Pros: Outstanding tuner, Perfect picture live and recorded, TVGuide interface easy to use once setup
Cons: No "last channel" or "mute" button on remote, TVGuide took geeky tinkering to get right
These review comments also apply to the Sony DHG-HDD500 tuner/DVR, which is identical other than the addition of a second 250 gigabyte hard drive.
This review is not intended to be a comprehensive listing of all functions of the HDD250. For that, go to sonystyle.com. The exact address is http://www.sonystyle.com/is-bin/INTERSHOP.enfinity/eCS/Store/en/-/USD/SY_DisplayProductInformation-Start?ProductSKU=DHGHDD250&Dept=tvvideo&CategoryName=tvhav_HDDVRs
Edit November 24, 2005: This product is no longer shown on the SonyStyle website. FAQ, manuals, warranty information can be found at http://esupport.sony.com/perl/model-news.pl?mdl=DHGHDD250&LOC=3
This review is intended to share some lessons learned and the things that Sony doesn't tell you. My comments are based on four months' experience with the Sony DHG-HDD250 HDTV tuner and DVR and a lot of online research. The unit was purchased after some debate whether to go with the DISH 942 PVR instead. While they are apples and oranges, the truly free local HDTV and guide functionality of the Sony are unique. No monthly fees!
The details described in the 'view details' button above are mostly correct, with a couple exceptions: There are 2 coax inputs: antenna and cable; and the product was just released in May, 2005. There are many output modes. I have it connected to a DVI input on a Sony TV with the supplied HDMI cable and HDMI/DVI adapter, which works very well. There is no a/v input, so do not expect the unit to record outside sources. The only automatic archiving supported is to a VHS VCR. That is unfortunate. Material can be manually archived in real time through the component video or other video outputs. The outputs are all live simultaneously, with the exception of the HDMI and component, which are either/or.
A powerful capability is the ability to integrate OTA antenna and cable. This is useful if you live in an area such as mine where CBS is holding out HD content from cable. There is a slot for a cable card for encrypted digital cable.
Out of the box, the unit worked exactly as described, with the exception that TVGuide was more tempermental than one would hope. Overall, function and use are simple and clear. The purchaser should know, however, that TVGuide setup is for the more patient or technically-minded user. The basic connections and cabling are clearly described in the setup literature.
Where the installation gets more complex is in setting up the guide. Believe it when they say leave 'off' for 24 hours to get the initial guide listings. Once populated, the TVGuide takes editing to get the channel orders comfortable and also to set the tuning frequencies. For example, the Guide may only list WXYZ (the analog channel), when what you want is WXYZ DT.1, 2 or 3. Channel tuning can be changed through the powerful menu system, but it takes time and attention.
TVGuide channels can also be turned on and off. Do not inadvertently turn off the analog channel that broadcasts the TVGuide daily updates. They are carried on analog channels. In this market analog PBS must be left 'on' in the TVGuide.
TVGuide only fills out the schedules for days 1, 2 and 8 the first day off (this may vary by marketplace). Each succeeding day, it fills in a new day 2 and 8, so that it is eventually fully populated. The manual does not explain this, so do not be upset when there are initially no listings for days 3 - 7. Also, if you go back in later and turn channels off and on in the guide it may affect how the Guide updates. 9/9/05: The TVGuide software has been updated automatically via broadcast. It seems much more stable and I no longer read of complaints with Guide issues. Good to see continued product support.
The original 'poor' ease of use rating was based on setup, the lack of information in the owner's manual regarding TVGuide and the seeming volatility of the TVGuide system. Revised to 'average' 9/9/05. In daily operation the ease of use is 'excellent.'
A couple of things that aren't in the manual and require some research to find:
To determine which station is broadcasting TVGuide: go to the main Guide Setup menu (the one with three options). Move the cursor highlight over the first option, "Change System Settings" but do NOT hit Select. Type in the number "753159852". You'll now be in the diagnostics menu... use up/down to select category, and left/right to see other screens. When you first enter the menu, if you hit RIGHT you can see what Host Channel it's using (ignore the VBI Channel, that seems to just be the last channel you were on before entering).
To re-order the channel lineup: In TVGuide, go to setup, then change channel display. With any channel highlighted, press the left arrow. A channel ordering number with up and down arrows will appear at the left end of the channel line. Move the channel to where you want it, using up and down arrows! Found this quite by accident.
A lot of information, gossip and opinions on this receiver can be found at http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=537711&highlight=dhghdd250
Recordings are as simple as point and click in the Guide. Pause and replay of live TV is easy, as simple as the Dish PVR's (I have not tried TiVo) while offering greater flexibility of navigation options (variable jump forward and back intervals, variable recording time parameters, easy bookmarking and on and on).
Picture quality is outstanding. There is no discernable difference between live and recorded images. The tuner is very powerful, locking on to digital channels I had not previously received. The physical quality of the unit is also very high.
All in all, I am very happy with this purchase.