Digital Vision GiGo DV-DTR1 USB PVR
Heir apparent: granny's new VHS?
Review "Today's digital VCR replacement" is how the UK manufacturer Digital Vision describes its new GiGo Freeview set-top box. Designed to sell for less than £70, the device is a granny-friendly PVR with an unusual feature that will appeal to geeks (at least to this one). Unlike the majority of PVRs on the UK market, the GiGo records TV in a way that makes the data readily transferrable to your PC for editing and re-encoding.
Digital Vision's GiGo DV-DTR1 USB PVR
This is because it's a PVR without a hard disk drive. Instead, it's equipped with three USB ports, so that programmes can be directly recorded to USB flash drives. Alas, drives aren’t supplied but, as the GiGo records MPEG-2 files, a typical movie takes up 2-3GB, so a minimum 4GB drive is recommended.
You'll also need the flash to be the high-speed transfer type, and formatted as FAT32. Flash memory discounts down to around a quid per GB these days, but the media is still significantly more expensive than VCR tapes. However, the quality and reliability is orders of magnitude better, and of course USB flash drives are a lot more manageable.
The ideal Freeview STB would include a large hard drive and an Ethernet connection that made the drive and its contents network accessible. The poorly-received Archos TV+ would have fitted the bill had Archos remembered to include a Freeview tuner. The Humax Foxsat-HDR comes with a (currently unused) Ethernet connector, but also has a working USB socket that can be used to transfer data off the hard drive. But it's a satellite receiver, not a Freeview device, and at nearly £300 costs more than four times the price of the GiGo.
As a Freeview STB, our re-release review model unfortunately lacks the refinement of Freeview+ but Digital Vision reports that this will be featured when it hits the shops. There's only a single tuner, so you can't record to one Freeview channel while viewing another. However, you can still watch a pre-recorded programme while recording a second programme.
Bare essentials: no HDMI nor separate digital audio interfacing
Rear connections are minimal and you'll search in vain for HDMI and digital audio. But there are two SCART sockets: one for attaching a legacy VHS machine, the other for output to the TV. The TV SCART socket offers RGB, composite or S-Video output. The VHS socket gives newcomers to digital an option to continue recording onto their old VHS machine. Unfortunately it can't be used to digitise legacy VHS tapes across to a USB flash drive.
If it's just dumping the transport stream to the drives, which is the most likely, then you'll almost certainly be able to open the files using MPEG StreamClip (www.squared5.com) which is one of the tools of choice for the owners of Topfields and other PVRs that let you offload the files.
Of course, they may have weird headers stuck on them, but that's not insurmountable - StreamClip handles some formats, and VLC skips over some too, allowing you too use it to create a plain TS.
VideoRedo can also handle some TS files.
This would make a nice back-up pvr for my in-car dogcam setup!
FAT32 workaround: >4Gb recordings split into several files, linked via playlist file?
If the PVR does use FAT32 then the 4gb limit could be overcome by the device creating a new file once the earlier had reached 4gb. A playlist file would also be created to link them together. We all know that playlist files are used to sequence audio and video on our favourite Windows/Mac/Linux players, so this technique also ought to be applicable in this dedicated set top box.
Humax Foxsat thingy
Might be £300 Quid but it is HD afterall!
You might struggle to get that on a 4gb stick!
FAT32 on a DVR? What a brilliant idea, especially given that the maxium file size 4 GB - so if you're recording a longer movie, forget about actually watching it! If you're any serious about getting a DVR, a MythTV box with a reasonably sized HD (formatted in XFS/JFS) with a couple of DVB tuners will yield much better results, and actually won't cost that much - my >5 years old Athlon XP 2600+ with 1 GB of RAM happily records four DVB streams while watching one (it could do eight from two multiplexes, but there's never that much to watch at any given time), and with proper deinterlacing it looks great even on a 1080p display.