PVR twin tuners review 2008

They're still on their training wheels, but at around $1,000, you'd expect more.
 
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  • Updated:29 Jan 2008
 

01 .Introduction

Please note: this information was current as of January 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Chris Ruggles sheds some light on the benefits of DVRs, the
digital take on the old VHS recorder.



Test results for seven PVR twin tuners, priced from $749 to $1099

A twin tuner HD personal video recorder (PVR), that can record shows on two different channels at the same time, may sound appealing. It would allow you to catch all your favourite shows, without missing out on your regular shows screening on another TV channel.

But the real questions are: has the technology reached the point where these devices are worthwhile and what one should you buy?

See our latest article on digital video recorders to read about the newest technology offering twin tuners. 

See our latest test of digital video recorders (DVRs).

This report gives you the answers. We bought seven PVR twin tuners (also known as DVRs) and tested them for:

  • peformance
  • ease of use
  • energy consumption on standby

As well as identifying the best products in the test, we also explain how twin tuners work, how you can connect them to a DVD recorder, and what to look for when choosing one, including video connections, timeshift feature and remote control.

Brands tested

  • Beyonwiz DP-P1
  • Grundig GPVR3250HD
  • LG LST5402P
  • NEC NHD-3000VR
  • Philips DVR7100/75
  • Strong SRT5490
  • Topfield TF7000HDPVRt
 
 

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What to buy

Brand Price

  • LG LST5402P - $899
  • NEC NHD-3000VR - $799
  • Beyonwiz DP-P1 - $1099

About the rest

  • Timeshift recordings of the Philips, Topfield and Strong need to be manually started and all units had poor remote controls with small, closely spaced buttons.
  • The Strong also had a poor standby energy score.
  • The Philips was easy to set up and tune.
  • The timer recording was very easy to set on the Topfield .
  • The reception performance of the Grundig was significantly worse than the other models in the test and its standby energy use was also excessive

Results table

  Performance
Brand / model (in rank order) Overall score (%) Ease of use score (%) Reception score (%) Standby energy score (%) Price ($)
LG LST5402P
www.lge.com.au
69 70 73 50 899
NEC NHD-3000VR
www.nec.com.au
66 54 75 90 799
Beyonwiz DP-P1
www.beyonwiz.com.au
65 58 73 70 1099
Philips DVR7100/75
www.philips.com.au
60 51 70 70 749
Topfield TF7000HDPVRt
www.topfield-australia.com.au
60 51 73 50 1049
Strong SRT5490
www.strong-technologies.com
57 50 73 30 1085
Grundig GPVR 3250HD
www.grundig.net.au
54 59 53 30 799
 


  Features Specifications
Brand / model (in rank order) Simultaneous timer recording of two channels One-touch recording HDMI USB Card reader Timer limits (programs / period) Dimensions (mm, H x W x D) Hard disc capacity (GB)
LG LST5402P
www.lge.com.au
20 / month 76 x 430 x 348 160
NEC NHD-3000VR
www.nec.com.au
ns (C) / year 65 x 335 x 280 250
Beyonwiz DP-P1
www.beyonwiz.com.au
F, R CF, MMC, MS, SD 100 / unlimited 65 x 390 x 310 200
Philips DVR7100/75
www.philips.com.au
40 / month 75 x 430 x 300 250
Topfield TF7000HDPVRt
www.topfield-australia.com.au
R ns (C) / year 64 x 430 x 270 250
Strong SRT5490
www.strong-technologies.com
• (A) R (B) ns (C) / unlimited 77 x 360 x 305 250
Grundig GPVR 3250HD
www.grundig.net.au
8 / unlimited 69 x 370 x 290 250
 

Table notes

  • ns = not stated
  • (A) = DVI to HDMI adapter supplied
  • (B) = USB 1.1. Does not support an external hard disc drive
  • (C) = Should be able to record at least 10 items.

USB connection Connections are USB 2.0 unless otherwise noted. F = front, R = rear.

Card reader CF = Compact Flash, MMC = MultiMedia Card, MS = Memory Stick, SD = Secure Digital.

Scores The overall score is made up of:

  • Ease of use: 50%
  • Performance: 40%
  • Energy on standby: 10%
  • Features For an explanation of features, see What to look for.

Price Recommended retail price in December 2007.

Program and period limits Most models tell you how many recordings you can cue up at once (in our tested models, the range was from 8 to 400). Some models allow you to set a timer to record a program years into the future, while others only allow you to plan ahead by a month.

How we tested

  • Our testers connected the PVRs to a regulated power supply and power meter and recorded standby energy consumption.
  • For ease of use, testers looked for an auto-tuning system that was informative and simple to use. They made instant and timer-set recordings and checked the menus for ease of understanding, navigation and clarity. They also played back recordings to check the quality and the range of functions that were possible.
  • Testers looked at the remote control and determined how easy it was to use for common functions.
  • Each unit was also subject to various electrical safety tests.

Profiles - the best

LG LST5402P

Price: $899

Good points

  • Both tuners are fed directly from a single antenna input.
  • Two composite video outputs.
  • Very easy to set up and tune.
  • Very good on-screen menu and displays.
  • Very easy to set timer recordings.
  • Timeshift recording is always active — no need to start it yourself.
  • Remote control can also operate some brands and models of TV, VCR, and DVD player.

Bad points

  • Borderline standby energy score.
  • Only 160GB capacity.

NEC NHD-3000VR

Price: $799

Good points

  • Very easy to set timer recordings.
  • Excellent energy efficient on standby.

Bad points

  • Timeshift recording needs to be started manually.
  • Poor remote control — many of the keys are too small and closely spaced.
  • Poor front panel display — limited information and brightness only just adequate.

Beyonwiz DP-P1

Price: $1099

Good points

  • Can support an external HDD.
  • Ethernet 'networking' port.
  • Supports playback of a number of different audio, image, and video file types from connected devices.
  • Both tuners are fed directly from a single antenna input.
  • 5.1 analogue audio output.
  • Very easy to set up and tune.
  • Timeshift recording is always active — no need to start it yourself.
  • Remote control can also operate some brands and models of TV.

Bad points

  • Doesn’t allow renaming of recordings.
  • Recordings are not thumbnailed.
  • Poor front panel controls, which means operation’s very limited without the remote control.

 

Profiles - the rest

Philips DVR7100/75

Price: $749

Good points

  • Very easy to set up and tune.
  • Recordings have video thumbnails.

Bad points

  • Timeshift recording needs to be started manually.
  • Timeshift on-screen display has poor level of information.
  • Poor remote control — many of the keys are too small and closely spaced, especially the playback controls.

Topfield TF7000HDPVRt

Price: $1049

Good points

  • Very easy to set timer recordings.

Bad points

  • Timeshift recording needs to be started manually.
  • The date attached to recordings is US format (month/day) only.
  • Recordings are not thumbnailed.
  • Poor remote control — many of the keys are too small and closely spaced, especially the playback controls.
  • Poor front panel controls — very limited operation without the remote control.

Strong SRT5490

Price: $1085

Good points

  • Ethernet 'networking' port (but doesn't support networked storage).
  • User accessible HDD bay (user can change HDD).
  • Remote control can also operate some brands and models of TVs.

Bad points

  • Timeshift recording needs to be started manually.
  • The date attached to recordings is US format (month/day) only.
  • Recordings are not thumbnailed.
  • Poor remote control — many of the keys are too small and closely spaced, especially the playback controls.
  • Poor standby energy score.

Grundig GPVR3250HD

Price: $799

Good points

  • Timeshift recording is always active — no need to start it yourself.

Bad points

  • Recordings are not thumbnailed.
  • Poor user manual, eg, no mention of timer recording
  • Poor standby energy score.
  • Borderline reception.

Remote control

A good remote control is crucial as it’s tricky to operate many of the PVRs using just the front control panel. The remote should have buttons that are sized, shaped and spaced so you can easily find and press them individually. They should also be grouped according to function and the buttons you use most should be the most prominent.

Timeshift

A timeshift feature, where the hard drive records what you’re currently watching on TV, is a great way to watch what you want, when you want it. For example, you can use it as an instant replay if you’ve missed something crucial, and then fast forward during an ad break so you don’t miss anything.

Audio/video connections

Your PVR needs to have connections that match the ones on your TV and any other device you want to connect it to (apart from SCART and HDMI, all connections require separate audio links).

The audio options should at least include stereo, with the standard red and white RCA connections. Digital audio options include co-axial (or S/PDIF), which is usually a black RCA cable, or TOSLINK, which is an optical laser connection.

Some of the tested models have multiples of any one type of connection, but they may not be available all at once. To avoid any problems, tally up the number of devices you might want to connect to a recorder at the same time and check with the retailer or manufactureres' website that this is possible before you buy.

  • Composite is found on most modern TVs. The brightness and colour signals are combined into a single video signal.
  • S-video, identifiable by a small, round, four-pin plug, is one step ahead of composite. It provides better picture quality because the brightness and colour signals are kept separate.
  • Component separates the picture further into brightness and individual colour signals, providing even better quality. Three video cables are required. (RGB delivers a picture of individual red, green and blue signals using the same cables as component but is not compatible with most models and is becoming less common.)
  • HDMI  is an all-digital connection for both video and sound in one cable. HDMI connections can accept DVI input (see below) if you have a special cable, but you have to connect sound separately.
  • DVI (digital video interface) can carry digital video signals to a screen that can display them at the same quality as HDMI but can’t carry an audio signal.
  • SCART is also known as a Euroconnector. This is a 21-pin connector for analogue video and sound.

What can they do?

A twin tuner HD PVR consists of two digital TV tuners, which means you can record one digital TV show while watching another, and a hard disc drive with (most commonly) a 250GB capacity to store your TV programs.

Despite having two tuners, however, only the Beyonwiz, Philips, Topfield and Strong enable the user to set the timer to record two programs simultaneously — on the others this can only be done manually, so if you want to record from two channels, you’ll have to stay in to hit the button.

None of the tested models have an analogue or combined analogue/digital tuner either, so they’re only suitable if you have access to digital broadcasts. As this technology is so new, prices are still high and the capabilities are not all that they could be — there are still some kinks to be ironed out it seems ... so stay tuned.

Burning to DVD?

None of these PVRs has an inbuilt DVD player so to record onto DVD, you’ll either have to attach one or use some other method to transfer the content to a DVD recorder or a computer with a DVD burner — which can start to get confusing.

How you attach a DVD recorder depends on its input connections and the PVR’s output connections. The tested PVRs have no more than one HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connection, and anyway HDMI input on a DVD recorder is rare.

You’ll probably want to use a component link-up as it’s the best quality analogue video connection, but only the LG has any more than one component video output, so if you use that to connect the PVR to the TV, you’ll have to use one of the other outputs to connect the DVD recorder. Similarly, you’ll want to utilise the best audio connection, but the PVRs offer no more than a single co-axial digital audio and single TOSLINK output.

Transferring the content to a computer or other networked device should be relatively simple with the Beyonwiz as it has Ethernet connections and networked device browsing built in to their navigator. It also has card readers and USB ports.