My Thomson SD STB died on me last week. I have a Thomson 66cm widescreen tv with s-video and scart connections.
What would you recommend be my next STB purchase?
I went browsing today, and was recommended the RCA SD box that retails for around $198 but was on sale for $149 at Clive Peeeeters. Knowing that this is basically the same as the Thomson box (right down to the non-standard S-video output jack on the rear), I'm fairly happy with it, but thought I'd see what other people are using first.
**I use a Nextwave twin tuner jobbie (you can record two channels, or watch one and record another simultaneously). Very nice. 80GB hard drive (which the tech at the importer tells me I can upgrade to a standard 250GB without problems) for about 30 hours of recording time. Interface is not bad, performance is impressive (it even auto-sets the clock) and it is relatively inexpensive. The thing almost works with a Metre of wet string as an antenna. It cost me about $400.00. I understand that there are several machines which are essentially identical to the Nextwave, so do some homework first.
My only grumble is the hopeless instruction (8 page) manual. However, a decent manual (60 odd pages) can be downloaded from the manufacturer's web site.
I got a single tuner DigiCrystal SDT-9000 PVR with 80GB hard drive on eBay:
$147 including postage.
I've never used a PVR before, so here is my first impression after
30min of playing around:
Construction is good quality, nothing dodgy at all. Genuine Philips tuner, and a new (Apr 06) 80GB Western Digital hard drive. Genuine box etc with manual (in real English), 1 year warranty card (based in Sydney), SCART lead with S-VIDEO/audio out, remote with batteries. Inside photos can be found here:
After plugging in and switching the video mode to get colour on the S-Video output, I was able to auto tune in the channels. To my surprise it did not detect SBS, 44, and a couple of others. Had me puzzled for a while until I read the eBay suppliers web page and this was in the FAQ as a known issue. A simple reset to factory defaults as suggested fixed the problem, all channels scaned ok. Reception signal level is on par with my Thomson DTI500, but the garage door still interferes with it severly as it does on my Thomson. So no better or worse at noise immunity.
Channel setup/reordering etc is fairly quick and easy.
Basic operation is fairly easy to follow, and recoding something is as simple as the PVR button and then REC. The video is stored in a file list and automatically given the name of the show - really nice.
It is possible to record a channel and play back at the same time, although the on-screen prompts for this are bit quirky at first and it wasn't imediately obvious. 10mins of playing and you eventually figure it out though (without the manual).
You can set up to 12 timed programs for any day/time of the week, or multiple days (e.g. Mon/Wed/Sat). The unit wakes up, records, names the file and goes back to sleep. Playback is as simple as choosing the file from the named list. Date/Time/Day entry is very quick, efficient and intuitive.
You do get a fair amount of help from the on-screen prompts.
The box gets the date and time time from the digital signal, so presumably will never loose or have the wrong date/time.
One thing I didn't like was that the remote Play/Pause/Record buttons use the number keys and you have to refer to the on-screen layout guide to see what does what, the remote is not labeled. You'd get used to it though I guess. Other than that I like the remote layout, and the SWAP button allow you to flick back and forth between two channels. The remote also works pointed in almost any direction in the room, it even worked from behind my video cabinet - nice.
There is the usual support for 16:9, 4:3 and letterbox support, and a dedicated button for it on the remote. Useful for switching 4:3 programs to full screen on a 4:3 box when needed, and then back to letterbox for widecreen stuff.
You can do some edits on the played back video too, like detete up to or after the current paused point. The file list screen tells you how much % hard drive space you have left too.
As per the traditional VCR, it has an LED clock on the front panel when powered down, and it displays Play/Rec etc when powered up.
Digial radio is supported and easy to access with a single key press.
When you change channels it displays what the current program is, my Thomson STB does not have this and I found it to be a nice feature. The delay time can be programmed for this.
There is also a software option for +5V output on the antenna to power mast head amps.
You can bypass the audio circuit if you want to use your TV volume instead of the one in the PVR.
I believe you can get software to download the MPEG fiels from the hard drive if you remove the drive and plug it into your PC, but it does not use a standard PC file format. I have heard the hard drive is also upgradable with a small firmware patch.
Record/playback quality is first class, full DVD/digital TV quality, no sign of additional compression artifacts. As expected, it beats the absolute crap out of any VHS video recorder! Based on the hard drive size and number of hours, it's encoding at about 6Mbit/sec
You can also pause and return to where you left off in a playback program too.
I'm sure there is a whole lot more I haven't discovered yet too.
Summary: A really nice unit with very few issues so far. Performance seems solid, and as an STB it is a first class unit on it's own, but of course the recording aspect is the big bonus. I'll never go back to a crappy VCR again, there are just so many advantages to a PVR. I'm hooked. I can now program in all my favourite shows once and it will just automatically record and name them all. I can then choose to watch them instantly at any time or simply delete them if not needed. Very versatile indeed.
At $150 you'd be crazy to buy just a normal STB. With two TVs the single tuner unit will probably suffice, but if you only have one TV then a dual tuner model might be a wise investment, it does go for at least $100 more though.