Originally published in Active Home magazine
TopUpTV Anytime Thomson DTR: An innovative way of bringing extra choice to Freeview
TopUpTV has been broadcasting a few extra channels on the digital terrestrial platform for a couple of years, at £7.99; now, however, they’ve launched their own PVR, which they call a Digital Television Recorder, the Thomson DTI 6300-16. Priced at £180 a month, this is a twin tuner PVR with an extra trick up its sleeve. Add a subscription card and a monthly sub to TopUpTV Anytime and the box will record programmes broadcast overnight, from a selection of channels, giving you around 100 programmes to view when you want; most programmes are replaced within a week, so in theory there’s always something for you to see – and around 15-20 hours space to record things you want to watch from Freeview. The paid for programmes are accessed by a special button on the remote, which has a look and feel not dissimilar to the Sky one.
As a PVR, there are all the things you’d expect – pause live TV, record two shows simultaneously – except between about 11pm and 8am, when the box will be busy recording the paid for content – and a 14 day EPG, provided by InView. When the box is first plugged in, it uses the 8 day Freeview EPG, and then receives the 14 day one overnight; setup is simple and painless.
During our review, the box received a firmware update to address some serious bugs, but a few niggles remain. Changing channels, for example, often resulted in the screen briefly going black, and subtitles don’t work either – a major omission. We also had problems with the box not recognising 4:3 content and switching our TV correctly. TopUp TV tell us these should be resolved in a future update.
Besides those, there are niggles in the interface. The EPG navigation needs lots of scrolling and takes some time to get used to, and overall, the screens tend to look a little bland and uninspired. If you want to record two things simultaneously at night, you’ll be warned that you may not receive some of the Anytime content. And sometimes, you just have to wait for a screen display to time out, because pressing the button you want doesn’t seem to work otherwise. On the positive side, the new firmware we received provides a series link, so you can record every episode of a programme easily.
The remote control’s good, though; it will control the volume on many TVs, and is well laid out – but when there’s a perfectly good ‘Info’ button, why can’t that be used for programme info in the library, instead of pressing Yellow?
Of course, to an extent TopUpTV Anytime will stand or fall on the quality of the programming; and we weren’t overly impressed. If you want extra stuff for the kids, great. If you want ancient CSIs, great. Or ‘Badly dubbed porn.’ But what you don’t get is the cream of the programmes from the channels available; if there really are experts choosing the shows, they seem distinctly low-brow ones, and the list on the Programmes page of the TopUp website didn’t thrill either. Even the add-on Picture Box movie service, while it may show films without ads, tends to show ones that have an alarming habit of popping up on Freeview channels anyway.
All in all, while the idea of using overnight slots for pay TV is sound – and arguably a better use than quiz channels – we feel that the Thomson box needs its faults addressed and, for many people, the content available simply isn’t a compelling enough reason to choose this box over a competing PVR.