While you're recording a show to the hard drive, you can also watch a DVD or a show you've previously recorded. It also features chasing playback - letting you watch the start of a show while you're still recording the end of it. You can also pause live TV, but I'll get back to that.
The separate "stop record" button on the remote prevents you accidentally stopping a recording instead of stopping playback. Unlike some other Sony recorders, the "stop record" button isn't hidden under a sliding panel so I'd prefer it asked for confirmation before it actually stopped recording. The remote can also control you television.
The RDRHXD760 features a range of connections, including DV, composite and s-video inputs as well as component, composite and s-video outputs - but sadly no HDMI. It also features optical and coaxial digital audio outputs for connecting to a surround sound amplifier.
Despite Sony's reputation for draconian Digital Rights Management, you can burn digital television recordings from the hard drive to DVD at up to 64x. You can also play MP3, JPEG and even DivX video files from a DVD.
Sony RDRHXD760 HDD/DVD recorder
That's the half-glass-full view of this recorder but, when reviewing these kinds of devices, I find the glass-half-empty approach to be far more telling. Firstly, the RDRHXD760 has only one tuner and it's only standard definition. Two tuners would let you watch one channel while recording another, or even record two programs at once. Sony sells a twin HD tuner digital recorder, but it doesn't have a DVD burner so you can't archive your recordings. Some HDD/DVD recorders have one analogue and one digital tuner - like Philips' Cineos DVDR9000H - but frustratingly it won't let you watch one tuner while recording from the other, or record two programs at once.
The Sony RDRHXD760's other key missing element is automatic buffering of whatever you've been watching for the last few hours, which would let you rewind live TV. An automatic buffer is a fundamental feature of a Personal Video Recorder. Now the RDRHXD760 isn't claiming to be a DVD recorder, not a PVR, but other DVD recorders on the market include such a buffer - such as Panasonic's DMR-EX75.
Pressing the RDRHXD760's pause button starts buffering whatever you're watching to the hard drive. Pausing live TV is a key selling point of such as device, so it's disappointing that the RDRHXD760 does it so poorly. Firstly, it takes about three seconds from when you push the pause button until it actually freezes - a long time if you're waiting to answer a ringing phone.
Pressing play again, you can be greeted with the error; "Cannot cancel TV Pause at this time, please wait". What the... ?! It turns out the minimum pause time is "about a minute or more" (actually 1 minute 40 seconds), a real pain if you just want to pause for a few seconds so you can grab something from the kitchen. It doesn't tell you when it's ready to go again, you just have to keep pressing play every now and then until it decides "about a minute or more" has passed. Once it does resume playback, the counter-intuitive onscreen display of the buffer doesn't tell you how far you're behind the live action. Instead it tells you how far you've progressed from the point when you originally hit pause. Considering the buffer only holds three hours, you'd be better of knowing how far behind you are. If you keep pushing the onscreen display button it will show you how far behind you are, but it should do so by default.
Once you hit play again, you can fast forward and rewind through the buffer at up to 3x, plus you can skip back or forward in 15 second jumps - useful for skipping the advertisements. Of course skipping the ads means you'll eventually catch up with the live broadcast again, and here's when you encounter the "one minute or more" phenomenon again. You can't fast forward any closer than 1 minute 40 seconds behind the live broadcast. This means once you hit the "one minute or more" barrier when fast forwarding through an ad break, you have to wait until the next add break, hit stop and hope when you jump 1.40 you don't miss any of the show you were watching.
The onscreen display doesn't indicate when you've fast forwarded to the "one minute or more" barrier (it just stops fast forwarding), nor does it warn you that changing the channel, viewing your list of recorded shows or even ejecting the DVD tray causes the buffer to reset - flinging you forward to the present with no way of recovering whatever you just missed.
There was a time when Sony made some of the better hard drive recorders around, but if you've ever used something like a Topfield PVR you'll be dismayed by this recorder's quirks and limitations. The Sony RDRHXD760 might seem great to those who don't know any better - but if you know what a hard drive-based recorder is capable of you won't be satisfied with the capabilities of this one.
AT A GLANCE: Sony RDRHXD760 HDD/DVD recorder
PROS digital tuner and DVD burner
CONS no dual tuner, not HD, no automatic buffer
CONTACT Sony www.sony.com.au