The Inverto IDL7000-PVR is our Freeview digital terrestrial television receiver. With analogue switch-off approaching, and poor or variable reception on many channels (particularly Channel 5), it seemed a good time to take the digital plunge. However, we do not watch a lot of "live" television, and whilst it is possible to connect a video cassette recorder to a thirty-quid Freeview set-top box, it is more complicated than and nowhere near as flexible as with analogue. So we did extensive homework and decided to get this personal video recorder, essentially the Freeview equivalent of a Sky+ receiver - combining twin tuners with a hard disk to record programmes for later playback.
It's black and sleek, about the same size as a typical small video cassette recorder - so not the smallest unit of its kind around, but note it is significantly smaller than the hefty dimensions erroneously quoted by most retailers. Its twin tuners mean you can record one programme while watching another live, or record two programmes at once - not all twin-tuner models allow this, beware! You can even be recording two programmes while watching another previously recorded one. The standard 80GB hard disk is reportedly good for at least 40 hours recording capacity, though this may vary in future if broadcast specifications change when analogue gets switched off releasing more bandwidth to play with. There is a long-play mode that can be applied retrospectively to recordings to store even more, but there are question-marks over quality, and some have reported more serious reliability issues resulting from its use. The hard disk can be upgraded to about 120GB (a limit set to increase with firmware of version 1.09 and higher), although the recommended type of disk ("consumer electronic", specially tuned for devices like this) can be hard to source. Setting programmes to record to the hard disk is a doddle: just select an item from the 14-day guide (downloaded nightly), and it does the rest - no faffing with timers, VideoPlus codes etc, although with no Programme Delivery Control equivalent on Freeview at the time of writing, the only protection against early/late-running broadcasts is the option of up to five minutes' "padding" of the recording start and end times. Note that as with most units of this type, it cannot record external sources, since it simply stores the incoming Freeview digital stream "as is" for later replay. However it will pass through anything connected to its second SCART socket, which isn't mentioned in the user guide, so it can be used alongside a DVD player or game console for example without needing a SCART switch box or extra inputs on the television.
Overall it's great, and there's no way we would go back to analogue. Most of the time it simply works, which is something that we gather cannot be said for all its competitors. There are a few minor problems, but Inverto are proving to be one of the better companies at releasing updated firmware (at the time of writing we are trying a beta of version 1.09, which we uploaded manually since there are currently problems with 4TV's over-the-air update service) and also actively participate in web forums. If we had any niggles it would be that ours is not as silent as some (the fan in particular is a little noisy) and its radio-frequency shielding seems less than brilliant thanks to the plastic case, but all in all we're delighted.
We wanted a new micro-system stereo, wanted to go digital for radio reception, and a lot of people rave about Pure. We don't like the styling of most of their models (swinging too violently between faux-retro and outlandish) but their new DMX-50 caught our eye as a happy combination of style, tradition and minimalism. DAB and FM tuners, plus an mp3-compatible CD player and a 40W per channel amplifier, into speakers that, although marginally smaller than the ones on the Sony it usurped, pack a much better punch even at the low volumes we normally use. Perhaps the most distinctive feature is its huge blue-backlit passive LCD display, showing details on everything going on and providing captions for the six "soft buttons" running alongside it, cash-machine style. However, sometimes there is so much information to be displayed that the text still ends up rather tiny, and the viewing angle and clarity is limited compared with an active display. Another minor niggle is that there is no quick source selection from the otherwise good remote control, needing to cycle through half a dozen options. DAB reception is sophisticated (with pause/rewind functions, and even recording in mp2 format to a Secure Digital memory card for later playback or transfer to computer) and surprisingly good for our location (certainly far better than FM despite what doom-sayers claim) even with the supplied ribbon type aerial, and sound quality all round is impeccable. A firmware update issued in February 2007 also finally added support for the rudimentary electronic programme guide (EPG) present in the DMX-60, this model's successor. Unfortunately, however, our unit developed a fault within the first few days that caused it to lock up and then die altogether. The replacement has been fine thus far, so we would have no hesitation in recommending this product.
This was our "workhorse" stereo for a good long time, and served us well, though it has now been retired to being a spare and hooked up to the computer. In an age when stereos were getting uglier and uglier (as many still continue to) this one was nice and elegant. In an ideal world, we would all have separates, but sometimes space is at a premium, and the quality trade-off really won't be noticed, so having a choice of formats is good. Ultimately, this unit has an AM/FM RDS radio, plays CDs and tapes (both front-loading, unusually!) and has a couple of inputs for other sources, assumed to be "video" and "minidisc" but compatible with any line level outputs. And that's about it! It sounds OK, though lacks bass and treble controls, features that were added to later revisions of the design, since it can sound a little boxy especially at low volumes, and the "loudness" compensation is a bit extreme and has no control other than on/off. Small speakers don't have to sound bad - and these certainly aren't terrible - but Sony really could have done a little better from day one. The CD player is starting to get a bit mechanically noisy, hence its retirement from day-to-day use, but we see no reason why it shouldn't do a few more years' occasional service.
What can we say about a DVD player? You put DVDs in, and they hopefully play. This one does not have a documented multi-region (or region-free) function (though there are some hacks on the web involving use of a specially-burned CD-R), and doesn't support a list of formats as long as your arm, but what it does do, it does perfectly well, and it's neat and tidy into the bargain. Aiwa are the budget division of Sony, so you are buying a level of quality above what you might expect at the modest asking price. Unlike many other cheap brands, the user interface is impeccable, with attractive, clear and easy-to-navigate setup menus, and the video picture quality is perfectly decent. The only playback feature it lacks is a "zoom" function, sometimes useful when watching widescreen content on smaller televisions. Like many players it will also "play" CD-R(W)s containing JPEG images, though our only complaint would be that there is no way of hiding the slightly obtrusive technical details (e.g. pixel resolution, filename etc) displayed for each image - and Aiwa did not respond to our query on the matter. It will also play mp3 CDs, though aside from confirming that it works, that's not something we have had reason to explore, similarly Video CD playback etc. Simple and sweet.