With the video recorder world dominated by the big four of Sony, Panasonic, Sky and Philips, recording decks from other brands have to work that bit harder to make their mark. This is the quandary facing Toshiba’s RD-97DT, but it’s brought a few useful weapons to help it upset the status quo.

The RD-97DT has a 250GB hard-drive – capable of holding up to 424 hours of recordings in the lowest-quality recording mode – and can burn videos onto DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW. It also has an impeccable gloss-black design that takes its lead from Toshiba’s impressive new HD-DVD players. So far, so good.

Pick your quality

There are plenty of recording options too. You can record in any of five different recording modes, depending on the balance you want to strike between recording space used and picture quality, and the deck provides video upscaling to 1080p. Crucially, the 97DT sports a digital as well as an analogue tuner, complete with support for the Freeview 7-day electronic programme guide (EPG) from which you can directly set recordings.

In terms of connections, the 97DT gets most but not all things right. While we appreciate front-mounted DV, S-Video and composite video inputs, plus HDMI and component video outputs on the rear, there are no USB or multimedia card slots.

This means you can’t transfer MP3 or JPEG files from flash drives or media cards to the HDD for storage – something that’s possible on a growing number of rival decks.

Clumsy and slow

Now that we’re feeling negative, we’re also disappointed to find no support on the 97DT for dual-layer DVD-R and DVD+R, which would have doubled the amount of video a single disc could store. The 97DT isn’t the easiest deck to control, either. While some elements of its interface work well, such as accessing and editing hard-drive recordings, others certainly don’t.

The EPG, for instance, is very clumsily presented, doesn’t support series link, and proves weirdly slow to navigate. Switching between digital channels instigates an aggravating pause, too, and the remote control layout is far from intuitive.

The rather lengthy list of problems we have with the 97DT really is a shame, for in sheer performance terms it’s rather good. For starters, it gets the basics right with robust, crisp and rich Freeview reception. Then it records these Freeview images seemingly perfectly if you use the highest-grade XP picture setting – a setting which you can still store plenty of on the hard-drive before it runs out.

Since you can only fit one hour of XP mode recordings onto DVD discs, though, it’s nice to see that some of the lower-quality settings also hold up well. The second-best SP mode is only marginally noisier than the XP mode, and the mid-level LP mode is still way better than you used to get with good old videotape. Only the bottom-level SLP mode should be avoided – unless you’re happy watching Eastenders looking like something shot on an old mobile phone.

Rock solid DVD player

The 97DT also excels as a DVD player. Its upscaling talents are really impressive for a deck that is, after all, pretty affordable. There’s a real snap to the images, allowing you to make out the actual weave in some clothing.

Skin tones look natural, too, and colours during bright scenes are vivid and believable. Best of all, there’s precious little sign of the blocking or grain that can accompany low quality upscaling systems.

Stuff says... 

Toshiba RD-97DT review

Holds its own against the best for video recording quality – but those operational quirks and missing features see it fall just short of top honours