“ Manufacturer: 3View „
I suppose in a few years' time we're going to look back on the concept of recording TV programmes off the air for later watching as somewhat quaint - VCRs are already 'out', even Sky+ boxes and the like will look antediluvian. After all, why would you bother to store copies of programmes for yourself when they're all available via the web in any order you like?
OK, those days aren't quite here yet, and a digital hard-disk recorder like Sky+ or one of its Freeview, Virgin and Freesat equivalents is about the best you'll get. Yes, we've also got iPlayer, YouTube and the like, but the picture quality still doesn't come up to scratch in my view, especially compared with Hi-Definition TV.
This is now the sixth Freeview Personal Video Recorder (PVR) I've written about, and for various reasons it relates to the third that I've still got!
I won't be rash and say 'owning a PVR has completely changed the way I watch TV', but I certainly find it an odd concept when watching a commercial channel live, that I have to endure the adverts, but this just brings home to me how much of my viewing is 'time-shifted!
IT'S WHAT YOUR HD TELEVISION HAS BEEN WAITING FOR...
This is the heading from 3View's web page. If I had one criticism, it's to add "and waiting and waiting and waiting"!
Hi-definition terrestrial TV launched with a whimper before Christmas 2009 to some areas, mainly the North West of England. It was as well to have kept quiet about it as hardware to watch it barely existed, and when it did, it was only a set-top box for viewing the stuff, not recording it. Then along comes an upstart (or should that be 'start-up'?) British company which launched the 3view.com PVR, so of course I just HAD to get interested. So interested in fact that having seen various YouTube demos and read around the subject, even becoming a Facebook friend (how sad is that?), I put my name down as an 'early adopter' in May 2010 to get the discount and extended warranty almost, as it were, unseen.
SO WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT 3VIEW?
The 3view PVR could be classed as a hybrid but before you start looking for the electric motor and petrol engine, let's call it a bridge between where we are now, recording programmes off the air, watching them and erasing them, and the future, where we use the web and possibly our own home network to pick and choose our viewing and listening schedule in a totally video-on-demand environment.
Here's What It Now Does Straight From the Box - I write this as one of the first retail customers to take delivery of one, following releases to beta-testers and to trade magazines for evaluation.
1. It has twin Hi-Definition Freeview tuners. These are currently limited to viewing BBC HD, ITV1 HD and C4 HD, but there are plans for more, from C5 and the BBC have floated an entire BBC 1 HD to compliment the existing BBC HD 'composite showcase', which ironically I rather like as it's a good place to find a non-stop selection of HD material, unlike ITV 1 HD, which just transmits all programmes, HD or not. It goes without saying that it also picks up all the usual standard definition and radio channels we expect from Freeview.
2. Web access, primarily intended for an Ethernet wired* connection, allows ordinary web-surfing to be carried out from your arm chair on your big screen. It accepts a normal PC USB keyboard/mouse combination to speed up the typing process. (* Wi-fi is possible with a range of dongles limited to Netgear and Linksys but 3View are keen to promote wired access for its consistency)
3. Through its own '3View Portal' menu item, access to YouTube works straightaway, assuming you've got your web connection set up. Picture quality can be as good as standard TV but is limited by the source, some clips seemingly being shot on the video facility of a mobile phone.
4. Now that agreements are in place, access to BBC iPlayer has become a reality. 3View's long term aim is to incorporate this into the Electronic Programme Guide so that you'll be able to 'scroll backwards' past today's programmes to ones you've missed and watch them instead. BBC iPlayer now works, with stunning results almost jerk-free even in HD. Do bear in mind you need a nice stable, and preferably faster than 2mb broadband connection
5. It also acts as a media server, and as long as you have your PC's file sharing turned on, you can access music, photo and video sources held elsewhere on your home network. You can also bring your files to it, as a second USB port (after plugging in a keyboard) allows for an external hard drive or flash drive to be plugged in, and its media contents viewed. Slideshows on an HD-Ready TV look superb.
5. Thanks to a 500-gbyte hard drive, it can also act as a media server FOR the home network instead.
6. It has 'key-word' searching, which makes it very easy to search for a programme by name, and thence to set up a timer for it. It can also detects words in the programme information, so for example, it's easy to find all HD programmes, since the standard version usually carries the fateful words 'Also in HD'
Here's What It Will Do Soon - I'm trying to be positive here despite a three month delay to even get it to the delivery stage!
1. Subject to final agreement, access to Skyplayer will become a reality. This is a subscription service (what a surprise!) but is free to existing Sky customers, although why they'd want a Freeview box is a bit puzzling. Maybe to give access to Sky in another room of the house?
2. Not content with the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) supplied over the air, 3View plan very soon (at time of writing) to supply a 13-day EPG via the web, as opposed to the 8-day job you normally get. This will give more scope for setting timers further into the future without having to wait a week and then remind yourself to do it once the programme appears in the 8-day schedule.
3. Cordless wand. 3View have early plans to replace the standard remote control with some kind of 'air mouse' at a cost of around £25.
And Further Off......
1. 3View is designed to be at the hub of a home automation system known as Z-Wave. Personally, I don't know much about it, as details of what it will be able to do in the UK are equally sketchy, but remote opening of garage doors, turning on the central heating an hour before you get home and 'putting the seat down' for those prone to forgetting they don't live in an all-male environment, come to mind.
2. Remote setting of timers, and even watching what on your box whilst away from home. It's already possible to use Windows Media Player (on Windows 7) to view programmes on your 3View box, as the networking works both ways. However, 3View are working on allowing you to set timers and make other alterations to your 3View box from a distance.
3. They've already got a limited offering of 'widgets', notably news feeds and a calculator (?) Whilst they're busy working out other what widgets to add on, I'm sure I've read somewhere that a PAYG link to something like LoveFilm movie rental is being considered. To my mind this suits me better than a monthly sub to Skyplayer, quite apart from the fact that I'd further line the Murdoch dynasty's pockets the day hell freezes over.
PIPE DREAMS ASIDE, WHAT'S IT LIKE IN THE REAL WORLD?
Picture quality of recordings is every bit as good as that of live terrestrial TV. Thanks to digital transmission, and verbatim hard disk recording, there's no reason why it wouldn't be.
Subject to a suitable aerial and indeed catchment area where HD Freeview is available, the HD picture is quite superb, although ITV cheat somewhat and push out everything on ITV1, HD or SD, so don't expect a re-run of Midsomer Murders to be anything special. The BBC HD channel, being a composite showcase of HD programmes is more likely to be showing items shot in HD in the first place. I've seen it opined elsewhere, that the quality of Freeview HD is superior to Sky HD, although without going to Tescos and staring at their wall of tellies, I couldn't say. Transmission of all HD TV, via an aerial, cable or dish, is limited to 1080i, not the full 1080p that HD sets have been readied for.
Curiously, timers and recorded programmes share the same menu page under the PVR button which, whilst easy enough to get to grips with, flies in the face of a convention that keeps them separate.
Setting a timer is easy, and will be familiar to anyone with a PVR, Sky + box, what-have-you.
Bring up the guide page (the EPG by another name), scroll up, down and across to find the programme you want to record, click on it and confirm whether you want just this one programme or any in its series. Recordings can take place with the machine in stand-by or fully switched on.
Yes, there are 'some'!
Being an 'early adopter' and having been given a 10% discount for early sign-up has its pros and cons, I was among the first wave of owners in the first week of its release to the public - order number 437 I think it was. Yes, I got mine cheaper and earlier than someone buying one in John Lewis, who is the first major retailer to take an interest but there's a downside.
You do still feel a tad like a 'beta-tester (unpaid)' when the technology is this new. There's not even a manual as yet, on-line or on paper. All you get is a 'Quick Start Guide' which covers connections and the back up of nerdy members like me on various forums that have sprung up to serve the needs of users, potential or otherwise. To be frank, the official 3View web-site also has an air of work in progress about it, with lots of 'coming soons' to be found at various dead ends.
It doesn't help disperse the air of being an involuntary pioneer spirit that along with a delivery note, I received an e-mail telling me that very first thing I needed to do was update its software, which I didn't have a problem with per se, but was a little difficult since the Homeplugs which I was going to use via my house mains to create the Ethernet connection were coming 'at a later date'. Fortunately, a 30 feet patch cable from my router slung out of the little bedroom window over the porch and in through the lounge bay came to the rescue!
To its credit, the 3View box is able to update software as it becomes available, unlike some boxes that have to wait weeks for a slot in the 'other the air' delivery schedule to get their 'bugs fixed'.
At time of initial writing, notable bugs included a corruption of EPG data caused by a decision on the part of the Freeview authority to alter the copyright protection on all HD boxes on the very weekend that deliveries commenced. This affected other makers with a Freeview HD product out there. 3View's response to the problem, whilst no doubt already working on a software fix, was to push forward the internet delivery of the 13-day EPG instead, so having an on-line box has definite benefits. Another bug seems to involve random 'lock-ups', the bane of a set-top box owner's life, and not just 3View owners. The beauty of all those forums is that 3View can be in no doubt that this is happening. They've even got a Facebook presence.
If this all seems a bit 'viral' at the moment, it is. I shudder to think how John Lewis staff, and their customers are going to cope with something that doesn't even have an instruction manual, especially when they bring it back after failing to understand its workings.
Curiously, there's no frontal display at all beyond three LEDs. When in standby, an orange one displays. When switched on, this goes out! Only a green internet connection light and a red recording light give you a clue that it's on. If you are watching live, or playing back with no internet connection, nothing shows at all. Of course, if it's under your telly, then this may be seen on a positive light.
I'll revisit this section as time goes by. Hopefully, it's not going to be so 'maverick' for long.
This was the easy bit. The box contents comprise:-
One set-top box (naturally)
One external mains supply with separable mains lead (3view have learned this lesson from other makers' problems with heat build up, leading to the fitting of fans - just want you want in the lounge, not!)
One HDMI lead for connecting to an HD Ready TV
One Ethernet lead for connecting to the internet.
One Quick Start Guide.
One remote control and batteries.
Once you have made all the connections and turned the box on, the rest is largely 'plug and pray'. Mine had no difficulty finding 99 channels including the 3 HD ones. Others have had fun and games with the box finding two of everything as a result of being in a region where two transmitters vie for supremacy. In these cases, you just delete the ones with lower signal strength - they're easy enough to spot.
If you have an internet connection ready, it will acquire an IP address from your router and then I suggest that you check for the latest software version. At this early stage, it may be a fortnightly routine to keep this updated.
You have control over screen definition. Mine's now set to 1080i, the maximum quality output by an HD channel, and I see little reason to 'force' this to 1080p.
The 3View box is a departure from most Freeview PVRs. 3View have even shied away from calling it one, since this fixes the potential owner's mind on only one aspect of what it does, and will do soon, we hope.
From my personal experience, early adopters almost come to expect a box to be flaky. Humax and Topfield have been as bad, so 3View are in 'good' company if you can call it that.
Used as a PVR especially to capture HD programmes, it's a great performer, and at the expense of an ear-bashing from mattygroves10, almost unique. There are other, but seemingly all with their teething troubles.
Potentially, the 3View has the 'killer features' but it's definitely one for the brave as it stands.
Let's hope they're not suicidal features!