Is content transfer essential in a PVR?

One of the things that many people appreciate about the Topfield PVRs (and to a lesser extent the Humax 9200) is that they allow you to transfer digital recordings from the hard drive to your PC. That allows you to convert them for portable media players, or to burn DVDs very easily, or you can simply store them on a media server, and play them back via a streaming device, freeing up space on the PVR itself.

That’s quite handy, though technically speaking it’s not something that’s legal – recording TV is allowed in the UK for the purpose of time-shifting, to watch at a more convenient time, and not to place material in an archive for repeated viewing. (For details, take a look here on the IPO site).

Content restrictions

With the advent of HD in the UK, things are slowly changing; although the broadcasts themselves are not encrypted, the programme guide is, and as part of the agreement to access it, makers of boxes have to protect the content that’s flagged, so that it can’t be duplicated. In some cases (like the Icecrypt T2200), that means that the simplest solution is chosen – encrypt everything on the hard disk, so that even unprotected SD material can’t be used elsewhere.

That’s clearly a blow to people who want to do the same sort of things that they did with the Topfield 5800, and the YouView specification makes it clear that similar restrictions will be imposed there too.

Does it matter?

However, I’m going to suggest that actually, perhaps this won’t matter as much as people may think it does. Firstly, it’s always been something of a minority activity, though that’s clearly not much consolation to those who will lose the ability to do something that they could do in the past.

But it is worth considering the things people actually do with recordings that they transfer off, and how much they will be impacted.

One of the most common uses, certainly in the past, has been for people to burn a DVD of a recording to lend to someone who missed a programme. And yes, you won’t be able to do that in future. However, while that was a very useful thing to be able to do when the Toppy first went on sale in 2005, it’s arguably less useful now, six years later. iPlayer and other similar sites are well established, broadband infrastructure has improved – perhaps not as much as people might like, but it’s better – and YouView will make it even simpler for people to catch up with programmes they’ve missed.

If it’s streaming within the home, then again, you won’t be able to do that in the ‘traditional’ way by copying a file from the PVR, converting it, and storing it on your media server, to play back on the TV. But I do think that we are going to see more recorders that support built in streaming. There are already products that do that job, but so far they tend to stream only to devices made by the same manufacturer. That will, I believe, change, as more people adopt D-TCP (about which I’ll blog more another time). And that means that a PVR with a sufficiently large hard drive will be ale to both record and stream for you. You may not have the security of keeping the data on a RAID array, but again, the core job of in-home sharing will be taken care of, albeit in a slightly different way.

The main fly in the ointment here is transfer to portable devices, and I confess I’ve not seen anything yet that will address that for many people – though it is possible to download from iPlayer for some of them anyway.

The question, of course, is whether or not this will be enough? If you’ve been using something like a Topfield 5800 for a few years, and are used to transferring programmes from it, then you might well worry about the loss of the facility.

I’d be interested to hear from other users if they think that they would find some of the alternatives outlined here acceptable.

5 thoughts on “Is content transfer essential in a PVR?

  1. It wasn’t an essential feature, but it’s certainly one that ticked a box when I was looking for a new PVR (which turned out to be the Humax T2 HDR).

    It’s not a feature I use all the time, but the time I do find it useful is if we’re going on holiday where there’s no standard TV to speak of. It’s nice to be able to take lots of the kids’ favourite TV with us.. throw-away stuff we’ve never dream of getting on DVD.

    So for us it’s about taking some programs we want to watch with us to places where we can’t access standard broadcasts or for in the car as we travel somewhere.

    It’d be nice if there was a more consumer-friendly way of squirting the programs to devices, like over to an iPad, but I’m a geek so I’m happy to do this myself for the 1 or 2 times a year we need to do it.

  2. For most uses a combination of streaming (presumably something along the lines of Upnp) and the Iplayer being available will be sufficient – presently having to record the same programme on three PVR’s just so you have the freedom of watching it anywhere in the house is a pain (especially as one of them pre-dates series link) – especially if the remote sets only need to be DNLA enabled TVs. To make that fully useful is to be able to set the timer on the PVR directly from the DNLA tv in the kitchen (for instance) – saving a trip to the lounge after you’ve seen an advert.

    Even neater than that would be for the PVR to be able to utilise tuners elsewhere in the house, and integrate the remote tuners TV guide into it’s own TV guide – this would make it trivial to add, say, DVB-T3, Freesat and Virgin Media recording capabilities to a DVB-T2 box with the interactive services appearing on “interactive” menu, ditto “on demand” content.

    The biggest loss in my opinion would be for those of us which like watching programmes never released on DVD in the same form again (e.g Formula 1 Grand Prix) and also when you have a familiar member appear, in a positive light, on a TV programme (e.g. some of my younger brothers football stuff featured on Granada Reports back in the 1990s).

  3. I guess I’m in the “archive for repeated viewing” category, though it’s generally wishful thinking that I’ll find the time to re-watch any programs I archive. My main reason I copy content off is for backups – a series of drive failures has made me an obsessive about securing prized recordings. Additionally I generally need to free the space as well.

    Every large step up in PVR storage size seems to makes people feel that they’ll never use that much space, but realistically I think many will expand to fill the space, especially with HD. This makes the need to archive and free up space more pressing on HD-PVRs, and the lack of this ability is another factor holding me back from moving up from my 5810.

    As for alternatives: streaming from content providers might replace my needs, but would only be acceptable if content were available long term in high enough quality.

  4. Like Jamey I’m an ‘archive for repeated viewing’. I have a Topfield 5800 and with and young child, the ability to store and replay is invaluable. She loves watching the same episodes again and again, and the MyStuff ability to line up several programs and play them consecutively without interruption is even more useful, as you can grab a power nap whilst she watches four Timmy Times on the trot. You can’t do that with BBC iPlayer.

    Ocassionally I take something off the Toppy for the wife as she uses it for lessons she teaches at school. There is a lot of stuff for her subject that is shown on TV but can’t be bought commerically.

    I’ve got a Sony HDTV with streaming in it and yes its useful to catch up on a series that maybe you missed the first episode of on the Toppy, and the LoveFilm film trailers are good, but until Broadband is ubiquitous and at a very good speed, then its still a novelty. I’ve got 6mbit BB and LoveFilm stutters when playing the HD content although thats probably more down to the content delivery network than my connection. BBC iPlayer is fine though and they are getting better at keeping the prime time shows for longer periods, but with a PVR, I can keep it for as long as I like and watch it when I want.

    That all said, I didn’t get the point of a PVR until I got my first TIVO. Now it would be a pain to live without one. No doubt the same will be said in a few years time for streaming content.

  5. I timeshift for all my viewing because my schedule never revolves around the broadcaster’s schedule. I never watch live TV.

    I archive some programs for repeated viewing.

    I archive to free up space on my HDD.

    I archive for friends who missed an episode – usually because their PVR hit a glitch. Unfortunately, no PVR ever gives total reliability. My old Humax 9200 eventually just locked up, never to re-awaken. In contrast, my old VHS recorders never missed a program. Such was the reliability of their, albeit simpler, software (it just chewed a tape occaisionally!).

    I archive for viewing elswhere – Would that be ‘geoshifting’? – and this is the thing I would most like my PVR to be able to do. Transfer recordings to another storage device (i.e. HDD) at the push of a button, so I can take them with me to watch somewhere else.

    Presumably, program makers create content for peple to view.

    If they (the broadcasters) reduce and remove the ability for archiving for the small percentage of people who appear to be interested in this facility, then they are actually going to reduce their audience. Or, am I missing something here?

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