Sony RDR-HX900 review: Sony RDR-HX900

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The Good Excellent recording quality; high-speed DVR-to-DVD dubbing; sleek design; cool animated menus; top-notch connectivity options.

The Bad Ballyhooed TV Guide programming guide doesn't work with digital cable or satellite; half-baked DVR functionality; no repeat modes; pricey.

The Bottom Line Sony's slick, promising 160GB DVR and DVD recorder combo is hobbled by a well-nigh useless programming guide.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Sony RDR-HX900

When we first laid eyes on the gorgeous silver faceplate of Sony's new 160GB DVR/DVD recorder combo, we could barely wait to hook it up to our home theater. Our pulse quickened when we beheld the easy setup and the oh-so-cool animated menus, but our dreams of video-recording nirvana led to a rude awakening when we faced its crippled electronic programming guide (EPG). Yes, the TV Guide EPG for the RDR-HX900 suffers from the same malady as the one found on the Panasonic DMR-E95HS: it doesn't work with digital cable. If you want a hard drive in your DVD recorder that includes a working EPG, consider instead the much cheaper Humax DRT800 or the powerful Toshiba RS-TX20. But if your recording needs lean away from TV and toward archiving, the RDR-HX900 may have more appeal, especially if you want to record on both plus and minus media.

Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.

The RDR-HX900 is about as large and deep as you'd expect for a DVR/DVD recorder combo, measuring 17 by 3.6 by 13.6 inches. We love the sleek front panel, which boasts a brushed-metal finished, controls for all of the recorder's major functions, and a circular five-way navigational control. A wide section of the front panel flips open to reveal even more recorder controls and a set of A/V inputs, complete with S-Video and FireWire hookups for a camcorder.

Our spirits fell when we got ahold of the remote, however. We're usually pretty impressed with Sony's clickers, but the RDR-HX900's suffers from poor key placement, especially for the playback controls. Even worse, the recording controls are hidden behind a sliding cover and separate from the main controls; to stop a recording, for example, you have to use the hidden Record Stop button instead of the main Stop button.

Sony makes up some ground with its slick, intuitive setup and menus. A setup wizard guided us through the initial settings and channel search, and we got a kick out of the translucent animated menus, which slide across the screen and open to reveal the choices. The system was much easier to use than that of the Panasonic DMR-E95HS, but will still overwhelm newbies with its myriad options.

The RDR-HX900's combo of a DVR and a DVD recorder promises all kinds of cool playback and recording functionality, especially given its much-hyped TV Guide On Screen programming guide. So does it deliver? Well, yes and no.

With the RDR-HX900, you can watch a recorded title while you're "taping" another show, but it doesn't always record like a TiVo does. That means you can't pause or rewind live TV, even if you happen to be recording the channel you're watching. And while you can chase playback--that is, watch an in-progress show from the beginning--and watch a recorded title while another show is being recorded, you can't record two shows at once, a feature found in DVRs available from satellite and cable providers but not in any standalone models.

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