TVonics DTR-HD500 review TVonics DTR-HD500 review

We love
Gorgeous design, extremely smart hardware, silent running
We hate
Garish menus and wallet-worrying price
British design at its best, smart and sexy. Buy with confidence, this one’s a solid gold contender.
Launch Price

TVonics DTR-HD500 review

The TVonics DTR-HD500 might not be the first gizmo you have in mind when it comes to buying a Freeview HD set top box. After all, why bother when big names like Humax and Panasonic are turning out such incredible machines? Why? We’ll tell you: read on and find out why we’re rooting for this plucky British underdog in our TVonics DTR-HD500 review.

Not all Freeview HD PVRs are alike. Free to air HD is still in relative infancy, and the quality of set-top boxes offering it shows its immaturity. We’ve seen boxes that struggle with HD playback at speed. Those with awkward interfaces, and some that’re just plain noisy. It’s refreshing then to see TVonics, a small British firm, leading the way with a dynamite 500GB Freeview HD recorder in the TVonics DTR-HD500, jam packed with smart features and clad in a wonderfully eye-catching design.

This set top box is beautifully designed

Prize the TVonics DTR-HD500 from its packaging and it’ll draw ooohs and aaahs from all around. The audience of our first trial run described it variously as a “manta ray” a “curvier PS3” and “just bloody lovely.”

The rakish angle of the DTR-HD500 means there’s plenty of room for connections around the back, a neatly presented display up front, and an overall impression that the whole shebang is slimmer than it is. The curved transparent top looks outright gorgeous, and although there are no buttons on the DTR-HD500 itself, it just screams to be stroked. This is possibly the best looking set-top box we’ve ever seen.

Spin the TVonics DTR-HD500 around, and the surprises continue to usher in grins. On its rear there are the standard Scart and HDMI outputs, a USB socket and a connection for the power adapter. There are two extra HDMI sockets though, capable of sucking up pictures from two other bits of HD kit, such as a games console or Blu-ray player.

The option for extra HDMI inputs is extremley thoughtful

Those extra sockets mean the TVonics DTR-HD500 can act as a HDMI switch, multiplying the capacity of your TV’s HDMI socket by three. On our two-HDMI test TV, that was most welcome, and switching between inputs is as easy as tapping a button on the TVonics remote.

So far, so brilliant. But there’s a nasty surprise in store when the TVonics DTR-HD500 is finally switched on. Sure, it’s absolutely silent operation is a welcome change from humming set-top companions, but lime green menus, yellow highlights and high-contrast blacks mean it’s an ugly operator. For all the beauty of the TVonics DTR-HD500 exterior, its menus turn our stomach and strain our eyes.

Picture in picture. Yes, we were watching Jeremy Kyle.

That’s not to say TVonics hasn’t put thought into its menus. They’re simplistic, to the point, and actually very well designed. We love the subtle fade-in and fade-out effects. There’s no clutter, they’re efficient, and zip you around the functions of the DTR-HD500 in double quick time. There’s even an impressive picture in picture mode, so you could theoretically keep an eye on two football matches airing on two different channels at the same time. It’s just the colouring that leaves us wanting for preferences to change those hues. Would it really have been so hard to offer different colour schemes?

In operation, once your eyes adjust to the garish menus, the TVonics DTR-HD500 is wonderful. HD playback is smooth and speedy. Even zipping through time-shifted or recorded HD is judder-free, with almost zero lag between hitting play and seeing video on-screen.

TVonics’ remote is a triumph too. At first glance, it’s the same button box we’re used to, but there are handy shortcuts everywhere. Dedicated buttons switch between those extra HDMI inputs, and it’s programmable to control your TV too.

The TVonics remote is easy to use

A single ‘clock’ button means you can glance at the time without diving into the full EPG or calling up a half-screen information pane, and a simple picture-in-picture button lets you watch a second channel in miniature, perfect for keeping an eye on breaking news, or live sport, while also catching up on soaps.

Best of all, dual power buttons let you switch off the TVonics DTR-HD500 and TV from the same remote, completely eliminating the need for our TV’s controller.

Later this month, the TVonics DTR-HD500 will also become capable of Dolby Surround Sound with a software update delivered by USB. That’s a major upgrade, and one it’s great to see being offered, even after customers have splashed a not inconsiderable £250.

As Freeview HD recorders go, the TVonics DTR-HD500 might not be the cheapest, but it is the best looking, quietest and, assuming you can stomach those eye-jabbing visuals, the best Freeview HD PVR we’ve seen to date.

  • Zed

    Good review and seems like a good unit but a couple of basic details missing – how big is the HDD / how much storage does this take up? And is there capability or plans to update the interface to add IPTV services etc?

    • bensillis

      We've updated to include the capacity – fairly par for the course but hefty 500GB. There's an Ethernet connection and USB slot, but nothing official in terms of IPTV plans.

      • Zed

        I should've guessed from the name really….cheers!

        • bensillis

          no probs, happy to help!

  • Norman0

    Not sure who is writing these reviews but they are way off the truth.

    1. Remote Problems much too small, buttons very small you would need better than 20/20 vision to use it

    2. Has anybody tried using red button for say English commentary on the WESLSH HD whilst recording on a standard prog it cuts off the sound, stop the recording and sound returns.

    3. Time shift seems to come into play at any given moment resulting judder of picture

    4. In a space of 6 hours the box froze about 6 times.

    5. And that EPG is appalling.

    6. There is no correlation between the output of screen size you sometimes get pictures very small at 4.3 on a 16.9 screen when they are being broadcast in 16.9 over the FREEVIEW platform this box seems to have a mind of its own.

    It has some very serious software problems.

    It went back the next day, as not fit for purpose. And yes the latest upgrade software was installed, and the Ariel signal was at 99% so do not let a shop use that old chestnut

  • Jedi

    Buggy, unreliable, box a real let down after Topfield TF5810

    Bought this box because my previously reliable Topfield's hard drive had failed twice in a short period of time. I conducted reasonably studious, hands-on research in John Lewis and finally plumped for this model. I am really disappointed in this box. The reasons are as follows:

    1. It does not work properly in conjunction with my Samsung HD Ready TV (Model LE37M87BD). If HDMI output is set to auto-detect / 1080p (i.e. the default setting), the picture and audio spits and eventually crashes / fails altogether. I thought I just had a faulty box, so I got a replacement which behaved in exactly the same way. I finally worked out the problem and I am able to watch it but only by forcing a setting other than 1080p.

    2. The main annoyance is that if the box is left unattended for more than 24 hours and sometimes less, it crashes / fails to respond to the remote control requiring a power off / on to get any response back. I switched off the default 'auto-standby after 3 hours' mode because it seemed to be missing series link recordings.

    3. A relatively minor gripe is that when coming out of fast-forward mode, the audio track seems to take up to 10 seconds to synch with the picture.

    4. I got no response from my emailed message to TVonics, so I phoned and explained my issues. They could only suggest that I perform beta-testing for them (could I take the box to a friend's house and see how it performed there!?).

    Us 'customers' have become accustomed to having to live with teething trouble with these machines (e.g. my old Topfield 5810 required several firmware patches before it performed optimally). So, a few day's later, I upgraded to the latest firmware as recommended on the TVonics site hoping that would solve my issues but alas no.

    On the plus side, when it's working, the picture is great both live and in recordings. However, the box is too fragile to fulfill it's primary function i.e. to faithfully record and respond to the remote control when required to do so. On balance, after the Topfield, this machine seems like a retrograde step.

  • John OB

    I've got “Formatting of hard disk failed” so can't record. Swapped ps but did not help. Hard drive is OK. Any ideas?

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