Multiple tuners, catch-up/on-demand and mobile apps are the new must-haves.
The PVR or DVR has become an essential part of many homes, after really breaking through when Sky+ launched. You don’t necessarily need a contract to use a PVR, however, with many available subscription-free via Freeview (Play), YouView and Freesat. In this world of streamed media most, if not all, support catch-up and on demand content, too, so the PVR is becoming an ever more complete solution. We take a look at some of the best PVRs on the market as we head in to Christmas 2015 and the new year.
EE TV – Free to qualifying customersYou can draw comparisons between the EE TV with the likes of Sky HD Boxes, Virgin’s TiV0, the various YouView PVRs and any number of Freeview/Freesat personal video recorders. So it’s a box you connect to your TV which receives TV broadcasts, through an aerial, and also allows you to record them to the built-in 1TB hard drive. It will also let you pause and rewind ‘Live TV’ and comes with access to various catch-up and video streaming services – more on these later. In essence it’s a Freeview HD recorder so it has access to all the various TV, Radio and connected features the platform provides but it has a few standout features to set it apart. First and foremost, the EE TV platform has been built with smartphones and tablets designed to play a central role. The interface is very mobile led and there’s an app for iOS and Android that interlinks with the box in useful and interesting ways. The EE TV box can also, if you wish, record up to four channels simultaneously or you can opt for two channel recording and take advantage of the Replay feature. Note: you do need to be an EE customer to get one but it won’t cost you anything if you are.
If you are already a qualifying EE customer, you’d be bonkers not to grab one of these nifty little boxes, whilst they are available for nothing! Even if you don’t yet feel it has quite enough content to be your living room box, it’s a fantastic option for another room. The user interface is refreshing and the integration with phones and tablets is superb. As a Freeview HD recorder it performs the nuts and bolts with aplomb but it’s with the unique Replay feature where it sets itself apart. Replay aggregates up to a whole day’s worth of programmes, from six nominated channels, and it might just change the way you view TV. In fact, you could say that of the entire package, with its ability to stream four different programmes to four separate devices, simultaneously.
Humax YouView+ DTR-T2000 - £174.99On the face of it, the YouView branded Humax DTR-T2000 doesn’t really appear any different to the others in the range. We’ve previously covered the DTR-T1010 in both its 1 Terabyte and 2TB incarnations and, as the service has evolved, we’ve become bigger fans of the YouView platform. The DTR-T2000 is available with either a 500GB or 1TB hard drive specification priced between (December 2015) £149.95 and £199.95. The general design of the Humax DTR-T2000 follows closely from what went before but the new unit is a little smaller - thanks to an outboard power supply - and the display panel is no longer there and is definitely missed. The DTR-T2000 still doesn't feature WiFi connectivity, either, which is plain silly but you do get a reasonable set of video and audio connections, plus wired LAN for the on-demand services.
We've always been big fans of the YouView user interface. It's very easy to follow and the default blue colour scheme is one of the nicest to look at but you do have a choice of a more monochrome look, should you so wish. Setting up and accessing recordings is also a relative breeze and you get all the usual Freeview HD+ niceties such as Series Record and Chase Play. There's still no provision for setting timer paddings, however, so you're at the mercies of the broadcasters should programmes over-run. Fortunately, that's not a scenario you will encounter often and for the rest of the time, the DTR-T2000 proved a fabulously reliable recorder, as those that have gone before it. However, the T2000 improves on the older models by being far speedier in just about all its operations and it makes a big difference to the overall usability of the product. All in all the DTR-T2000 is an excellent PVR which improves on its predecessors in almost every way.
VBox Home TV Gateway (XTi 3342) - £129.99Don’t think of this as a direct rival to a traditional digital TV recorder, a la your TiVO, Sky, Freeview/Freesat PVR, the VBox TV gateway is something a bit different. Consider the VBox more as a router for your TV signal. It accepts transmissions from either terrestrial (aerial), satellite or cable sources and then makes them available to other devices (smartphones, tablets, media boxes and PCs) on your home network through apps, a browser or a KODI add-on. You can also add some USB or networked storage to the XTi 3342 to enable live TV pausing and recording, with the recorded content also able to be distributed in the same way.
This device definitely has a place in the connected home although, for some, it may have some slightly restrictive installation requirements – ideally your router and primary TV aerial connection will be close together, your wireless home network is recommended to be a minimum of 802.11n and setup isn’t as simple as a typical PVR. Once you have got the VBox up and running, however, it is a very user friendly system capable of sending broadcast quality live TV and recordings, including HD, all around the home. You can use USB or networked (NAS) storage to keep your recordings, and the VBox also plays extremely nice with KODI, with its own dedicated PVR add-on available. It doesn’t work quite so well with Android as it does on other platforms, although perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by that given the diversity of hardware. At the time of review, there was an issue with missing data for HD channels, on all platforms but a fix for that has now been issued so it’s even more worthy of recommendation now.
Humax FVP-4000T Freeview Play - £199 to £229Before we fully tackle the nuts and bolts of the FVP-4000T, let’s take a quick look at what Freeview Play actually is. Put simply, it’s just a convenient aggregation of the catch-up services from the ‘major’ broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Channels 4 & 5 – with various other features geared to making your viewing experience ‘seamless' built in to the software. So, instead of having to open the individual apps, e.g. BBC iPlayer, to find something to watch there are other methods by which to do it that, if implemented well, it should bring Freeview into the 21st Century. To be clear, Freeview Play doesn’t give you any more channels than Freeview HD, it’s just a new software platform to deliver the content.
There are lots of really good things about the Humax FVP-4000T. We like the recording capabilities and flexibility, in particular. Should the occasion arise, you are able to record up to four channels, at once, while watching something else and Freeview Play also provides other nice-to-haves including global timer padding, chase play, customisable time skipping and the ability to archive recordings to external storage. This box can also share the contents of its hard drive to other DLNA equipped devices on your home network, which is excellent. The FVP-4000T will also play back your media files from USB or, again, from other networked machines. So, it’s a great box for those most interested in recording, archiving and sharing. The Humax FVP-4000T is a great option for those that value the core duties of a PVR – recording, playback and archiving – and as the platform matures we can only see the catch-up side of things getting better.
So there you go, a few choices to keep you happy this festive season and hopefully you get to watch everything on your list.
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