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.
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.
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.