Freeview recorders are pretty common these days. The price has fallen in some cases, and they offer a really terrific way of getting Sky+ functionality for a fraction of the price.
TVonics, a small British company based in Wales, has offered all sorts of Freeview equipment for some time now. It generally offers high-quality, energy-efficient hardware that works incredibly well. The TVonics DTR-Z500 is a £200 recorder that features a 500GB hard drive and many other Freeview+ features, making it an attractive machine. Here, we discover its good points, and also find out what's less impressive about it.
The DTR-Z500 is certainly unique in terms of design. It's partly constructed from a single, solid oval of metal. Into this the electronics are inserted on a sort of tray, which also holds the rear and front panels. This two-part construction makes for a very sturdy device.
The front panel is fairly basic, with just a couple of lights to indicate power and whether the digital television recorder is recording or not.
At the rear of the machine, there are two aerial sockets. One is an input, while the other is a loopthrough to feed another device. The TVonics can't, sadly, send a digital signal via the aerial socket -- something that would suit older TVs rather well.
You also get a pair of Scart sockets and an optical digital audio output. Sadly, the optical output uses a proprietary connector. TVonics tells us that these are cheap and easy to buy, but we just don't see the point. Why not simply fit the industry-standard digital connections? There's also a small fan, which is visible from the rear panel. Happily, this cooling device doesn't engage unless it's absolutely essential. This means you shouldn't generally be plagued by loud fan noise, unless you happen to live in an oven.
Freeview+ boxes are all quite similarly specified, mainly because the logo certification demands certain features.
The TVonics has a good selection of features, though. It will obey accurate start times, which are flags sent by broadcasters to notify capable receivers of a change to the schedule. This is great if the sport pushes back your favourite soap opera. The only downside is that not all broadcasters support accurate recordings, which means that, if you rely on this feature, you might be disappointed.
The TVonics doesn't support audio description either, which might be a barrier for people with vision problems. If you don't know what audio description is, it's quite likely this won't matter to you.