It’s the little touches that make a PVR

I recently published a well-deserved critique of Topfield, makers of the TF5800 PVR. But it’s worth recalling some of the things that their boxes do really cleverly – or can be made to do – that make them still the PVR of choice for many people.

Last night, I was catching up on some recordings on another PVR I’m testing. After I finished that, I realised that a new series of Silent Witness had started 20 minutes ago, and I was completely unaware, so hadn’t set a timer.

A quick glance at the front panel of the Toppy revealed that it was fortuitously on BBC1 – I switch mine off to reboot once a week, but otherwise leave it on – which meant that everything from the previous hour was stored on the hard drive.

So, switching over the the Toppy, I was able to rewind back to the beginning of Silent Witness.

More cleverly, thanks to a TAP I use called ImproBox, and a patch in the firmware, all I had to do was to press the record button, and the unit went right back to the start of the buffered TV, turned it into a recording, with the end time set to stop four minutes after the scheduled end of Silent Witness. At the same time, it automatically set two bookmarks in the recording, one at the start of each programme it contained.

So, a quick press of the green key jumped me straight over whatever was on before Silent Witness, directly to the start of the programme. And all, essentially, with just one press of the Record button.

That sort of flexibility is what many of us will miss, if we have to move to one of the current crop of Freeview HD recorders.

10 thoughts on “It’s the little touches that make a PVR

  1. Ahh but Nigel, it wasn’t provided on the Topfield either was it? It was provided by users. If all units were sold allowing users to program extra features for them, then you would get those ‘little touches’ on them all.
    However, it still makes me smile when I think of the Topfield bods who sold the basic ‘no frills’ unit for a great deal more money than any other unit and then sat back whilst users did all the hard work of programming features for it.

    Happy New Year Nigel! 😉

    1. Who provided it is somewhat irrelevant to the point – it’s touches like that that make people reluctant to find another.

      Perhaps if all PVRs provided an API, they’d all have extra features – but it’s just as likely they wouldn’t. The “well, if it was open, anyone could do anything” argument is beloved of fans of open source, but the hard truth is that most people don’t bother, and a very small proportion of users of things like Linux do actually tweak.

      And, of course, the Topfield certainly wasn’t a basic no frills unit, by any means. Remember that when it came out in 2005, there actually weren’t many comparable units at all – certainly no twin tuner dual record units, with CI slots, let alone with PC connectivity. So yes, it was the most expensive PVR. It was also, for a long while, the most capable. To describe it as ‘no frills’ is not fair at all, I think.

  2. However clever a device is, if it fails as miserably as Toppy does on normal tasks (as listed on your excellent website) the manufacturer/distributer/retailer does not deserve my money.

    1. I’d dispute that, with the recommended firmware (which admittedly owes rather more to the users than to Topfield in terms of stability) it fails miserably. Mine runs 24 hours a day, never misses a set recording, and is extremely stable. In that regard, I’d say it’s doing a lot better than many of the other units I’ve reviewed so far.
      Where it has fallen down so badly is in the support from the manufacturer, and particularly in native support for functionality like series link. I certainly wouldn’t recommend one to a novice, but with the recommended firmware it can do an extremely good job.

  3. And I think about the Panasonic (TUCTH-100) I bought my parents a few years back – like you say, very few dual tuner units around back then. In theory a very nice box – capable of any permutation you can think of with two tuners, stored recordings, output to TV (with PiP) and output to a VCR.

    Unfortunately, the software was the biggest pile of bug ridden manure you could imagine. The box would lock up frequently, to the extent that I think some people set them up on a time switch to do a power off reset every day in the small hours !
    Just one firmware update was ever provided, and then the unit was abandoned by Panasonic. It’s still bug ridden, but ‘mostly’ usable – particularly if you avoid using certain features !
    For anything I buy in the future, a Pansonic product would have to be a lot, lot, better than any other make for me to consider it – it really does leave a long lasting bad feeling when a manufacturer with the brand reputation of Panasonic will sell you rubbish and then walk away.

    PS – this unit is one of many where you cannot re-order the channels (though you can create a new channel list). Freeview channel numbering is a complete and utter shambles – and the first thing I do after any rescan is sit down and reorder (renumber if possible) the channels into something resembling a logical order.
    Another significant fault that reviewers seldom mention.

  4. It is that kind of feature (provided in the main by topfield users) that stops looking to replace my toppy with one of the new PVRs.

    In fact if my 5800 does ever give up the ghost I’ll be loking to repace it with another topfield as soon as possible.

  5. I’ve largely switched to Virgin Media, with the Samsung V+HD box (from my Toppy. )
    It’s got 3 tuners, but when you’re watching delay TV or playing back any recording you cannot do ANYTHING other than keep watching. You cannot even access the EPG to set a recording – so if a program reminder comes on you cannot quickly set a record timer. Also you cannot record from the buffer even if you’ve only delayed by a second.

    I certainly do miss the features of the Toppy/Mystuff even if it didn’t come ‘straight out of the box’.

  6. Turned my TV on to find toppy+mystuff had recorded the new series of predator from a keyword search. Never even knew it was on until after the Toppy recorded it.

    I am mystified that others don’t offer open APIs. Still looking for a HD PVR that comes close to the day to day Toppy benefits.

  7. On the old access devices PVRs (and presumably the GiGo), you press record, and the UI asks you nicely if you’d like to record the current programme from now, or from the start.

    I do agree, an innovative feature, but was on certain commercially available PVRs with their standard issue firmware quite some time ago. I wonder if you’d consider an article on what we lost when Access Devices folded, in a similar nature to the topfield article.

  8. I have a toppy 5800, with myStuff and a host of good TAPs that once installed are just there doing their good stuff.

    I just bought a panasonic hw100 – the hd twin tuner 320gb job and whilst the hd and sd reception/picture quality are great – it feels like such a step backwards in terms of the general UI and usability.

    toppy still rocks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *