So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Mediastar HDT-920 PVR
- Dual tuners, Record up to four programs at once, PiP
- SD tuner only, Proprietary file formats
A commendable PVR from MediaStar with a large hard drive is let down by only supporting SDTV
Price$ 699.00 (AUD)
The HDT-920 from MediaStar is equipped with a 120GB hard drive and dual TV tuners, allowing you to watch and record digital TV. Even though the HDT-920 includes only an SD tuner, it does offer additional features, such as being able to record up to four programs at once and Picture in Picture (PiP).
The HDT-920 is designed to sit horizontally like a VCR, rather than vertically like MediaStar's previous offering, the HDT-1100. The unit is coloured dark grey, with an attractive silver reflective frontage that will definitely complement any home theatre setup.
It took us just minutes to get this model up and running - five minutes after taking it out of the box, we had auto-scanned for channels and were watching digital TV. The HDT-920 provides a variety of ports, including composite, component, S-Video, and also USB and RS-232C outputs for connections to your PC. To test this unit, we hooked it up using a component connection to our massive Toshiba 62 inch DLP. Apart from a few minor artifacts, the HD quality was comparable to what we have seen on other units.
The list of channels on this model can be accessed a variety of ways, either through the EPG or presented as a scrolling channel list. The scrolling list can be sorted to your preference, but what it is missing here is a small preview box displaying what is on that channel, similar to the HDT-720. On the whole, channel management was relatively simple to master and the unit allows users to create groups of favorite channels. The channel plate information was descriptive yet unobtrusive, situated at the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, the detailed EPG information about each program is placed exactly in the centre of the screen, thus obscuring the picture.
Like the HDT-720 the HDT-920 allows you to view channels in multiple windows on the one screen. We aren't really fans of this function though, as it takes rather a long time to load and only one screen is active at any one time. All the other windows are digital stills and the only way to see what's on a channel is by scrolling over to it.
Of more use to us was the PiP functionality and here is where the benefit of dual tuners comes to the fore. Did you know Sri Lanka has a rugby union team? We didn't either, until we saw them getting thrashed by the Australians - as we watched Halle Berry on Oprah at the same time. The implementation of the PiP function is a little fiddly on this unit and you will need to consult the manual to figure it out, but we got used to it in the end. The in-screen picture can be displayed in large or small sizes and situated in different places on the screen.
The PVR functions on this unit are pretty basic but implemented well. Time shifting is not enabled automatically, and you have to manually set this up by navigating through several menus, which we didn't like. Normal recording though, was accessed just by pressing the Record button and we very much appreciated being able to record up to four channels at once. On some other units we have seen, playing back these recorded files involved some nifty usage of the remote control and system menus, but on the HDT-920, one touch of the PVR button displayed our recorded programs by title and date - perfect!
Basic playlist and video editing functions are also supported. You can for example, set up a section of a recording to repeat, and also cut segments from a recording - which is useful if you want to eliminate ads.
One area we think the unit fell down was in file formats. We connected our player to a laptop using a USB cable (one wasn't included in the package) and it was recognized as a hard drive. So far so good. But, when we tried to play back the files on the laptop, we found they were in a proprietary format (.AVR) and not recognized by any media players we tried. According to MediaStar there are copyright reasons behind this and all recordings have to first be converted using software - which is too much of a hassle if you ask us. In better news, we were able to use the unit to play MP3s we had transferred over from our laptop.
We aren't really fans of the software interface on the HDT-920 as we found ourselves sometimes getting lost in the tabbed menus. The colour scheme was also a little garish for our liking, but that really is more a matter of personal taste. For parents, different controls and locks are provided to block channels and content, although we couldn't find a way to block recordings we had made.
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