Topfield TF5800 PVR

This is, more or less, the article that started it all. I liked the ‘Toppy’ so much I bought one, and set up the web site, and started to learn much more than previously about digital TV. Originally published in Computeractive.

Topfield TF5800PVR: Twin tuner Freeview hard disk recorder , with USB connection to PC

Recording from Freeview can be a hassle; unless you have two set-top boxes, you have to watch analogue TV while you record the digital channel. Not with Topfield’s TF5800PVR though. It’s got two tuners built in, and a 160Gb hard drive. So there’s no more hunting for tapes, and as well as watching one channel while recording another, you can record two at the same time and play back a previous recording as well. It’s not the only machine to do that, but it is the first in the UK that also has a USB connection to transfer recordings to your PC, a 160Gb hard drive – which is enough for around 80 hours recording – and a CAM slot, so you can use it with the TopUpTV  service,  which supplies a few extra pay TV channels.

The Topfield is slightly smaller than a video recorder, and very quiet in operation – though if you’re sensitive you might hear the disk clicking; there’s no fan. It has two SCART sockets, analogue and digital audio connectors for your HiFi, plus the USB 2.0 port, and a TV out for old sets with no SCART. Setup was easy, though it took around 5 minutes to scan for all the available channels, dividing them into TV and Radio (but with BBC Parliament oddly listed as Radio). You can create a favourite channels list, so you don’t scroll through all the channels you never watch, but the manual isn’t too helpful – it’s not been changed much from the continental version, which uses different buttons on the remote.

As a box for watching TV, the Topfield does what you’d expect, then some more. You can press Pause to stop a live TV programme, and then carry on up to an hour later, skipping the ads to catch up. And if you’ve done that, you can save the ‘time slip’ buffer to disk too, though the menu is a little fiddly to track down, and if you change channels before starting a recording, the buffer resets. There’s the full Freeview 7 day programme guide, though the display shows four channels at a time, so you have to scroll a lot to see it all. You can, though, download alternative ‘TAP’ programs from the net, to change features such as the guide, which is a nice touch.

We found recording works well, with weekly, weekday, weekend, and daily timer options, which you can set directly from the programme guide. You can also transfer recordings to your PC and convert them for burning to DVD. It’s not that quick though – around 1 minute for every five minutes of TV via USB2 or real time via USB 1.1.

There are a few niggles – some menu options are tucked away, and there are no bookmarks to help you go back to where you stopped watching a recording. And the maximum fast forward speed is only 6x. But on the whole, it’s simple to use, and after only a couple of days we found we watched TV when we wanted, instead of when the programmes were broadcast. And unlike Sky+, you don’t have to pay monthly for the privilege.

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