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PVR reviews

Take control of your TV viewing. Find the right PVR to suit you needs.
 
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01 .Introduction

DVR-lead

We review eight personal video recorders (PVRs), priced between $149 and $699.

Through our rigorous testing, we reveal which PVRs:

  • have the best electronic program guides
  • have remote controls that are easy to use
  • have the most accurate timers
  • are the easiest to use, and
  • uses the least amount of standby power.

In this review you'll find:

What does a PVR do?

A PVR delivers features such as the ability to pause live TV (time shift) and fast-forward through ads for recorded programs. An electronic program guide (EPG) – when working properly – allows you to see what programs are coming up in the next hour, day or week. Simply select the program you want to record in the EPG, and your PVR will do the rest. Some of the models on test also include a DVD/Blu-ray player or DVD/Blu-ray recorder for extra versatility.

Video: What is a DVR

Chris Ruggles sheds some light on the benefits of digital video recorders.

For more information about set top boxes and PVRs, see Visual.

Do you need a PVR?

While there is an ever expanding number of ‘must see’ free-to-air TV programs, they’re often shown at times or days that don’t suit you. A PVR allows you to control the TV viewing environment, recording the shows to watch later.

Most PVRs have two high definition (HD) TV tuners to record up to two different shows while watching a third program recorded earlier. PVRs deliver features such as the ability to pause live TV while some allow you to skip through ads for recorded programs.

For those who also like watching DVD or Blu ray (BD) movies, PVRs are also available with DVD or BD players, while others include BD and DVD recorders allowing you to transfer the video stored on the PVR hard drive onto a recordable DVD or BD.

Models that support DLNA play video, music and images stored on your home network or over the internet, while other features on offer include the ability to stream recorded programs to your smartphone such as iPhone or Android device using a dedicated app.

Previously tested models may still be available. However, the latest test includes the most up to date features and functionality.

Models tested

  • LG HR938T
  • Panasonic DMR-BWT835GL
  • Panasonic DMR-PWT635GL
  • Samsung BD-F8900A
  • Strong SRT6500
  • TEAC HDR9650TS
  • Thomson JL8006
  • Topfield  TRF-7260


Glossary

DVR: Digital video recorder.

PVR: A personal video recorder is the same as a DVR.

DVD HDD recorder: A PVR with a DVD recorder/player in it as well. This means you can record to DVD. A review of these units can be found in our DVD and Blu-ray recorders review.

How we test

Electronic Program Guide (EPG) 

In order to assess the EPG performance, our tester Scott O'Keefe examines the following areas:

  • Onscreen information for simple or well organised layout of times, channels and program titles. 
  • How easy the characters are to read – considering the size, contrast, font, colours, background.
  • The quality of descriptor words, phrases or symbols and that selections stay on screen long enough to read. 
  • Examines which keys to use and whether there is support for one button recording. 
  • Confirms whether the EPG delivers instant, or near instant program information updates.
Remote control

Scott assesses the remote control to determine how easy it is to use for common functions. As many of these models have few controls on the front panel, the remote becomes an integral part of the functionality of the unit. He looks at key size, shape, colour and grouping for ease of understanding.

Timer accuracy

Timer accuracy was tested by recording three overlapping programs to ensure the ability of the unit to continuously record each program with no dropouts. For models without timer recording we used the EPG.

Timer recording

Dual-tuner timer recording performance is tested by programming events. James assesses how easy this process is, as well as testing how well the units carry out repeated recording.

Ease of use

Our tester, looks for an auto-tuning system that is informative and simple to use. He makes instant recordings and checks the menus for ease of understanding, navigation and clarity. He also plays back recordings to check the quality and range of functions that are possible. He looks at the front panel controls to see to what extent the machine can operate various tasks without using the remote control, and looks at the quality of information conveyed via the front panel display.

Standby power

He connects the PVRs to a regulated power supply and power meter, and records standby energy consumption. Products that use 2W or more score 0%.

 
 

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Maximum approximate recording provides an indication of the time available for a high-definition recording. These figures are approximate only, as HD video can take up anything from 5GB to 15GB per hour, depending on the type of video shown. For example, an hour of action movie footage with lots of changes in scenery and colour will take up much more space than an hour-long interview in a studio setting with little changes in scene.

Series Recording A series recording feature adds another level of sophistication by locating a where a show is on the EPG and recording based on the name, not just a repeated time. This allows the DVR to record the show even if the time changes. The feature allows you to record your show over an indefinite period.

Resolution for digital free-to-air TV can be confusing. Standard definition broadcasts are called 576i (the i is for interlaced transmission mode). High definition comes in a number of forms. 1080i is the most detailed over-the-air broadcast. However, in Australia, any broadcast at 576p (progressive transmission mode) and above is called HD. Many devices, including PVRs, can take lower resolution input (for example, a broadcast at 576i) and upscale it to 1080p or 1080i, which is closer to most new TVs’ native resolution.

Remote controls should have buttons that are sized, shaped and spaced so you can easily find and press them individually. They should be grouped so you can quickly go to specific functions, and the most commonly used buttons should be prominent. All should have clear English labels or obvious symbols.

Record from AV input While all PVRs record free-to-air TV, you need an analog input connection if you want to record another video signal, for example from a VCR or Foxtel box.

Direct recording to an external drive is a particularly handy feature if you wish to store any of the shows you have recorded for future viewing. Effectively, it’s the same as putting an additional hard drive into your PVR. some can record to an external USB device, while other devices only allow you to move content from the hard drive of the PVR to the external drive.

Timer recordings allow you to set your device to record shows past the standard seven days allocated by the EPG, this is handy if you want to record a special event (sport or major occasion) and won’t be around the week before.

Auto padding is the ability to automatically append extra time before and after a recording, useful in case programs do not run on time.

HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) is an all-digital connection for both video and audio in one cable. All models in this test have an HDMI connection.

TOSLINK and digital coaxial cables deliver digital audio and provide support for audio features such as DTS, Dolby Surround sound and Dolby True HD sound.

An Ethernet or LAN connection is becoming increasingly common on a PVR, allowing you to share video on your home network or stream video from the Internet.

Antenna pass-through allows you to connect another device to the antenna without going through the PVR processor. This is handy if you want to attach an analog device such as a VCR at the same time, but will be less useful when the analog signal is turned off.

Timeshift All models on test incorporate a timeshift feature. This allows you to press the pause button and stop watching the show, and the PVR will continue to record the show while you’re away. Also, you can rewind what you were watching as long as you stay on the same channel.

AVCHD is a video format used by an increasing number of new digital video camcorders. Its very compressed format means you can fit lots of HD video onto a card, but requires quite a bit of processing to decode. All products on test except the Sony can handle AVCHD.

DivX is a file format commonly used for movies and TV shows that you can download from the internet. All recorders on test support DivX.


The future for PVRs

In recent times we’ve seen a growing number of TVs coming onto the market with USB or storage card connections that can be used to record programs. This is a good feature, particularly if you only record the occasional program and don’t want to store it permanently. It could be seen as the beginning of the end for PVRs.

At present PVR’s have a few real advantages; they have quite large storage capacity (up to 1000GB), can program a number of recording sessions at the same time, can record while playing back a previously recorded program and timeshift so you can rewind or pause live TV. However, as TVs continue to develop it’s possible that all of these functions will become standard and the separate PVR will no longer take up space in our lounge rooms.

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