This post is intended to cover most of the common questions asked and links provided by many members of the forum. It should be a good place for initial PVR related enquires, as well as providing specific answers to some oft repeated queries. There also some straight forward cable and digital TV advice here too.
If your new to digital TV then the STB/PVR/DVDR FAQ is a good place to start.
Also please read this HD PVR comparison thread. It also includes some good information on the upcoming Freeview.
Why buy a PVR?
A PVR is a digital STB with a hard drive (HDD). In general a PVR enables you to decide when and how you will watch a show, not the networks. Some of the features of many PVRs include:
1) Chaseplay - Sit down and start watching a recording from the beginning while it is still finishing
2) Skip Ads - Most PVRs have the ability to skip forward a set amount (eg 30 secs) at the press of a button.
3) Pause Live TV - Great for phone calls, discussing what's on etc.
4) No more tapes - Go away for a week and all your TV is recorded
5) Picture Quality - Excellent on all channels (except 31) - PVRs record the exact digital signal, so recordings are 100% the same as watching live.
6) Record two things at once.
7) Connection to a PC - Some PVRs allow you to download recordings to a PC for viewing or editing.
8) Ease of use - create timers from the broadcast EPG, single box for recording and watching all your shows.
Why is a PVR different from a DVDR?
Most DVD Recorders (DVDR) are analogue recorders only (the same as your old VCR). They generally only have a single tuner which means they can only record one thing at a time. You can connect a STB to a DVDR however this can be a fiddly arrangement (see traps below)
Hybrid SD DVDR/PVRs are now on the market and these units have one digital and one analogue tuner. They are not as powerful as a dedicated twin tuner PVR, however they have the advantage of also being able to record from other analogue devices - in particular PAY TV.
Currently their is only one digital HD twin tuner DVDR on the Australian market - the Panasonic BW300.
Should I buy a DVDR or PVR?
If you have the funds you can get both. Use the PVR for general viewing and recording FTA TV and you can send the occasional show to the DVDR for recording and burning a DVD (ie press PLAY on the PVR and REC on the DVDR to copy over the show).
DVDRs will convert and compress the digital signal into an analogue format. They can record HD channels (ie from a HD STB) but the resulting file will only be SD quality.
PVRs are well suited to people that record, watch and delete most of their TV. If you wish to keep lots of permanent copies (or want to record PAY TV) then a DVDR is possibly a better option (Or buy a PVR that lets you download files to a PC for editing and burning there).
SD and HD digital TV in Oz
Until the start of 2007 the commercial networks were required to broadcast only one SD and one HD channel (simulcasting) with exactly the same content, just different picture quality. Now they are free to air different content on the SD and HD channels (multi-channelling). In 2009 they have been allowed to add a second SD channel (ie 2 SD and 1 HD). These channels are being marketed under the Freeview Banner (see below).
As a general rule of thumb the primary SD channel (which is simulcast with the analogue broadcast), will always have shows that rate well. This is because 100% of the population has access to the analogue and SD content, while much less than that have access to HD TV in Oz to date.
So in deciding whether to get a SD or HD STB/TV/PVR you will now also need to decide if you want to be able to access the content on the HD channels.
Should I buy SD or HD?
- SD PVRs are a bit more reliable then HD models and they are always cheaper.
- Most SD PVRs do not have DVI or HDMI outputs (see cables below)
- Recording (on a PVR) in HD takes about 7.5 Gig an hour, SD takes about 3.5 Gig per hour
- On TV screens under about 42" the benefit of having HD resolution can be considered fairly minor. When sitting 2 metres back (and flipping between SD & HD on the same channel) most eyes are unable to spot any difference.
- HD PVRs have improved a lot in the past few years, but most still have 'quirks' that make them less than bullet proof.
- The new content on the HD channels makes having HD tuners more desirable, even if you only have a small or SD TV.
- Up to 50% of prime time content is now broadcast as proper HD (ie it is not an SD show up converted to HD)
- If you have a new big HD screen it would be a shame to waste it :)
Traps when buying a PVR
1) You can't record Pay TV on a PVR (eg Foxtel)
2) Most PVRs mention a 7 day EPG - the networks have now begun broadcasting between 3 and 7 days of EPG. See also ICETV and Freeview below.
3) Refer to the 'Tuners' section below for the main thing all PVR buyers should know.
Traps when buying digital
1) Channel 31 is not broadcast digitally (this may change later in 2009)
2) Changing channels can take longer than analogue (a good response time is considered under 1 second)
3) TVs with 'inbuilt' digital tuners often don't allow you to 'onsend' the digital image to an analogue recording device (eg a VCR or DVDR) - an external STB/PVR will.
4) 'HD Ready' is extremely misleading. This generally means the unit can recieve a HD signal but no necessary display a HD signal. For example most HD Ready SD plasmas have only 480 lines of pixels - SD TV has 576.
5) Many people get a STB and DVDR for recording. This is fine but you should be aware that you need to set timers on both boxes to record something while away and that the PQ can be reduced a bit as the recorder converts and compresses the signal from the STB/PVR.
6) Recording HD to an external device (eg VCR, DVDR) is of very little value as these devices can really only record to a maximum of SD resolution.
7) TVs smaller than 42" have limited picture quality benefits from being HD.
What you need to know about Tuners:
With all PVRs you can generally watch a previously recorded show while they are recording.
With all PVRs you can also watch the channel you are recording - usually with the ability to pause and resume (the show not the recording) at any time.
'Channels' refer to all channels in the same mux. Currently ABC and ABC2 are in the same mux and SBS abd SBS News are inthe same mux.
- Single Tuner (dubbed 1.0): You can record one thing but you can't watch live TV while recording
- Twin Tuner (dubbed 1.5): You can record one thing and watch another station live.
- Twin Tuner (dubbed 1.7): You can record two things at once (or record one thing and watch another live). One of the recordings must be manually started using the remote.
- 'True' Twin Tuner (dubbed 2.0): You can record two things at once (or record one thing and watch another live). Both recordings can be started by a timer. These days most PVRs are true 2.0 tuners.
Although many people might assume they don't need to record two things at once however networks now routinely start shows not at the scheduled time. So to record 8:30-9:30 on Ch9 and 9:30-10:30 on Ch10 might require timers for 8:20-9:45 and 9:20-10:45. These timers overlap between 9:20 and 9:45 and so a twin tuner is needed.
Note that its always an option to switch back to the TVs inbuilt analogue (or digital) tuner (as long as its still hooked up to the aerial or you have a 'pass through' connection from your STB/PVR).
This is debated endlessly on the forum. FWIW cables have a lot of margin and sales staff love selling them - less scrupulous ones will play games demonstrating the 'difference' by not comparing apples with apples. As always the absolute cheapest of anything is seldom a good buy. However a good set priced between $30 and $70 or so is all most people would ever need. This is especially the case with HDMI/DVI cables as the technology means there is no benefit for spending any more (for lengths under 5m). You can buy DVI/HDMI convertors ($20) so either plug type is as good.
Assuming the best cable type is HDMI and pegged at 100% for picture quality then in relative descending order of PQ: HDMI (100%), DVI (100%), RGB (95%), Component (95%), SVideo (85%), Composite (75%) and RF (65%). Many people find SVideo to be excellent PQ. Its usually a bit 'softer' than other options but this can be easier on the eyes. If buying HD grab a unit with HDMI out/in (if available) but don't not buy something just because it doesn't have HDMI. Note that Composite cables are red, white & yellow. Component are red, green, blue, white and yellow. In both, the white and red are the audio connections. RF is your old fashioned aerial connection plug.
Some factors in buying a PVR.
- The manufacturer RRP of a PVR usually bears little relation to the actual store price of the units.
- SD PVRS cost around $250-$500 while HD PVRS cost around $500-$1000)
- A PVR can be a single tuner or twin tuner model. It can be SD or HD.
- Different 'models' by the same manufacturer usually only differ because of the harddrive size.
- You cannot record PayTV (eg Foxtel) with a PVR (Consider the IQ or a DVDR).
- If you have read this then in all likelyhood you will know more than any sales staff about PVRs
- A hardrive of 120G (40 hrs) is generally sufficient space for SD for most users (Though you can't have too much)
Note that models with larger drives are often priced at an (unreasonable) premium as they are otherwise identical to smaller models. Some PVRs can have their drive easily replaced.
- You can always 'on send' a show to another recorder (DVDR or VCR) for permanently archiving a show. (Press PLAY on the PVR and REC on the DVDR)
- Some PVRs allow you to download the digital file to a PC and it can be fully edited and burnt there.
- Recording Hi Def to an external device (eg VCR, DVDR) is of little value as these devices can really only record to a maximum of SD resolution.
- In general though a PVR is ideal for users that like to record, watch and delete.
ICE TV and the EPG
PVRs are all designed to use an Electronic Program Guide (EPG) - this makes organising and setting timers a breeze. The networks have started broadcasting a 3-7 day EPG. The EPG is still not an accurate reflection of what is currently on, but more a program guide of intended air times for each day. Padding will still need to be added to any timers set using the EPG to account for late startings etc.
Alternatively, an Oz company is providing a legal downloadable 7 day EPG that is reliable and well formatted for about $3 a week. They have also developed a wireless device that allows the EPG data to be send straight from the web to your PVR. BeyondWiz, Topfield, Mediastar/Arion & DGtech support ICE.
Tivo has been launched in Australia. These are HD units that use their own 7 day EPG. They generally require a permanent connection to the internet to work (either wireless or wired). Tivo's primary feature is the ability to set "season passes" for any show and it will automatically be recorded whenever it airs. Its main drawback is the lack of a ad skip button (although its FF/REW is very responsive). The Tivo can also download content directly from the Internet (see Internode). It is expected by April that a TivoToGo capabliity will allow users to offload content to a PC.
Topfield have been producing SD PVRs for several years now. Their SD PVRs are also unique in the market in that they have a programming interface that lets users create applications that enhance it functionality (better ad skipping, 7 day EPG, etc). These are called TAPs. Usually they require you to connect to a PC (once) and upload a TAP file. Note HD Toppy's can not run TAPs. Read more about them in the Topfield AQA FAQ.
There is a large number of PVRs now available. The following are all worth considering for one reason or another. In general I suggest going for either a 1.0 or 2.0 tuner as the ones in between are usually overpriced for what they provide. Remember to check out the links and search the forum for more info.
1) 1.0 SD Tuner PVRs - Wintal / Supernet / Digicrystal. All basically the same PVR, pretty reliable and at $150-$250 its hard to go wrong. Avaliable on Ebay or at Strathfields etc..
Wintal Specs: http://wintal.com.au...s/43121058.html
Online Purchase: http://www.smartstor...?products_id=51
Wintal FAQ: http://www.dtvforum....showtopic=19891
2) 2.0 SD Tuner PVRs - Topfield 4400, 5000 and MP, Humax Smart, MediaStar, Arion, Healing
Topfield FAQ: http://www.dtvforum....showtopic=16828
Toppy v Humax: http://www.dtvforum....showtopic=27386
Humax Online Purchace: http://www.staticice...i?q=humax smart
Arion (Essentially a Mediastar Clone): http://www.dtvforum....showtopic=44393
3) HD Tuner PVRs - We are still struggling to find a reliable fully featured HD PVR and each model has had its own issues and limitations (Some of the long threads are best started toward the end):
Increasingly HD PVRs are the way to go. They provide access to all content and are much cheaper than they used to be. Most major models have now matured to the point of being reliable and
Please read about many of the current HD PVRs on the Oz market here
4) DVDRs with digital tuners - There are now quite a few models on the market (The Panasonic DMR-EX87 being a popular model):
DVDRs with Digital Tuners list
So what to buy?
There is no one answer to this. Please read other posts discussing what suits certain households and what's well regarded by other forum members. If you can't find an answer that fits for you then post a query - forum members can be very helpful in discussing the options.
Most of all have fun. These are great little machines :)
Edited by pgdownload, 13 March 2009 - 09:01 AM.