With most Sony products we've seen, great design is pretty much a given, and the SVR-HD700 is no exception. Its silver chassis and black accents will blend into a modern living room with ease, while its dimensions of 430mm by 80mm by 300mm should enable it to fit into most home theatre cabinets without forcing any DIY modifications.
We're pleased with the design of the front panel display, which lists useful information such as the type of audio signal you're receiving (eg: Dolby Digital), the playing time/remaining time, a clock, the current channel, playing/recording status and remaining disk space.
Flipping down the front panel display reveals a basic array of buttons, allowing users to schedule recordings, navigate playback and adjust menu settings when they've misplaced their remote control.
A handy design touch is the blue LED located in the centre just above the display, which is illuminated when the device is outputting a high-definition signal.
The design of the remote is impressive, despite it being somewhat long. There are three large black buttons that represent important shortcuts to the System Menu, Title List (a list of your recordings) and the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). One-touch recording is also possible, and Sony makes effective use of colour coding to highlight the remote's most important functions.
The star feature of the SVR-HD700 is its twin HD TV tuners, which enable users to either record two channels at a time or watch one channel whilst recording another. This is pretty much an essential feature of a modern Personal Video Recorder (PVR).
The tuners support a full 1080i HD resolution, although with Australian law mandating that even 576p is considered as high-definition, there is currently a dearth of 1080i free-to-air television broadcasts. Currently, Nine and Ten adopt 1080i for their HD programs (but only a limited number of shows are shown in HD), while ABC, SBS and Seven use 576p. That said, while the Australian HD broadcasting climate is poor compared to that of the US and many European countries, owning a HD PVR will ensure that you're ready to take full advantage when the situation changes.
PVRs tend to be either hard drive based or DVD based. This particular unit offers up a 160GB hard drive to store recordings, but its bigger -- and more expensive -- brother, the AU$1499 SVR-HD900, brings with it a more capacious 250GB drive.
The 160GB version will net you 23 hours of HD recording and 44 hours of SD recording, which is quite substantial. Unfortunately, you'll need to watch your recordings fairly quickly or risk the drive filling up, since there's no USB of Firewire ports for pulling recordings off the device and on to an external storage solution.
The lack of a USB port also means that you can't load up pictures and video from your PC for viewing on a TV.
HDMI connectivity provides a high quality, uncompressed digital connection between the PVR and your TV. It's by far the most preferable connection method, not just due to its image quality benefits but since it also carries uncompressed audio signals, limiting the amount of cabling required. A HDMI cable isn't included in the package, so HDMI users will have to purchase this separately. Sony sells three metre and five metre versions for AU$149 and AU$199 respectively.
Other available video connections include Component, Composite and S-Video, while there's also digital audio (both optical and coaxial) and stereo audio ports.
There's a built-in EPG, but this is limited to the information sent through by the broadcasters, which is the current and next program details only. Unfortunately, it's not compatible with third-party seven-day EPG services such as Iceguide, unlike PVRs such as Topfield's TF5000PVRt Masterpiece.
Some of the device's other handy features include time shifting (the ability to pause live TV), favourite channel groups and picture-in-picture functionality, where you can view two programs on screen at the same time from either the hard drive or the TV tuner.
Installing the PVR is incredibly simple -- connect the power cable; hook the unit up to your TV using your preferred connection method/s; and connect up an antenna. The only point where it gets slightly tricky is when you're configuring the dual tuners, as you'll need to connect an RF throughput cable to ensure that the antenna connection is split between the two tuners. Thankfully, all of the required cabling is provided, and the manual explains this process in sufficient detail with images.
Once you've got everything plugged in, software configuration is painless using the "Easy Setup" feature, which is a wizard that automatically tunes in available channels and configures your time zone settings.
Recording shows can be done using one of three methods: straight from the EPG, setting the timer or one-touch recording using the record button on the remote. Recordings are titled based on the name provided by the EPG, but they can easily be renamed for personal archiving. Recordings can also be "protected" to prevent them from being accidentally deleted.
We found the recording process to be highly intuitive, and browsing through archived shows is also painless. However, we did have one qualm with the menu interface, and that's the one second delay when scrolling between programs on the EPG, and other menu items, which can be frustrating.
The quality of recorded shows is almost identical to that of the source version; we did notice some minor pixilation when sitting up close, but this isn't anything to be alarmed about. We didn't have many qualms with the picture quality provided by the dual tuners either, but we're reluctant to give any further judgment as this very much depends on the TV used and the reception in your building.
Overall, Sony's SVR-HD700 has a lot going for it and, despite the inability to pull recordings onto an external drive and the limited EPG, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to high-end PVR buyers.