You may remember me writing about how I was going to turn one of my old machines into a PVR (Personal Video Recorder, sometimes known as a DVR, or Digital Video Recorder) using a TV card and some software, well, I didn't. I wanted something quiet and PCs just seem to take a whole lot of effort to make quiet. So, I looked around at the Freeview DVRs on the market to see if there were any about. One reason for wanting to build my own was because I was unhappy with the machines available. Then I stumbled across the Topfield TF5800PVR.
It's relatively pricey compared to some of the others, but you get your money's worth. It has dual tuners, for example, which allow you to watch live TV while you're recording (the Humax we have now only lets you watch the channel you're recording), in fact, it'll let you record two different channels at once and play back a recorded programme. At it's core it a 160 GB hard disk, double that of most other PVRs I saw, which allows for about 80 hours of recording. The 80 GB machines only allow for about half that and it just didn't seem enough (say you want to record the entire series of 24, well that's nearly 24 hours gone straight away). The Topfield also allows you to carry on watching TV while checking the TV guide (it used to annoy the heck out of me when you switch to the guide and bang, complete silence), although the new system still changes the picture as you change the channel in the guide. The machine is also capable of taking a card to allow you to upgrade to Top-up TV, though I'm not sure I'll bother. The real kickers were the USB connection and TAPs. TAPs are little enhancements to the software that allow you to do weird and wonderful things and anyone can write new ones. The extensions available for Firefox have convinced me this is always a good idea, because if you lack a feature, you can always add it yourself. The USB connection allows you to upload and download recordings and MP3s to the machine (you can play your MP3s through it too), which is useful for freeing up space and means you can transfer it to a PC for archiving on DVD.
The setup was easy, aside from the fact that I had to do a manual sweep to pick up ITV1, 2, 3 and Channel 4. The picture quality is good, playback is easy, and the record quality is good.
All in all it's a wonderful bit of kit and the answer to my current state of mind: I've decided I'd rather buy things that just work, out of the box, instead of spending hours building and tinkering with them.