Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/07/23/review_thomson_topup_tv/

Thomson DTI 6300-16 TopUp TV Anytime DVR

DVR meets VoD

By Alun Taylor

Posted in Hardware, 23rd July 2007 14:40 GMT

Review Bit of an odd turbot this new TopUP TV service - not a selection of extra Freeview channels like the original TopUp TV offering, nor a full video on-demand system either. Bit of an odd review too, as it's difficult to come to a final conclusion on the hardware without some reference to the associated broadcast service, and that's highly subjective.

Thomson DTI 6300-16 TopUp TV Anytime +
Thomson's DTI 6300-16 TopUp TV Anytime DVR: styling straight out of the 1990s

The short and tall of it is that TopUp TV Anytime is all you get if you're a new TopUp TV customer. In any case, the old version is now reduced to providing access to just UKTV Gold, UKTV Style and British Eurosport over and above the usual Freeview channels.

The new service brings you a set of channels from which TopUp TV will 'send' you a maximum of about 14 hours of selected programmes overnight. You have no control over the programmes being sent, beyond selecting the channels they are pulled from. Whether those channels represent value is up to you. Full details of the nightly downloads can be found on TopUp TV's website, here.

This basic service costs £10 a month. If you want Picture Box, which gives you a selection of films from Universal Pictures, you'll need to fork out another £5 a month, while sports fans can get 46 Premiership football games and other stuff on Setanta for a further £11 a month. If you are new to TopUp TV, you'll also need to shell out £140 for the Thomson DTI 6300-16 DVR TopUp TV box, which is the linchpin of the whole system and is now the only set-top box available from TopUp. Existing TopUp customers can access various lower priced options if they wish to upgrade to the new service.

The DTI 6300-16 is a decent enough bit of kit in terms of specification coming as it does with two digital tuners and a 160GB hard drive. According to the on-screen stats, the drive is good for 145-odd hours, which seems a lot for only 160GB, but as we shall see in this case that still isn't enough.

Connectivity is pretty comprehensive, with two Scart sockets; a digital audio output via a co-axial socket; two RCA analogue audio outputs and an s-video socket. There's no HDMI output. Lurking by the Top Up TV Anytime card slot under a drop-down panel at the front of the box is a USB port, but you'll search in vain in the manual for any clue as to what this is for.

As regular software updates for the box come via the TV aerial, our guess would be that it's for firmware updates of some sort due in the future that may - we said may - allow for connection to a PC, something the box doesn't support at present.

Thomson DTI 6300-16 TopUp TV Anytime +
Fingerprint magnet?

Overall build quality is fine, though the plastic casing is not up the standards of the TVonics box recently reviewed here and the styling is just a little too run-of-the-mill 1990s domestic tech for our tastes, while the black plastic upper half of the box is a fingerprint magnet that is very hard to wipe clean due to the textured surface.

The supplied universal remote is yet another Sky-type handset and works well enough, but make sure when using the one-touch recording that you hold the button down for a full four seconds. This is too avoid "unintentional recording" apparently.

The row of function buttons on the front of the DVR are rather small and cheap and, unless you lose the remote, pretty pointless. The flip-down cover for the TopUp TV card slot and USB port doesn't bring the word 'longevity' to mind, either. The various LEDs on the front panel seem a little randomly spaced too.

Set up is straightforward enough: just plug in the various supplied cables and follow the on-screen prompts. Once up and running, the user interface is pretty much standard for a device of this type. The EPG is in a rather garish version of the Sky shades-of-blue-and-white colour scheme that, if sometimes with rather unnecessary complexity, allows you access to all the expected DVR functionality such as chase recording, pausing live TV, one-touch recording and series linking, were available.

The channels you wish to access for Anytime download can be selected from a list of icons along the bottom of the EPG, which is a nice design touch. One annoying feature is that when you use the 'channel up' (or down) key or just hit the channel number on the keypad - the programme information box always pops up on the new channel, whether you need it or no.

The DVR's accompanying literature talks of a 14-day programme guide, which on the first day of review was in fact only a seven-day guide, but at noon the next day suddenly became 14. A system update in action, we presume.

Thomson DTI 6300-16 TopUp TV Anytime +
Picture and sound quality up to snuff

In use, the box is near silent while both picture and sound quality are well up to snuff. If this unit does have a problem, it's the way the system divides up the hard drive capacity into two sections, one to store the Anytime downloads and the other to store programmes you record off air.

If you select all the available channels for Anytime to download from then the box divides up the available drive space in such as way as to leave you with just 16 hours' worth of space for your personal recordings. The only way to free up more room for your own recordings is to reduce the number of channels you want downloading, which rather takes away the whole point of the system to start with, and also is not actually much of a remedy. After pruning the channel download list quite ruthlessly we were still only left with 31 hours of personal space and that is still really not enough.

Thomson DTI 6300-16 TopUp TV Anytime +
The Sky-like UI

This box needs a fair bit more disk space or a more fluid method of dividing up the available space, perhaps by allowing you to alter the length of time the system stores downloaded content. As it is, programmes downloaded will erase themselves after six days unless moved into the personal storage - so exit the 31 hours, stage-left, at a gallop - thereby ensuring the hard drive always has space for the following period's downloads.

Fortunately, the box is smart enought to automatically check that no programmes downloaded overnight match any of the programmes already recorded to avoid doubling up on content.

Thomson DTI 6300-16 TopUp TV Anytime +
Choose what you want to download

Verdict

Assuming the available content appeals then the DTI 6300-16 is not such a bad old Hector. As a DVR it performs perfectly adequately, though £140 is perhaps a lot to pay for adequacy, perfect or not. If the content doesn't put it's hand up your kilt then our preference would fall with one the of the many other DVRs currently on the market such as the 150GB TVonics box which can be bought for £150 with no subsequent monthly payments.