Digital Television Recording with Top Up TV Anytime
Thomson Top Up TV Plus160G byte PVR
£83.99 from Amazon
250G byte PVR
£119.99 from Amazon
Hard disk recorders have been around for a little while - most famously pioneered by Tivio and then, in the UK, by the Sky+ box. Great if you're a Sky subscriber. With the advent of FreeView based Digital Television Recorders (DTR) this facility is available to the masses without the expense or restrictions of a subscription-only services.
Top Up TV have launched their own product in this space - the "Top Up TV+ DTR" - not quite as catchy as "sky+" - but don't let that put you off. The hardware is from Thomson - the 'DTI6300-16'.
This DTR offers an impressive feature set - including two independent tuners and a 160Gbyte hard disk onto which programmes can be recorded. The two tuners allow you to record one channel while watching another - or to record two channels at the same time. 160G is sufficient for storing around 100 hours of television - enough to keep even the most ardent TV addict satisfied!
Over and above the functions of a traditional video recorder, hard disk systems integrated with digital TV offer a wealth of additional functions that, once used, you'll wonder how you lived without. 'Pause Live TV' is an oft quoted example. At the press of the button literally freeze the action on a live TV show. No fumbling around looking for a spare tape - rewinding the tape or other time wasting exercises. Ideal for when that unexpected guest turns up right in the middle of the latest episode of Lost, or the phone rings with a vital double glazing sales offer you can't resist. You don't have to wait for the end of the programme to start watching. One of my favourite uses of this feature is to pause the first 10 minutes of a show and then fast forward through the adverts!
Digital TV also benefits from integration with a live programme guide - EPG (Electronic Programme Guide). There have been countless attempts to make it easier to correctly record programmes from bar-codes to special numbers printed in the papers. All obsolete now with EPG - the DTR knows the channel you're watching and automagically stops recording at the end of the show. Timed programming is also simplified by selecting the programme you want to record from the guide. No coming home to watch the latest Big Brother only to find that you've recorded an hour of cricket because you got the channel wrong. And finally you can even decide to record an entire series with one instruction - never miss an episode of Dr Who again!
This kind of operation has been dubbed 'time-shifting' - using DTRs to choose when to watch a programme rather than have that dictated by the broadcaster. In a recent survey conducted by Top Up TV, 57% of their DTR customers said that they regularly used the time-shift feature to watch their programmes at a time convenient to them.
I've been using this product for a little while now with only minor hiccups, most of them non-serious. One of the most annoying 'niggles' concerns video rewind which often results in a click of the 'rewind' button sending you all the way back to the start of the programme rather than simply reversing play. I've checked with the Top Up people and this is a known issue and a fix is currently being tested (more in a moment). The user interface needs a little polishing, mainly in user feedback. It can often be unclear whether the action you've taken on the remote has been received.
The most serious problem concerned on a couple of occasions when the device locked up, requiring power to be removed. On one occasion this coincided with rewinding a video and so it is quite possibly part of the problem mentioned above.
I indicated the problems above to be 'minor' - even the odd lock up - why? Because of the excellent and transparent software upgrade service provided by the Top Up TV people. This happens over night in the same way as programme downloads - over the air. You don't have to do anything and you don't loose any content. In the few weeks I've been using the DTR the software has been upgraded twice resulting in more reliable software and an improvement in the user interface. While one can argue that products should be completely tested before being shipped - this is mitigated in cases such as this where there is a reliable post-ship software upgrade feature.
In my smiley rating I had to take into account the product as I reviewed it and so the niggles I experienced reflected in ease of use - without those ease-of-use would have been at least a 4. Given the downloads so far though I'm pretty confident that the engineers are serious about fixing bugs - and if I still have the product here after the next software upgrade I'll come back and comment on the changes!
TV Anytime service
Most people in the UK now have at least heard of digital TV, and of Freeview as the natural heir to traditional analogue TV. Freeview is received through your existing, standard TV aerial, and once you've bought suitable hardware is free to use - just like terrestrial TV. You do get a lot more channels, including all your existing favourites.
The technology behind Freeview also offers the opportunity to deliver additional 'paid for' services. TV Anytime is just one such service and it works in conjunction with the DTR+ box. The system works by using the recording capabilities of the DTR+ box to 'download' a number of programmes to the internal hard-disk over night. Up to around 150 programmes will be automatically downloaded ready for you to browse and watch at your leisure.
Programmes are downloaded from a number of specific channels including the likes of uktv-gold, Paramount Comedy, Disney and British Eurosport. A set up menu allows you to remove channels that do not interest you.
TV Anytime is activated through a special 'feature' card that slots into the front of the receiver. The basic price of that service is £9.99 per month for the basic service, and there are some premium channels such as Setanta for sports that attract an additional charge.
The downloaded programmes are valid for 7 days from when they are recorded, after which they are automatically deleted to make way for more downloads. If there is a programme in the list though that you want to keep for longer you can simply save that to the user area and you have as much time as you want.
I don't watch a lot of TV, however I found it really good that when I wanted to watch something and the usual channels were devoid of anything interesting I could usually find something interesting in the downloaded library.
At around £85, ignoring TV Anytime, you have an excellent DTR capable of storing over 100 hours of programming, recording two channels simultaneously and in the process probably avoiding a few arguments over Christmas! For those of you that want more variation the option of Top Up TV Anytime to augment your own library is an excellent idea and worked very well.
More information can be found on Top Up TVs website :
|add to del.icio.us||Digg this review|