When the word "Kiss" is used, you could think of many things. A peck on the cheek, perhaps, or an obscure Japanese paper doll game. Most people would probably associate it with the premier exponents of glam rock, with or without makeup. It's an emotive brand name, whatever your association.
That same kind of emotion hasn't seeped through to the KiSS DP-558 hard drive recorder, however, which can by no means be called a pretty machine. Its mix of black and grey panelling certainly does make it stand out, but the overall effect of this particular piece of industrial design is to produce a machine that merely looks functional, rather than particularly aesthetically pleasing. In our test rack of AV equipment, including several DVD players and recorders, the DP-558 stood out simply because it was the really plain looking machine.
The front panel of the DP-558 houses a standard DVD-ROM drive, standard functional buttons and the power button, while the rear houses connections for antenna, component, composite, S-Video and SCART input and output, as well as an integrated Ethernet port. Sadly the average visual design also seems to have flowed over into the construction of the DP-558; when we seated the power cord in the back of the player it wiggled inwards quite noticeably -- and quite worryingly. The DP-558's remote is laid out quite intelligently, and is arguably the best looking part of the unit, decked out in stark black and white tones.
If it were just a simple DVD player, we'd dismiss the DP-558 out of hand, but it's in the features area that the unit really shines. To kick off, it's got an 80GB hard drive enclosed, capable of anywhere between 13.5 hours and 80 hours of recording time, depending on the quality you're after. The integrated hard drive also gives it the ability to record on the fly, "pausing" live TV for you in the same manner as many other hard drive recorders, including Foxtel's iQ. It'll also act as a media center of sorts via the bundled PC-Link software, which lets you stream video and audio to the player through the integrated Ethernet port. Support for file types is extremely extensive; the unit we tested was capable of playing back MPEG-4, DivX, Xvid, JPEG, MP3 and Ogg files either in a pre-burnt disc or streaming. The PC connection isn't a one-way trip, however, as the player accepts FTP connections (behind password protection) to upload recorded files to any PC.
The DP-558 also offers online features, including interactive weather all over the planet, streaming radio, games and arguably most importantly a free electronic program guide, which can be customised to most world countries and was exhaustingly comprehensive for the Australian market. The DP-558 integrates the EPG within its recording functionality, so it's possible to select programs to record straight from the guide, in a similar fashion to that of Foxtel's iQ -- but without the required subscription fee. There is a catch here, however, which we'll get to shortly.
As a standalone DVD player, the DP-558 offers adequate playback, although we were somewhat surprised, given the otherwise extensive feature set, that it didn't include any burning capabilities, and that the unit we tested with was region locked. Given that you can purchase region-free players on the local market for as little at AU$50, it's a curious omission.
Recording with the DP-558 is likewise easy to do, although we were somewhat irked by its slow response times, as it'll take a few seconds to pop up a recording image on the display, leaving you wondering if you have in fact pressed the button at all. The DP-558 offers a variety of recording quality modes, supplied both as a bit rate and in terms of the number of hours left in the player's storage at that particular rate.
The supplied PC-Link software counts amongst the simplest we've seen for setup, and even allows for menu personalisation, as you're able to manually or automatically sort the order that files appear to the browsing system. It'll also support streaming to multiple KiSS units, if your network and server PC are up to the task.
The DP-558's online EPG is excellent and easy enough to browse, although the fact that it's entirely online and seemingly not cached on the unit itself means that it's somewhat slower than most other EPGs, as every selection involves fetching a fresh page. The bigger issue with the EPG, however, is that it integrates seamlessly with any stations picked up on the antenna, so free-to-air is fine, but like the Topfield TF5000PVRt, there's no way to innately set up individual subscription or digital TV stations, as the input coming in to the unit won't split the signal into discrete channels. The very keen could always program their subscription STB and the DP-558 individually, but that removes a lot of the charm of simply being able to click one button to seamlessly record programs of your choosing.
We tested streaming video and audio to the DP-558 via a wireless Ethernet bridge -- it's fair to expect that most consumers won't have their serving PC right near the unit, after all. The DP-558 streamed and played back video extremely well, with none of the stuttering issues we saw in the streaming of the Zensonic Z400. We did hit a few instances, however, where the player would erratically refuse to play back a file it had previously been happy with, and this always resulted in us having to completely reboot the player and try again.
That wasn't the end of our rebooting woes, however, as we experienced a number of audio and video dropouts from the unit while testing it; only a reboot would restore picture and sound in these cases, and testing with multiple cables and inputs left us in no doubt that it was the player that was the root of these issues. They were only intermittent problems, but with a player at this price, that's still hard to bear. Hopefully a future firmware update may bring stability to the system.