And Freeview watching is where that hard drive can really come in useful. First, you can pause and rewind live television; once you're used to this, it's invaluable. And you can schedule recordings, simply by selecting them in the on-board electronic programme guide (EPG), which is clear and straightforward to use, complete with channel logos fetched via the net connection.
But, with only one tuner, it still can't record one channel while you watch another, and the 80GB hard drive will store between 40 and 80 hours, depending on which channels you record from - and as little as 12-15 hours, when you start recording from HD channels. The current HD trial broadcasts aren't picked up automatically by the iPlayer, but I did manage to tune in, and the results were excellent, with the Dolby Digital sound fed via the iPlayer's optical output to my surround sound system.
Evesham's response to suggestions that 80GB isn't enough disk space is to point out that you can export recordings from the iPlayer to a shared folder on your network. Unfortunately, in the current firmware, export stops at 2GB of data, which is not quite enough for an hour from BBC 1, though it'll be over two hours from lesser channels. When you do export successfully, you'll have no problems playing the clips on a PC using VLC, or converting for DVD, using tools like MPEG StreamClip.
Next to Freeview, media playback is a big selling point for the iPlayer, and the supplied CD contains Windows Media Connect, which can make your PC-based media available - though in fact, once you've created settings for a folder to export recordings to, it will appear in the list of servers to browse as well, though sometimes I had to restart the iPlayer before it would find the network share. In other words you could just use Windows' SMB to share files.
I got one and it's great
James Aston. South London: I had one bought for me for Christmas and I have to say it is really first class. I know it would be great to have lots of tuners, but I don't find it an issue. I've got a tuner in my screen if I want to watch something at the same time as recording, and I have a tuner in my PC and the stuff I record on that plays across my network to my iplayer!!! Brilliant.
I also love the fact that I can export programmes from the iplayer hard drive to my external drive simply. I have started my own archive - mind you I am rapidly filling up my 600 GB NAS drive!
By they way, it does play my downloads from the states - I'm sure Evesham won't be saying anything about this, but I think this is the best feature of the lot.
Another thing they might not mention is the fact that it picks up the High Def test transmissions in London and they look well impressive. They should get rid of the crap channels on Freeview and free up the space for at least one High Def channel.
Reelbox - vapourware?
I am wondering whether Jeremy Hooks is a shill for Reelbox - according to their website half the features are still "in the works", even such things as regular DVDs with CSS locking don't work, neither do firewire, kodak photocd...
however, it looks very promising if and when it does achieve 99% functionality!
My Favourite PVR (so far)
The best PVRs I have seen so far are those from Reelbox http://www.reel-multimedia.co.uk
They have USB, Firewire, mini-PCI (so that you can add wireless), DVI-I(changable to HDMI), gigabit ethernet, IDE + 5.25 drivebay so you can add your choice of DVD-RW (or even Blueray). They support encryption cards.
The killer feature is that they support upto 4 tuners (most come with 2 and 2 empty slots), which can be of any type (i.e. Freeview, Satellite or Cable).
They are rather more expensive than the I-player (£550), but I reckon they offer better 'Bang for Buck'.
Some supermarket stores have been selling twin tuner Freeview 160GB hard disk PVRs for 99 pounds - so that's double the tuners and double the hard disk space for one third of the price....Evesham don't stand a chance with their overpriced box!
HD capability is nice, but not much use if you don't have an HD TV signal to plug into it (clues here: Sky+ HD comes with a twin tuner PVR already, HD DVD/Blu Ray media and players are crazily pricey) and with HD Freeview transmissions being years away, this box has HD output with no free/cheap HD inputs available!
What we really need is:
* Twin-tuner Freeview built-in (or 3 tuners if you want to be greedy) - single-tuner Freeview PVRs are a complete joke in all cases now and should be removed from sale, IMHO.
* A large hard drive - hard disk drive prices are continually falling and capacities are going up, yet why do hard disk PVRs seem to have pitiful drive capacities? The entry level models should have at least 250GB now!
* Ways to record from and play back to a multiple of inputs and outputs, including wired Net, wireless Net, USB, Firewire and even SD cards. If you had all that, you could even forego a DVD player or recorder needing to be built in (i.e. use your PC to archive to DVD instead).
* No DRM restrictions! Including HDMI if you really must, but don't force it to be the only way to get HD resolution to your TV!
* Solid firmware - most PVRs on the market seem to have many serious flaws in their firmware (including the one in this review) and leave the public to be beta-testers for them. Example: Liteon's hard disk recorders have a fatal "hang entire unit at start of timer recording" bug that after 2 years and 7 or 8 firmware updates *still* hadn't fixed this massively critical bug.
I'd pay 300 pounds for a box with the above specs, but will we ever see such a beast here in the UK?
Shame it only has one tuner
I have to agree £300 is a lot of money considering it only has one tuner and only an 80GB harddisk.
Personally, I would be prepared to pay more for a box which had 3 or 4 tuners, particularly if I could have set them such that they tuned into default channels (so you could setup a few favourites and have rewind on them - even though you weren't watching them). The problems the article mentioned with regards some DivX and some MPEG files are a major turn off too.
I wonder if it would play ripped DVDs so you could create your own jukebox, given the dubious legality, not something that you are likely to cover in a review.
Does the box support a decoder card for encrypted Freeview channels (topup TV or whatever the latest name is)?