It was when I started playing back media that I noticed more quirks. Firstly, the interface has some inconsistencies - and can be slow at times, too. For instance, press Menu, and you can access your recordings, timer list, Media Centre and the TV Max online service; from most of those - but not recordings and media centre - pressing the red button takes you back to the main menu. From the lists of recordings or media files, it exits completely.
While Media Centre Connect shows only files it understands, the iPlayer will play back more via SMB, though format support seems patchy. It played files from a Topfield PVR directly, for example, but wouldn't play MPEGs I'd created with MPEG StreamClip for burning to DVD. And while it will play some DivX files - the box isn't officially certified - it won't play back HD ones, which is a shame. Nor will it play AAC audio, and it didn't like one of my test AIFF files, either. DRM files cause problems too. And again there are interface inconsistencies: select an MP3 file, and you're taken to a playlist screen while it plays. But for an AIFF file, you remain in the file browser.
TV Max is a portal service available via the main menu. At present, it's really not much more than some links to online radio and podcasts. It works pretty well though, and IPTV - including 'catch up' services for popular broadcasts - are promised for later. You can also browse the web - with varying results - and access your email; the USB socket on the side of box can be used for a keyboard, which will make it less painful than using the remote.
The iPlayer HD DVR is a very capable Freeview box, and with the HDMI output it can produce a very good upscaled picture. But with only one tuner and a smallish hard drive, the DVR is outclassed by the competition. As a media player, things are better. HD playback looks excellent, and promised features like catch-up viewing and IPTV will make it stand out. But until these servcies come on stream, and with the playback and interface quirks that I found, £300 seems like a bit too much to pay right now. ®
Evesham iPlayer HD 80GB DVR
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)?