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. An electronic program guide (EPG) when it works properly allows you to see what programs are coming up in the next hour, day or week so you can simply select the program you want to record using the remote control and your PVR will do the rest.
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. A recordable DVD can store up to 4.7GB while a recordable BD can hold up to 25GB.
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.
The digital switchover
The Australian Digital Switchover task force has introduced a series of colour labels (a cartoon face and “Ready” sign feature prominently – see below) to indicate the type of digital product being sold during the analog TV switch-off between June 2010 and 2013. A PVR with a purple digital TV-ready sticker indicates at least one HD digital tuner, while an orange sticker indicates an SD tuner. See our digital TV feature for more information.
Depending on where you live, you may need to buy a digital product very soon – either a new TV, or a set-top box or DVR if you want to keep your old TV – to avoid a blank screen. Check out when you’ll lose your analog TV stations at www.digitalready.gov.au
Brands and models tested
- Bush BVR501FV
- FetchTV YX-6936U
- Grundig GDVR1TBFV
- Healing HHR787
- Humax HDR-7500T
- LG HR925T
- Panasonic DMR-HW220GLK
- Panasonic DMR-XW390GLK
- Panasonic DMR-BWT820GL
- Panasonic DMR-PWT520
- Samsung BD-E8500A
- Samsung BD-E8900A
- Sony SVR-HDT1000
- Strong SRT 7000
- Teac HRD3500T
- Tivo TCD663000
- Topfield TRF7170
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 James Thomson 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.
James 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 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.
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, James Thomson, 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.
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%.