Ten... Freeview HD recorders
Timeshifting telly treats
Product Round-up The UK’s ongoing digital switchover means that Freeview HD has probably now rolled out to a transmitter near you. If you’re using old digital TVs or set-top boxes, you won’t get the four – soon to be five – high-def channels through your aerial, alongside the standard line-up.
One of the best ways to upgrade is with a new recorder equipped with DVB-T2 tuners. If all goes to plan, Freeview recorders will continue to evolve with the launch of YouView, which aims to set a common standard for ‘connected TV’. However, more than half of the DVRs below already access content such as the BBC iPlayer.
In many ways, products that cram in too much end up disappointing. The most dependable get the basics right – like tackling the problematic surround sound used on some HD broadcasts.
An unassuming little box, the 500GB 3view recorder has a surprisingly sophisticated user interface plus on-line features including iPlayer, internet radio and, ‘soon’, Sky Player. Its slick, responsive system is like a TiVo/Sky+ hybrid – and it can stream all recordings to compatible networked media players.
The Freeview HD picture is exemplary but tuning is a hassle because the box cannot differentiate between duplicate channels – a problem in post-switchover areas. It also leaves out support for HE-AAC 5.1 surround sound used by Freeview HD.
Media streaming is bug-ridden and non-50Hz material is not played smoothly, which is a shame given its otherwise broad format support. The 3view 3VHD is more like a work in progress but worth considering, especially if you can find it at a discounted price.
Reg Rating 65%
More info 3 View
Humax HDR-FOX T2
The Humax is a stalwart of Freeview HD DVRs, managing to blend powerful technology with consumer-friendly ease of use. It’s also well supported with (occasional) updates that enabled extra features such as iPlayer. Like 3view’s box, Sky Player may be added too.
It was also one of the first to properly handle HE-AAC 5.1 sound by converting to Dolby Digital. Some – but not all – media formats can also be streamed over the network. Disk capacity is 500GB.
It’s worth noting that Humax’s £90 ‘zapper’ box, the HD-FOX T2, can become a single tuner recorder by connecting a USB drive, as can the interesting £130 TechniSat HDFV.
Reg Rating 85%
More info Humax
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What the hell are you all on about?
I bought the Humax box about 6 months ago. It's great. Absolutely fantastic. I'd go so far as to say it's my favourite bit of consumer electronics I've bought in years. It was slightly iffy before the last firmware update, but since then, it's been rock solid, records two programmes simultaneously, doesn't miss things, does Series Link rather nicely, and in general has stopped us watching any live TV at all (and I've had a PVR for years).
I'd give it 90%, personally. If you want to witter on about the problems with Freeview, go for it, but frankly, I get lots of channels, some decent-enough quality HD channels, and this box records them all with no fuss or problems. What more can you ask for?
PC + MythTV beats them all and has done for years
I've been running MythTV on my PC for about 5 years now. I think it's crashed twice, and it offers:
- Multiple tuners (I can record up to six programs at once depending on what multiplex they're on)
- Multiroom by default (all you need is another laptop or PC and it's one click to install the client software, which works on Windows, Mac and Linux)
- also plays DVDs, and any videos it can find on your hard drive
- remote access. If someone's chatting about a show at work, I can log in to the web interface from my desk and set series record instantly. If you've got good upload on your broadband, you can even stream stuff you've already recorded onto your remote machine.
- all the usual programme guide, series record, search for programs stuff. You can choose from a number of nice themes, create your own or enhance an existing one.
- you can make it work with iPlayer, youtube and so on with a bit of effort. Or just fire them up in the browser instead.
- don't need expensive hardware. I'm using a 10-year-old 2Ghz single-core Pentium 4 with an ancient NVidia graphics card. Admittedly it won't play HD but that's only an upgrade away.
- extendable with various silly widgets which will show you the weather and so on.
Dual TV tuners (Freeview/DVB-T) : £30. Came with remote control.
PC: £50 second hand
Graphics card: £20 second hand
Large-ish HDD (320GB): £20 second hand. Gets you hundreds of hours of recording time.
Nice shiny case and quiet power supply: £50. Fits under the telly where the DVD player used to be.
MythTV software and Ubuntu operating system - £0, it's all open-source.
A few hours of my time (across 5 years) to set up and tweak to my liking.
Total cost £170 - less than most decent DVRs.
It's a PC, so you can run VLC or something similar and play pretty much any video you put on it. You can probably integrate vlc into mythtv. You can browse the web, etc etc if you connect a wireless keyboard & mouse.
Because I'm a geek, the same PC also functions as a file server, print server, web server and so on, just adding to the value for money.
It'll need an upgrade to get HD channels - a dual core mobo with integrated graphics would probably be sufficient, and obviously a new tuner. Probably another £150 or so, but in total it's still no more expensive than several of the models here, which don't have half the features.
Yes it's a custom solution and not everything works out-of-the-box, but if you use a pre-built distribution like MythBuntu and follow an online guide then it's actually fairly simple to set up these days, and not time-consuming. Anyone who is even slightly more than a mindless consumer drone should consider doing it, or getting a geeky friend to do it.
I guess you can do something similar with Windows Media Centre but you probably need better hardware.
Stop the whinging
Stop the whinging and get the Humax HDR Fox T2, they've done a superb job on it, and it richly deserves the editors choice.
It does everything asked of it, with superb 5.1 sound through any surround sound amp, and has a gorgeous looking easy to use interface. It's an order magnitude better than the old 9300, solving all the problems such as forgetting series record half way though and jumping out of catch up play if you are recording that program. The only negative point I can hold against it is the volume level differences between SD, HD and HD with 5.1 sound.
Why did we come down from the trees?
"But for what?"
So that the large vertical bands that ran down my TV screen on the four analogue channels I could pick up well due to large buildings that had gone up in my vicinity 20 years ago, would go away.
And so that I could pick up Channel 5 without all that snow.
And so that I could watch old shows like The Professionals, Sweeney or Minder that would never have been repeated in a million years on analogue TV.
And so that I could watch TV on a huge screen in my living room without the picture looking like I was viewing through the bottom of two Pepsi bottles due to stretching a fuzzy 576-line analogue image across a 50" LCD display.
And so that I have access to a rolling news channel on the occasions I'd like to watch it (such as riots or natural disasters).
And so that I could click one button to record a whole series instead of having to enter the times and dates of every episode of a series into the LCD of a VCR, not helped by the fact it could only store 8 timers and many shows no longer broadcast at a consistent time each week.
And... so many more reasons besides.
Frankly, I'm baffled by your attitude on an techno-savvy website like this. It's not like you're asking what's the point of Twitter or the MS ribbon. You're seriously not seeing any benefits in Freeview (HD, recording or otherwise) over analogue TV!
I bet you're an IT middle manager who gets to decide what equipment to buy for the real staff to use. Staff who'll spend the next three years of their work hours wasting most of it as they try their best to compete against your 21st century rivals with woefully underpowered and not-very-suitable kit running Windows 98 because you think the jury's still out on all this 'NT' stuff.
Raid array? What's wrong with just buying yet another box of external HDs, with each employee name written on them in white marker? if it's important, we'll just burn it to CDR. Simples.
Ain't it wonderful.
All these latest FreeView boxes all nice and shiny, crammed with with the latest must-have features. But for what?
What's really worth watching on Freeview - HD or otherwise?..........................anybody?...............