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The price of digital recorders has been rapidly falling, but with a dual-tuner 80GB PVR that costs less than £100, they may have nearly hit rock-bottom. If nothing else, Goodman's GHD8015F is great value for money.
You'll have to cope with a few compromises -- the design is archaic and functionality is basic. But it does the important things well, such as playing and recording, and twin tuners means you can do both at the same time. It's an ideal replacement if you're fed up with your old VCR.
At this price you can expect a few compromises and it's unsurprisingly build quality and design that are overlooked in the search for cost cutting. The lacklustre design isn't exactly an eyesore, but it does appear outdated in the company of products released this century.
On the other hand, the conservative grey styling and old-school LED display gives the unit some retro appeal that goes some way to disguising its average build quality. The front panel features several insecure controls that feel economical and unresponsive. Similarly, the oddly shaped remote is lightweight and creaky, with spongy keys that need a firm press to coax them into action.
A flip-down panel at the front conceals a compartment that yearns for a CI card slot, but has been left empty. This means that you won't be able to subscribe to additional digital channels from TopUp TV and it could restrict your options for future digital services.
The rear panel is overcrowded by connections, including two redundant aerial loops that have been welded closed and an equally unemployed RS-232 terminal that's for factory use only. There are two RGB Scart terminals, so you can connect the unit to another recording device without compromising picture quality. Alternatively, there's also a low-quality composite video output that should be labelled 'last resort'.
You can boost the sound by connecting the unit to a stereo system using standard phono outputs, or use the optical digital output connected to a home cinema amplifier, which should be able to process surround-sound effects if you're watching films.
Most PVRs at this price feature only a single TV tuner, which makes the GHD8015F's dual digital tuner specification all the more impressive. Having two integrated tuners means you can watch one Freeview channel while you're recording another -- ideal if you're torn between two programmes that share the same time slot. You can also play a recorded programme while another is still being recorded, but you can't record two programmes at the same time.
Recordings are stored on a comparatively small 80GB hard drive. This isn't enough space to archive a collection of recordings, but it's fine for throwaway copies. There's only a single default quality mode that basically gives you up to 35 hours of footage before you have to start deleting.
You can set timer recordings manually and adjust starting times and finishes to ensure you don't miss early starts or delayed endings. The easiest way to set recordings is using the accompanying seven-day electronic programme guide. All you need do is highlight the programme from the listings and everything is done for you. There's a one-touch recording function, but it's guilty of a slight delay before kicking in.
The guide is well presented and doesn't try to cram too many listings on to the same page. There are several shortcut keys on the remote and you can search for programmes by genre. One useful guide feature is a red timeline that divides programme blocks to give you a better idea of your place in time. Although you can hear sound while searching the guide, however, there are no thumbnailed images, so you can't see what you're missing, and recordings are searchable by date and title only.
You can get round this by using the Picture-in-Picture system, which displays other channels (without sound) in a small window on the main picture. You can use it to keep an eye on the scores or flick through channels while you're watching the end of a programme.
Automatic installation rapidly tunes and stores channels the first time you use the unit and all channels were successfully found at the first attempt. You can edit the channel listings, deleting the ones you don't watch and organising your own Favourites lists.
The integrated hard drive means you can use time-shift functions such as pausing live TV, a victory over the inconsiderate people who always phone when you're watching something. There's no buffer memory, however, so you can't rewind a programme that you've been watching for a while.
The quality of broadcast images from the GHD8015F compares well with typical standalone set-top boxes. Pictures are fairly poised and fluid, with reasonable definition and depth. Background noise is controlled and colours are skilfully balanced. There is some straight-edge shimmer and subtle gradations can appear blocky, but not to the point of distraction.
The delay between changing channels is a second too long and we did experience occasional picture freezing, although that could be related to reception rather than the unit itself.
Recordings are indistinguishably accurate to the original with no obvious loss of detail or faded colours. The picture stays clean and movement is unruffled, so although you don't have all the space in the world, your recordings will be of the highest quality.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide