* Prices may differ from that shown
I believe this model is only available at Argos, so for a start if you want to purcahse this, you'll have to live close to an Argos store or possibly arrange for delivery, check their site to see if they currently offer home delivery or store reservations.
Now I purchased this just slightly under a month ago but I've used it substantially since then. I must admit, it was a bit of an impulse buy, I'd wanted to buy myself a Nintendo Wii all week and then suddenly on Friday, I decided to change my mind and had a flick through the Argos catalogue to see if I could find something that I thought I'd enjoy and get more use out of (as I decided that I didn't think it was worth the £180 for the Wii when I really don't play my other consoles enough as it is).
I saw the section about PVRs/DVRs/HDRs or whatever you want to call them! basically Freeview set top boxes that come with a built in hard drive, allowing you to record programmes from any channel the box can receive through your current aerial, through the Freeview platform, onto the hard drive.
This model comes with a good size hard drive of, well the model number pretty much gives it away, you guessed it, 160gb! which, Argos says (as does the manual), is the equivalent of approxiemately 80 hours of recordings. It currently costs £129.99 and there is also a cheaper 80gb model which gives you half that space, so about 40 hours of recording time. I guess I was a bit greedy going for the larger model but if I really use it, I want to have room to store some films and TV shows for the weeks ahead and know I can still tape other things for some time to come... the space hasn't been a problem at all so far, I've got at least 10 or 15 items in my 'recordings library' (which lists all the shows currently recorded and accessible on the hard drive), including about 5 movies and it tells me that I have over 70 hours of recording time still left, so thats perfectly fine... also the quality of these stored recordings is fine, I was surprised that it seems to be able to compress recordings so well... the picture quality of recordings appears to me to be exactly the same as the picture quality you get when watching live on Freeview, so the picture is good.
One of the main benefits of this machine compared to some of the cheaper ones is that it has a twin tuner and, unlike some, it does allow you to record two shows at the same time, which is a great feature, I've tried it myself and used it a few times so I can honestly say that it works! the only thing you can't do is to be taping two channels and watch another but its fairly uncommon to need to do that... some cheaper PVRs (or whatever you want to call them, Hard Disk Recorders) only let you record one channel at a time. You can also record a show while watching a recording, so its pretty flexible.
One other feature it comes with, that makes it more like something like Sky+ is the timeshift function, which basically lets you pause and rewind live TV. If you press the pause button on your remote, then it will start to record the show your watching live and when you get back from answering the phone or going to the bathroom, you can pick it up where you left it, which is handy, though I often forget I can do this and haven't used it all that often. Also I've noticed under a settings screen, that it only has a certain amount of memory allocated for this function, which isn't too much but im happy with that as I don't think I'll use it too much. Its a nice thing to have as a bit of a fallback incase the phone does go while im watching something interesting, of course!. You can edit settings like this through the menu button (then setup and recordings).
It comes with a 7 day EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) and although there is no series link option, its pretty easy to search within the EPG. If you select a show to record, which is quick and easy to do by pressing the button with a red circle on it on the remote control (near the top), a window will pop up alerting you to when else during the week a show with the same name may be shown, so you could then find that and set that to record too (where/when this is applicable). This is useful if you want to catch all episodes shown during a week of a particular show like 3rd Rock From The Sun on ITV4 or something like that...
I like the way that this device is organised. As I say, you have your programme guide or EPG, which allows you to tell it to record shows as much as 7 days in advance, which is plenty long away enough for me... and as ive also already said, you have search options, where you can search for show names either on particular channel or from the full list of channels. There's also the recordings library which lists all the shows/movies etc., basically all the recorded material that you still have access to. From here you also have the option to sort recordings and can get the recordings listed by viewed or unviewed first or have them listed by viewed or unviewed first order, as well as by length with the shortest recordings first or the longest recordings first and so on to make it easier to find certain recordings when you have alot stored. To start with, when a show or movie is taped and you go in to your recordings library, it'll show with a white triangle like symbol pointing to the recording, which simply tells you that its a recording that hasn't been watched yet, so its possible to see all of those incase you want to only see listed recordings you've yet to watch.
You can also check what shows/movies you've asked it to record, by going to the 'timers' page/screen (there are buttons on the remote that take you straight to the programme guide/library and timers page/screen of course), which lists all your recording timers, so you can cancel or edit those. You can also add new recordings through this screen, if you don't want to go through the guide/EPG and know the details of the show that you want to set it up to record.
You can also save favourites to favourites list, if you only particularly use a few of the extra Freeview channels then it could be worth doing that. I believe you can get the EPG/guide to only show the channels on your favourites list, so its easier to see the channels that interest you at a glance.
As well as this, another pretty useful function this box provides is PIP (Picture In Picture). I believe this only works if the box is installed/cabelled in a certain way and I have to admit honestly that I'm not very knowledgable about such things, I can learn how to use technology pretty well but installing hardware im not very good at and so I got someone else to set this up for me, so I can't really help in that respect... I do know that it requires a direct feed to the ariel and it has a scart connector of course, like most TV related accessories come with these days. Anyway back to PIP and what this does is, when the PIP button on the remote is pressed, while watching live TV, is that it'll show a small window on the top of the screen which will shown a smaller image of the channely our watching, now you can use the 'PIP+' and 'PIP-' buttons on the remote to view the other channels, so if your on BBC1 and press 'PIP' and then 'PIP+', it should show you the picture for BBC2 and you can see if the show you want to watch there has started, without having to move channel, so that can be quite handy.
One other thing thats handy is that the programmes that are recorded, are recorded with the subtitles (when their provided), which could be useful for some that are hard of hearing and also I've noticed that by pressing the 'info' button on the remote, you can still access the short snippet of info. about the show even on a recorded one, thats where it'll sometimes say the names of the main actors involved and the name of the episode and so on, which can be of interest sometimes.
This isn't a perfect machine but its alot of fun, I reckon and could be alot worse. I will admit it isn't perfect, like I say and to back that up ill explain... to start with, it doesn't feature any kind of a PDC function, which is something I believe is in the pipeline (currently only being backed by the BBC, from what I've heard), a digital, Freeview version of PDC. This means that, without that, your recordings will start and end when you specify through the timers screen or through the guide but if a show starts or ends later due to sport events ending later than planned or due to a sudden news broadcast or so on, you'll miss part of the show as it won't know to adjust the time to record the show... this hasn't been a big problem for me but im aware that it could be, if anything were to interupt a show, it wouldn't know to stop and wait for the show to start again. A few times I've played a recording and its started a couple of minutes into the show or other times its finished a bit early and I miss the last minute or two, which can be a real nuisance... however you do have a little control over this, through the menu and 'setup' and 'recordings', you can tell it to start recordings however many minutes early (ie before their scheduled to start) and however many minutes late, I've set it to start 1 minute early and end 2 minutes late, just to be on the safe side as ive had more recordings end too early than start late... so you can edit that. Another thing thats a little annoying is that if the opposite happens and a recording goes on too long and plays too much before and after the show/movie, you can't really tell it to delete the unnecessary parts of that recording, so its taking up space on the hard drive when you don't want it.
I had also read that you can make chapters within recordings, that work like chapters on a DVD but I tried this and it doesn't really work properly, or at least I couldn't get it to work quite right. However, im not bothered because it appears to create automatic chapters which are stored every two minutes within each recording and I find that if a show stops for an ad break, simply by pressing the right trinagle arrow button on the remote (which is for fast forwarding to the next chapter) twice, it skips all the ads and your back to the show. Its easier just to press that, or you can use the slower fast forward button to find your way around recordings. It has all the other usual VCR/DVD like buttons as well on the remote, like rewind, play, stop, pause etc.
The other thing, that I don't blame on this machine itself obviously, but which consumers should be aware of and possibly think about before purchasing this, is that the range of channels you'll get access to view and record of, is obviously restricted to what your current home aerial can receive. You can't connect this to work with any pre-existing cable set top box or anything like that (I wish lol, im now almost tempted to go for V+ for my Virgin Media cable package to tape off all those extra channels too now I hear it doesn't cost monthly as im on the XL package, but anyway!) and our aerial isn't the greatest, so personally I don't have access to every channel... for instance, the channel I can't get that most annoys me is Film4, as I thought it would be great to be able to record movies using this and watch them back later but I forgot that the last time I used Freeview, I couldn't get the channel and I still can't. My family have agreed we need to invest in a better, wideband (I believe thats what their called, the recommended type of aerial) aerial for when the digital switchover hits us here (which here in central Scotland will be in 2010, might be a while then!). I can't get access to any of the multiplex D channels such as UKTV Bright Ideas, TMF and The Hits, ITV2+1, FTN (soon to be replaced with Virgin1) Film4 and so on. There are websites online which can help by telling you, if you type in your postcode, which channels should be accessible through your local transmitter but even then, I should be able to access them all, its a case of our old aerial being too old and not quite strong enough to receive the full signal and if you can't really get the full signal then you just don't receive the channel at all... so its worth baring that in mind, like they say not all channels are available in all parts of the UK.
I thought that for the price, its a pretty decent piece of kit. Its not 100% perfect by any means but it works pretty well, I've used it quite heavily over about a month and not had any problems with recordings not playing back, I've overall been impressed with the picture quality and the search settings and so on. I think this is a useful item to have if your busy and want to set it up to tape from the main channels to watch back whenever you have the time. Its pretty easy to get the hang of and its quick and easy to set up recordings, you can even start an automatic recording by simply pressing the button with a red circle/dot while you have a channel on screen and it'll automatically start to record it. You get alot of fairly fancy options like pausing and rewinding live TV and taping 2 programmes at once and PIP and you can also access the more general Freeview related things like teletext and you have access to the usual red button and 3 other colour buttons that correspond on certain screens to, for instance, edit options and so on. This model isn't whats called 'Freeview Playback enabled', it doesn't have a series link option like Sky+ (though I hear that those don't always work, I prefer to manually search and set up recording timers to be sure I don't miss anything anyway) and it doesn't have any fancy digital PDC settings/features but its still providing what I see as being a very handy function for recording and storing hours and hours of footage from at least the main channels, with no faffing with VHS videos or DVD disks required, its pretty simple and not at all bad for the money I believe. There may be better models out there and it may be worth waiting a year or so to see if more with this new digital PDC alternative come out but otherwise I'd say that, if you feel this is something that would be very handy to you (being able to record shows and watch them back whenever you have the time), then you should definately bear this model in mind!.
This review is posted both on DooYoo UK and on Ciao! UK under my username which is the same on both sites, IzzyS. I apologise if it takes me a while to re-rate you, this was a product suggestion of mine thats just been made available so I thought I should post my review as soon as I could to prove I have a review for it and I'll try my best to re-rate everyone as soon as I can but I find myself pretty busy at the moment... don't worry, I still vow to re-rate everyone within a couple of days though and I very much appreciate any and all r/r/c's, thanks, as ever, for reading!