When we first laid eyes on the gorgeous silver faceplate of Sony's new 160GB DVR/DVD recorder combo, we could barely wait to hook it up to our home theater. Our pulse quickened when we beheld the easy setup and the oh-so-cool animated menus, but our dreams of video-recording nirvana led to a rude awakening when we faced its crippled electronic programming guide (EPG). Yes, the TV Guide EPG for the RDR-HX900 suffers from the same malady as the one found on the : it doesn't work with digital cable. If you want a hard drive in your DVD recorder that includes a working EPG, consider instead the much cheaper Humax DRT800 or the powerful . But if your recording needs lean away from TV and toward archiving, the RDR-HX900 may have more appeal, especially if you want to record on both plus and minus media.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The RDR-HX900 is about as large and deep as you'd expect for a DVR/DVD recorder combo, measuring 17 by 3.6 by 13.6 inches. We love the sleek front panel, which boasts a brushed-metal finished, controls for all of the recorder's major functions, and a circular five-way navigational control. A wide section of the front panel flips open to reveal even more recorder controls and a set of A/V inputs, complete with S-Video and FireWire hookups for a camcorder.
Our spirits fell when we got ahold of the remote, however. We're usually pretty impressed with Sony's clickers, but the RDR-HX900's suffers from poor key placement, especially for the playback controls. Even worse, the recording controls are hidden behind a sliding cover and separate from the main controls; to stop a recording, for example, you have to use the hidden Record Stop button instead of the main Stop button.
Sony makes up some ground with its slick, intuitive setup and menus. A setup wizard guided us through the initial settings and channel search, and we got a kick out of the translucent animated menus, which slide across the screen and open to reveal the choices. The system was much easier to use than that of theThe RDR-HX900's combo of a DVR and a DVD recorder promises all kinds of cool playback and recording functionality, especially given its much-hyped TV Guide On Screen programming guide. So does it deliver? Well, yes and no. , but will still overwhelm newbies with its myriad options.
With the RDR-HX900, you can watch a recorded title while you're "taping" another show, but it doesn't always record like a TiVo does. That means you can't pause or rewind live TV, even if you happen to be recording the channel you're watching. And while you can chase playback--that is, watch an in-progress show from the beginning--and watch a recorded title while another show is being recorded, you can't record two shows at once, a feature found in DVRs available from satellite and cable providers but not in any standalone models.