We're all for reducing the number of boxes under our TVs, so products such as the Philips DVDR5520 are perfect because they offer DVD, Freeview PVR and even some limited support for video you download from the Internet.
So will this £240 box offer what we need in an all-in-one machine, or is it going to be a case of promising the world but failing to deliver?
The DVDR5520 is smaller than previous Philips models that did a similar number of things. It's actually pretty sleek and attractive with a simple front panel that features a display, some navigational controls and a disc tray. Beneath a hinged panel is a USB socket for watching content on a memory stick, an S-Video input and a composite input for hooking up a camcorder.
The remote control is a basic, cheap-looking thing. It's actually not bad to use though, and features a hybrid click-wheel and four-way directional controller. There aren't a massive number of buttons cluttering its surface, but what is has will be useful.
At the rear, you'll find an HDMI socket -- for connecting the machine to a HD TV -- and a pair of Scart sockets. You also get component video out, S-Video out and composite video out -- so a pretty decent range of inputs and outputs.
You'll also notice a rather curious loop-through cable. This is something that's common on many devices like this, but we don't see why it couldn't be concealed within the unit. Ultimately though, it's not going to ruin your life -- it just looks clumsy.
The DVDR5520's main selling point is its built-in Freeview PVR, which has a 160GB hard drive, which should enable you to store a decent amount of TV. Happily, once you fill the hard drive, you can back-up the video to a DVD and keep it forever.
There is also the ability to watch video stored on either a USB memory stick or a DVD-R/CD-R -- something that will appeal if you have DivX content downloaded from the Internet. We're always thrilled to see this functionality and it is becoming more commonplace these days.
The Philips helps you manage your viewing with a system called Guide Plus+. That's a stupid name, we're sure you'll agree, with too many pluses for its own good. It's actually a reasonably good system, but we did encounter some irritations once the box had been unplugged at the wall, which meant for some reason it couldn't find the EPG data. This would mean that scheduled recordings failed.
On the plus side, the Guide Plus+ system is well laid out, with familiar channel logos to help you track down what you want to watch, as well as an incredibly useful search function, allowing you to find programmes of a specific genre to view. This is handy if you want to look for random movies to record when there's no new episode of The Apprentice on.
For the most part, the Guide Plus+ experience was good, It's a slight pain to setup, especially if you're planning on recording TV via the Scart inputs from cable or satellite. But it does make finding the programme you want to record reasonably easy.
Let's get one thing straight at the outset. Despite the ludicrous claims the box makes about turning Freeview into 1080p HD, the DVDR5520H really doesn't achieve such miracles. Sure, it outputs a 1080p signal, but it's not suddenly increasing the amount of data that goes into a Freeview picture. Indeed, we think you'd be hard-pressed to spot any difference between this machine and one that doesn't upscale. This is because HD TVs all have built-in scalers, and they're generally very good.
Stupid marketing-speak out of the way, you'll find that the picture quality from the Philips is pretty good. While it didn't suddenly look like HD, when connected via HDMI we had no major complaints about the picture at all. The menu system was rather rough around the edges, but it works in a fairly logical way.
To test the DVDR5520's performance, we set a number of timers to record some daytime televisual delights. We found the whole process very simple indeed. The Philips machine warned us if we set a timer that clashed with another recording, but it didn't refuse to record it -- it left it up to us to choose which one of the two clashing programmes to record and which to cancel.
The picture and sound quality were both decent enough. It's worth pointing out that the DVDR5520 ships in a state designed to optimise the recording time, not the picture quality. We'd suggest it's worth changing the record quality at once via the picture menu. Other than that, watching live and recorded Freeview looked good when sent to our TV over HDMI. We didn't think it offered much enhancement over the TV's built-in tuner, but then this product is primarily designed to compliment your TV's tuner, not replace it.
DVD playback was also very pleasing. We popped in one of our re-mastered Bond DVDs and were impressed by the quality, with plenty of detail and good, natural colours and motion. We're sure this will appeal if you're looking to get an upscaling DVD player to make the most out of your existing movies, instead of spending a boat-load of cash on a Blu-ray player.
A slight disappointment with the DVDR5520 was its slow menu performance. Going into the list of programmes you've recorded takes a few seconds while the machine gets its act together. This is bearable for the most part, but if you press a button by mistake while you're watching a show, you'll regret it, because it will take a while to get back to what you were watching.
Overall, we rather like the Philips DVDR5520H. It's a competent machine, which has an awful lot of very useful features and it seems to be priced sensibly. It's not always the most usable device though, and we'd suggest that you'll get better picture quality with one of Panasonic's PVRs.
Edited by Jon Squire