bones about this - we're well into the summer sports season yet we've been extremely disappointed at the lack of decent Freeview HD recorders available at the moment. Despite making announcements months ago, big names such as Sharp, Pace and Humax have all failed to deliver the goods, only citing vague 'production difficulties' in response to our enquiries.
Even so, Panasonic, Sagemcom and even Tesco have managed to produce some attractive recorders, covering a huge price range from £200 to more than £700. So here's our - somewhat truncated - guide to the best Freeview HD recorders available at the moment.
Price: £749 More info: Panasonic Size (WxHxD): 430x59x238mm Key features: Freeview HD recorder with twin tuners, 250GB hard disk, Blu-ray player/recorder, Dolby Digital and DTS audio, Internet connectivity, DLNA support Connections: RF In/Out, 1xHDMI, 2xSCART, 1x USB, SD card slot, composite video in/out, Ethernet, coaxial and optical digital audio
Most Freeview boxes are aimed at people who just want a simple and affordable entry into digital television, but Panasonic's DMR-BW780 goes right to the opposite extreme. With a price pushing the £750 mark, the BW780 is an all-in-one home entertainment system that will appeal even to the more sophisticated home cinema buff. It's got twin Freeview HD tuners and a 250GB hard disk for recording, along with a dual-layer Blu-ray recorder so that you can archive your recordings when the hard disk is full. It's also got both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs so that you can set up a surround sound speaker system for the full home cinema effect.
It doesn't stop there either. There are both Firewire and composite video inputs so that you can watch your camcorder movies on your TV, and an SD memory card slot and USB port for watching photo slideshows. There's also an Ethernet port allowing it to act as a DLNA media server, and to connect to internet video sites such as YouTube and Daily Motion. It's a terrific package, but we were horrified to see that the EPG carries annoying adverts - something we've never seen on a Freeview box before, and never want to see again.
It's got it all - Freeview HD recording, Blu-ray playback and recording, surround sound, home media server and internet connectivity. Minus points
Very expensive, unintuitive remote control, and adverts on the EPG(!).
Price: £300 More info: Sagemcom Size (WxHxD): 260x48x160mm Key features: Freeview HD recorder with twin tuners, 320GB hard disk, Dolby Digital Plus audio Connections: RF In/Out, 1xHDMI, 1xSCART, 1x Ethernet, 1x SP/DIF, analogue stereo output
Sagemcom RT190-320 T2 HD
Sagemcom always does a good job of making its products easy for less technically-minded people to use, and the new RT190-320 is no exception. It comes with no less than four separate 'quick start' guides that introduce the basic concepts behind HD television, and then show you how to set up the box and make your first recordings. And if you select an SD programme that is also being broadcast in HD on another channel it will automatically ask if you want to 'zap' over to the HD version instead.
The box itself is fairly straightforward, equipped with twin tuners for Freeview HD and a 320GB hard disk. There's an eight-day EPG, with some useful features, such as the ability to organize your recordings into folders. However, it does have a couple of rough edges. There's an Ethernet network connector on the back but - unlike the Technika SmartBox - it doesn't provide access to the BBC iPlayer, merely listing that as an option for a 'future upgrade'. We also found that the box responded quite sluggishly to the remote control, making it rather frustrating when you're trying to quickly skim through the EPG. So while the simplicity of the RT190-320 makes it a good option for newcomers to digital TV, others may prefer the more versatile SmartBox instead.
Easy to use for beginners, lets you organize recordings into separate folders. Minus points
A bit expensive for a basic recorder, no access to BBC iPlayer, sluggish response to remote control.