Digital TV has given us access to more TV channels than ever before, but we can’t possibly watch it all!
Luckily, if we want to record some TV, we’re not forced to fiddle with videotape any more. Digital video recorders let you record digital TV straight to a massive hard drive, and they all feature an easy-to-use on screen menu to select programmes, so there’s no more messing around with timers. These boxes have lots of names, like PVR (personal video recorder), DVR (digital video recorder), hard drive recorders or just plain digital recorder. Then there are brands like Sky+, Tivo and Freesat+, but today we’re going to focus on recording free digital terrestrial TV.
Buying a Freeview PVR
If you want to record digital terrestrial TV (the channels picked up by your normal TV aerial), you need a Freeview+ box. They’re really easy to install, and once you’ve bought the box, there are no monthly subscriptions. if you’re just trying to get to grips with digital TV recorders and want to know where to start, check out our detailed digital TV recorder buying guide. Once you’re ready to go shopping, I’ve picked some of the best Freeview plus boxes around, so let’s see what they’re like.
The basic Ferguson lacks an HDMI connection, but as long as your TV has a SCART connection, the picture quality’s not bad, and the recordings look rather good. The big downside of this box is the slow, rather basic menu. It’s quite hard to find your way around the options, and series link takes ages to save. It does boast a twin tuner so you can record or watch two channels at the same time, and a 320GB hard drive, which Ferguson say can store up to 155 hours of recording. Overall, while you probably wouldn’t want to connect this to a 42” HD TV, it’s a great box to use with a smaller TV, maybe a second TV in a bedroom.
I don’t think this box looks as good as the Ferguson, but you definitely get value for the extra forty pounds this costs. Firstly, you get and HDMI connection and HD upscaling. This means that although it’s only a standard definition box, it does a reasonable job of making the picture presentable on a big HD television. The Sagem squashes slightly more video on to it’s 320GB hard drive than the Ferguson, with the trade off that the recorded picture quality looked fractionally worse, but where the Sagem really stands out is it’s ease of use.
The menus are clear and easy to understand, and they’re also surprisingly responsive for such a low cost box.
If we jump up to look at high definition boxes, you get a really nice Sony box. Priced at around £300 it’s a sleek, good looking box that will blend in beautifully in any living room. This has obviously got a much more powerful computer inside, the menus are clear and fast, with a really beautiful look to them. It’s got a 500GB hard drive, so you can record 125 hours of HD video. Sony only claims 300 hours of standard video, but records at a much better quality than the two cheaper boxes we looked at. You can record two channels while watching a third, and the picture in picture mode let’s you watch tow channels together. I found this box really easy to use.
Lastly, we’ve got the Humax HDR-FOX T2, one terabyte recorder. This offers twice the recording space of the Sony. I don’t think the box or the interface is as beautiful as the Sony, but it’s clear, friendly and really easy to understand. If you want to dig around in the menus, there are loads of advanced options in this box, including an internet connection to access Sky Player and other internet services. It’s a bit of a shame that this doesn’t support a wireless internet connection by default but it’s a nice add in to have. You need to know what you’re doing to get the most out of the Humax, but it’s easy enough for everyone to get started with, and rewards anyone who’s prepared to learn it’s secrets.
So to sum up, it looks like you can get a very decent Freeview+ box for under one hundred pounds, or you can pay the extra for an HD box and get a load of other benefits on top.