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).
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.