Sony hasn't gone all out for the visuals of the RDR-HDC300. It's a big (430x71.5x258mm) and heavy (4.1kg) box with a primary black finish. Pop down the front face and you'll be greeted with convenient AV inputs for USB, FireWire, S-Video and composite connections, as well as recording buttons that add a dash of red to the otherwise monochrome visuals.
The RDR-HDC300's remote control is quite busy, but it avoids the common trap of having too many similar buttons grouped closely together. Channel switching is a different size to playback features, making those functions easier. For a unit designed for recording television we do wish it had a slightly more distinct recording button.
The single most astonishing feature of the RDR-HDC300 — and indeed its sibling products, the RDR-HDC500 (AU$849) and RDR-HDC100 (AU$549) — is that they all only feature a single digital tuner. We'd regard dual tuners as something of a minimum requirement for any PVR-style solution at this price point, and being limited to single channel recording is terribly limiting.
The RDR-HDC300 uses a 320GB hard drive for recording, with the more upscale RDR-HDC500 offering 500GB of storage and the RDR-HDC100 coming with only 160GB. In the RDR-HDC300's case, that 320GB of storage will equate to a maximum recording time of 540 hours, although that's at lowest quality. The RDR-HDC300 supports up to 1080p playback, but you won't be recording anything from Australian free-to-air in 1080p any time soon, and the included optical drive is DVD only, not Blu-ray. The unit features a dual-layer capable DVD writer for storage of your recorded programs. That's the only way to remove programs from the unit's hard drive for later watching, as the USB port on the front is read-only, and designed for photo viewing and DivX playback.
Setting up the RDR-HDC300 is simple enough, with a short scan for digital and analog TV channels. There's a single confusing moment where you have to choose antenna modes for the device. Mode 1 powers down the loop-back antennas when the system is in standby, while Mode 2 keeps it powered up. That's important if you're looping back out to the TV so that you can watch TV when the RDR-HDC300 is powered down, but it's not explained well on-screen.
The RDR-HDC300 is easy enough to use as a DVD recorder and PVR for most basic functions, as long as you keep in mind that you're stuck with a single tuner. It's the single biggest flaw in this unit. As soon as you hit record, you'd better like what you're watching, as you can't switch to any other live channel, although you can watch previously recorded content.
At its AU$749 asking price, the RDR-HDC300 feels a little underpowered. Quite why Sony's opted for a single digital tuner is baffling, as there's plenty of competition at this price point that does offer dual-tuner support.