Hybrid recorders that feature both hard drive and DVD recording functions look set to dominate the digital recorder market for the foreseeable future and this is certainly one of the better models out there.
The RD-85DT features a timeless, stylish design with a decent specification that includes an integrated Freeview tuner -- fast becoming an essential in this market. Connectivity could be better, however -- there's no DV input for camcorder users or an HDMI digital output for upscaled DVD content, although that's still a rarity at £250.
Toshiba's RD-85DT is a clear frontrunner in the digital recorder style stakes. The design is clean and contemporary with a retro twist that will never look outdated. Compared to some over-elaborate designs we've seen recently, it's definitely a case of less equals more.
A well built black metal case contrasts with an aluminium-effect front panel that features stylish, backlit controls and an old-school LED display either side of a central disc drawer.
A set of standard AV inputs are concealed beneath the front panel controls, which offers easy access to devices like a camcorder. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated DV input, which would offer a higher-quality dubbing connection for digital camcorders.
The RD-85DT doesn't have an HDMI digital output, so it can't upscale the output from your DVDs to give you a better picture on your HD Ready flat screen. This is a surprise, as Toshiba has been equipping its flat screens with ever-increasing numbers of digital video inputs and it's a feature that's affordable elsewhere at around this price.
These omissions leave the rear-panel connection count looking a little sparse. There are two Scart terminals, but only the output is RGB-enabled for better picture quality. This means recordings from external devices such as a satellite receiver or VCR will suffer.
If you have a compatible display you'll find the best picture performance comes from the component video outputs, which support progressive-scan video for more cohesive, flicker-free images. And surround-sound setups can be connected using the digital coaxial output that can carry both Dolby Digital and DTS multi-channel audio to an external receiver. But otherwise, that's about it.
The remote features the same two-tone styling as the main unit. It's wider than most and intelligently arranged, which opens up space to ease functionality, while colourful controls mean you don't have to spend ages searching for the right key.
Versatility and convenience are the foundations that this recorder's features are based on. As a hybrid recorder you get the flexibility of using either the 160GB hard drive or software disc formats to make copies while the integrated Freeview tuner offers a greater choice of digital channels and eases functionality.
Using the hard drive you can record up to 284 hours of footage directly from the digital tuner. It makes sense to use the hard drive to store all recordings, which can then be edited and dubbed to disc if you want to either transport or archive copies.
Recording disc compatibility covers DVD-RAM, DVD-R and DVD-RW formats but not DVD+R or +RW discs. DVD-RAM is the preferred choice, as it offers greater durability and advanced editing functions, with time-slip features such as chasing play and simultaneous recording and playback.
There are three preset recording-quality modes, which trade length for image quality, and there's also a manual mode that allows you to select the highest possible quality according to the space available.
Using the eight-day programme guide that accompanies the digital tuner is the simplest way to set recordings, as all you need do is highlight the programme from the guide and the rest is done for you. The colourful guide is well presented and lets you view schedules for 12 channels at a time with the usual programme information. There are also one-touch, manual or VideoPlus+ options and you can set up to 32 different recordings at once.
The attractive icon-based menu system makes it incredibly easy to format, search, edit and playback recordings using a full range of functions. You can store hard drive recordings in titled folders and view them as thumbnails to make archiving easier. There are multiple editing functions that can be accessed when recording using VR mode -- including chapter divides, creating playlists or even combining copies. Comprehensive short cut keys on the versatile remote save you from unnecessarily entering the menus. Put simply, whether you are new to digital recording or not, operation is fool-proof.
Recording quality can only be as good as the original broadcast images produced by the recorder's integrated TV tuner and the RD-85DT is equipped with a perfectly fine Freeview tuner. Digital programmes appear solidly defined and detailed with distinct black levels creating impressive contrast. There is some background instability and colour and shadow gradations occasionally appear pixellated, but these are only slight flaws that are easily ignored.
Recording quality is excellent using all three quality modes. Both the highest quality XP and standard SP modes produce faithful copies that are virtually indistinguishable from the original. Using the lowest quality mode does see a loss of detail, but the difference is smaller than we expected. Sound quality is equally unaffected.
Although DVD images are sent to your television via an analogue connection, the picture is excellent. The same deep black levels produce strongly defined edges with a realistic sense of perspective that isn't lost in dark scenes. Colours are not fantastically vivid, but they do appear natural, especially skin tones. Using component outputs with progressive-scan video intensifies detail and cleans up background shimmer for a performance that equals most dedicated mid-range players.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide