Sony RDRHXD970 HDD DVD Recorder Review

Sony RDR-HXD970

As you may know I have been looking at buying a HDD/DVD Recorder recently. I have been looking around to try and find which units had the best features, ease of use and best quality of sound and picture, all for a reasonable price. I went to a few stores and checked out what was available and prices then looked around online for reviews as well as comparisons between brands. I must say it is a minefield out there at the moment.

In terms of systems, and media types, the possible combinations of components available are endless. To really be sure that you are buying what you need and not spending money on features you can’t or won’t use, you really have to know what you already have and what formats it supports as well as think ahead as to any additions you plan on making to your home theatre. As I see it now, the digital home theatre market is in a transition stage where there is alot of new formats as well as connectivity systems that are coming and going, which makes it hard to mix and match your system with new and old components. At the moment there is broad support for a mixed digital and analog theatre system, but I think give it a year or 2 you wont find anything that will accept input from or output to the analog dinosaur of yesteryear.

Sony RDR-HXD970Weighing up all my options, I bit the bullet and ended up buying the Sony RDR-HXD970 250 GB HDD/DVD Recorder. I chose this unit for a few reasons:

  • Firstly because my existing system is all Sony. I am always open to new brands but I guess I was a bit biased when other brands had similar features for the same money. I stuck with familiar territory. Sony has always given me a great run in terms of reliability and ease of use. The existing home theatre is now getting a bit old at an average age of 7 years but I have never had a single problem with any of it. Recently the video player died but only because my 2 year old filled it with pencils and coins -  8 years is a pretty good run for a video player in my books.
  • The recorder has a good mixture of digital/analog inputs and outputs ensuring a wide range of compatibility with any future additions I make to my system.
  • Reviews on both the 160GB and 250GB unit are unanimously positive.

I havent included buying price as it would be obsolete in a few weeks anyway. Everyone is willing to do deals at the moment and I did manage to pick it up cheaper in a physical shop than I could online for once.

Initial Impressions

Straight out of the box the HDD/DVD recorder is very impressive, with clean lines and an unassuming front panel. As far as connecting it in with the existing system, it integrates easily. The hardest bit is deciding which way I wanted to connect everything. As my amp doesn’t have any digital inputs I had to use the analog outputs from the unit. I know its not the ideal way to connect a new digital unit, but I do plan on trying to pick myself up a digital decoder unit like the Sony SDP-E800 which you can find cheap second hand if you look hard enough. In a perfect world I would already have my big screen plasma and I would be able to connect everything with 1 single lead from the HDMI output and enjoy the 1080p upscaling for better picture quality.

When you first turn the recorder on it goes through an initial setup which covers everything like digital channel setup and output formats. Dont stress too much about these settings as they can be easily accessed later if you dont quite get it right. From there it was time to play.

TV progams are clear and crisp. The auto tuner was spot on with picking every channel, even to the point where we now have a clear channel 10, which has been fuzzy ever since we moved into this house no matter what I tried to clear it up. Recording of TV programs to either HDD or DVD is simple as pressing the record start button. Select either HDD or DVD and thats where you will be recording to. I mainly played with the HDD at first. Chase play, where you can start watching a program from the beginning while recording the end is excellent. You can fast forward the ads and once you reach where it is up to recording it returns to live television.

Sony RDR-HXD970Our Sony Handycam which records direct to 8cm DVD’s is easy to copy to the hard drive with direct dubbing once you insert the disc into the unit. It also allows you to watch what you have just recorded without finalising in camera first. I havent got around to trying to burn a few discs onto one 12cm DVD yet, but I’m sure it should be pretty easy. There is also the option to connect direct via the iLink on the front panel and have the unit control starting and stopping the camera for you.

One of my big plans with the unit was being able to backup our 2 year old daughters movies onto the hardrive so we didnt have to worry about changing discs, as well as preserving the originals. Unfortunately the unit wont let me do this. It appears as though the HDD/DVD recorder honours the discs copy protection, and wont allow us to record from a DVD movie. This is a good thing as far as copyright protection goes, but I would love to see a movie backup feature that would allow you to copy to the harddrive but then prevents you from recording off the hard drive onto DVD’s. That way your originals can be kept safe from the fingerprints and scratches that come along with having toddlers. I guess that would present a whole new array of copyright infringements somewhere in the world so it is easier from Sony’s point of view to just not allow it.

The photo hub is a bit ordinary, but I guess I am comparing this to my current photo editing computer. Copying direct from camera, as well as from a USB 2.0 compatible card reader is slower than a wet week. I started to copy a few photos across to check it out and it took more than a few minutes for about 12 photos so I cancelled out. Come on. If you have a spare hour to copy a 1GB memory card to the hard drive then go right ahead, but there are better ways to view and organise your photos. Once the images are on the HDD the image rendering onscreen is nothing short of poor but in defence of it all my television is only standard resolution. I am sure it would be much better on a high definition big screen. Being a glutton for punishment, I decided to try backing up the 4GB memory card in the the Olympus 1030SW direct to DVD thinking it might be a bit quicker. Bad idea. Over 2 hours later it finally finished and decided to create a slideshow to boot just to frustrate me more.

Hard drive recorderThe music jukebox is a little clunky but it works. If you are going to upload song to it I would recommend doing it from a thumbdrive where all the songs have been named and organised. It took me long enough to name 1 song. I envy anyone with the patience to rename a whole album. If you have an Ipod then just connect its headphone jack direct to the input on the front panel and play from there as it saves you having to setup playlists and organising songs on the hard drive.

Wrapping Up

In my opinion you are best served to just use the Sony RDR-HXD970 HDD/DVD Recorder as a television program recorder as well as for easy organisation and backup of your home movies from your Handycams. I am sure there is a way to be able to backup DVD movies to the hard drive for watching over and over to save your originals from destruction. AS far as the music and photo ‘extras’ go then use them at your own peril. They are frustrating to use if you have an alternative way to view or listen to them. I dont currently have pay TV so I couldnt trial recording any of that across but that is on the cards for the near future. Over the coming weeks I plan to give the recorder a bit a work out and really get into its inner features and see how it fares. But my initial reactions to it are extremely positive and I am happy with it overall.

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  1. Are you able to copy the DVD to a PC and then upload to the Sony HDD via the iLink port.

  2. Not sure about that one Steve. Not familiar with how the iLink works and whether it honours the copy protection system as well.

    Being a strong supporter of the copyright system I dont really want to work too hard to see if I can overcome it. Even though I only want the copies on the hard drive to protect the originals from destruction I also dont want to advocate beating the system.

  3. Hi Tim,
    Just came across your website while searching for HDD recorder reviews. Ta for the Sony review – interesting, but not the machine we need. However, we have been keen photographers for many years, and I found your pages and photos very pleasing and interesting.
    I particularly like the panoramic shots taken across water at dusk; great light! Good travel shots, too – observant and thoughtful appreciation of what’s there to be seen if you look. Anyway, I’ll come back. All the best. Oh, and thanks for the interesting review of the little Olympus; I still own an Olympus OM2n SLR, which I still think is a great camera. A little the worse for wear, but hey, it’s 26yrs old. Where will our digital gear 26yrs from now .. ?

    Cheers, Tim. Ian, Murwillumbah NSW.

  4. Hi Tim
    I am thinking about buying one of these. I am wondering if the unit comes with an ir blaster (set top box controller). This is used to change the channels of your foxtel or dtv box. If it does and works in australia. i will be buying one
    thanks heaps

  5. Hey Jason,

    No not that I know of. It does control other sony appliance though if that helps

  6. Hi
    Can anybody help me? I have bought the Sony recorder and have a CRT Beco TV. The TV works well so I don’t yet need to replace. BUT, what code numbers do I choose so that the DVD remote will also control myTV? The Beco brand is not listed in the Sony manual. I’ve tried most of the numbers listed but they don’t seem to work. Also, I don’t understand why Nokia TV, for example, has 3 sets of numbers listed unless it is hit and miss with these numbers if you have a Nokia TV. I would be grateful for your input.

  7. Do these HDD recorders pick up the digital HD stations? Can I use this instead of a set top box / pvr?


  8. Michael, I’m in Maryland, USA and have a both a Philips and a Magnavox DVDR with hard drives. Both of them have digital/analog hybrid tuners. Not all machines do, but this Sony that Tim is describing does. You’ll just have to look carefully at the description to be certain that the one you want has the digital tuner. If it does, you will NOT need a digital converter box.

  9. Great reviews, very helpful, however can you or anyone lead me in the direction of an all in one system that we can use to replace our jungle of electronic equipment, the video recorder has died, along with our very old stereo – only speakers work and our dvd is on the way out too – was wanting an all in one system with an am/fm tuner, cd/dvd player, hard driver recorder and speakers – am i asking too much?


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