2011's Best... DVRs and Media Streamers
Telly content, off your Lan, off the net
Xmas Gift Guide The days of piling shelves high with videotape recordings of shows once broadcast then forgotten are long gone. The current generation of DVRs and media streamers ensures that no TV programme remains unwatched for long, whether you snare it with a series link or stream it via a catch-up service.
These days it's hard to miss a show even if you try.
The challenge now is to manage this unceasing torrent of televisual entertainment as best you can. Helpfully, the past 12 months have seen the most advanced and audacious selection of DVRs and streamers released yet, from VirginMedia’s TiVo-branded smart recorder to do-it-all entertainment packages from Samsung and Panasonic.
Which one will be your next box?
LG ST600 Smart TV Upgrader
You don’t actually need to replace your TV if you want a connected viewing experience: you can just upgrade to IPTV functionality. Both Sony and LG offer similar products, but it’s LG’s superior media streaming talents - it’ll play MKVs on downwards - that give it the edge over Sony’s rival, the SMP-N100/N200.
The ST600 connects to any TV via HDMI, and to your home network through Ethernet or integrated Wi-Fi. A USB port is provided for local file playback. Mimicking LG’s net connected TVs and Blu-ray players, there’s access to the brand’s Smart TV portal and all the streaming services that implies, including YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Acetrax and Vtuner radio. Easy to install and a doddle to use, this is the simple way to a Smarter TV.
More Info LG
Welcome to the first 3D-specific Freeview+HD DVR. It’s much like any other Freeview HD recorder – offering seductive series-linking and HD recording prompts – but with the added attraction of 3D terrestrial TV recording with correct signal flagging for 3D-ready TVs, conversion of 2D programme material to fake 3D, and the ability to store and display digital 3D images in the MPO format. Stereographers, rejoice!
Strip away the 3D frippery, and you have a digital recorder with a 320GB hard drive, excellent local USB media playback and online access to Panasonic’s VieraConnect smart portal, which offers Skype, YouTube, DailyMotion, BBC News and more, but no iPlayer - although we are told it’s coming. If you want to make the most of your new 3D TV, this DVR is the way to go.
More Info Panasonic
Next page: TVOnics DTR-Z500HD
Re: Unfair advantage given to Virgin Tivo
Yes, I'm sure Virgin didn't pay for this one.
But if it wants to get a 100% score, it can send six cases of Brunello di Montalcino round to Vulture Central, marked for my attention.
PS3 and streaming don't make me laugh. I flogged my PS3 on eBay when Sony broke the buffering in firmware 2.50. When I posted to the Sony tech forums I got flamed by fanboys who claimed streaming SD content of WiFi G was impossible. Oh and the PS3 did not have any support for WMV and some other codecs
You are better off going for cheaper streaming options like the ACRyan PlayOn Mini or WD TV Live. Whilst these are not perfect they are cheap and cheerful and support large range of codecs and containers. Including the MKV container and H.264.
Oh and they don't have a noisy fan, or loose your credit card details.
Where are all the other devices?
Seem to be a veritable hatload missing from the roundup - Humax is the major missing item.
The DVR market
No Humax to review? (not 100% sure they brought out any new models in 2011 so maybe that's why). But either way I don't think the lineup is much cop. The TVonics looks OK but the software doesn't look particularly slick. And I can't get cable so the virgin box is out for me.
If I had to list my "wants" for a dvr/streamer they are (in no real order):
Freeview HD recorder with iPlayer and 4od built in (or youview if it ever arrives!). Ability to upload and download media via ethernet. HDMI output. Nice remote control. And, most importantly of all, reliable recording including series links that work (and don't disappear or fail to record!).
Unfortunately I don't think any manufacturer is interested in delivering all of the above (or even part of the above). They often seem to be let down by immature or clunky software that's coded to order by outsourced teams. Once their products are released companies seem to have little interest in fixing the bugs or adding (god forbid!) extra features*.
* I could live with this if only they fixed their bugs!
Humax used to update their DVR software regularly but they seem to be hampered by their offshore dev model (or financial constraints - or both). And Topfield seem to have disappeared from the market :-(
There was a time when I thought this area of tech would eventually mature. Now I'm not so sure. Hey ho!
No Humax this year?
Outclassed or forgotten?