* Prices may differ from that shown
With the digital switchover in full swing Personal Video Recorders(PVR) with built in freeview tuners are sure to become a must in most households.The Topview is packaged with two tuners to allow you to record one channel while you watch another.With some nifty little features it is sure to be a viable alternative to Sky+ without the added expense of a monthly subscription(you just have to love the free aspect of Freeview especially in the current economic climate).
As i mentioned above the TF5810 is a Personal Video Recorder or PVR for short which is fitted with dual Freeview tuners allowing you to record video and audio to a hard disk much like a video recorder used to do.With features like an electronic programme guide,HDMI output,digital audio output and a USB port the product is feature rich and user friendly.A solid built quality makes the Topview a very desireable piece of kit which is backed up by impressive performance and ease of use.
HDMI output-This allows you to connect the product to an High Definition TV and the picture quality is fantastic compared to some other brands.The images are crisp and clear and vibrant colours make viewing a pleasure.The audio output is equally as good and you have the option of connecting to a external sound setup to take advantage of the digital audio output.
USB port-With a USB port included on the rear of the unit you have the option of connecting the unit to a pc which will allow you to copy media off the unit and onto a computer for viewing or storage.You do need to download some software off the website first but this is quite easy to do,once done the software is easy to setup and use(i would have preferred a CD with the product)
Hard disk-The unit comes fitted with a 500GB hard disk which should be enough to record about 240 hours of television and the unit is very quiet and smooth in operation.
Recording-The unit comes with an eight day electronic programme guide which can be used to setup a recording schedule just by one click.A second click will allow you to record a whole series(Sky+ users will recognise this feature and i must admit it works perfect and is my favourite feature)
The unit-With a well lit display which is bright and clear and a sleek design the product is very pleasing to the eye.Build quality is excellent and the unit feels solid and gives the feel of high quality throughout.
Extras-The unit is well supported with third party downloads from the internet that allow you to customise the setup and operation of the PVR.I have yet to find the time to do this yet but will update as soon as i have tried it.
Excellent video and audio playback and recording with a fantastic built quality and easy to use setup,makes this a high performing product.With features like USB and third party upgrades this is a product built to perform and last and it has to be a must buy product of 2009..
This review is also listed on ciao under the user name phensh.
Revision January 2010:
Unfortunately, despite the glowing review I've written below, it would appear that I've been sold a 'rogue machine'. Having only owned this since September 2009, it has now been sent for repair once already under its two year warranty and is now , one month later, presenting with the self-same fault. Consequently, I've downrated my previous 5-star rating. Full marks to suppliers Peter Tyson for offering to replace it with a totally new one, despite the fact that it is now 4 months old.
Further revision February 2010:
To my amazement, and chagrin, the second machine, itself supposedly 'factory-fresh' has taken precisely one month to present exactly the same fault! To be fair, Peter Tyson are prepared to issue me with a credit note, which, reluctantly I'll use to buy a Humax machine, as these are just about the only viable alternatives, although less interesting.
Now back to the plot.
Have you seen that demo in Tesco's? The one where a line shuttles back and forth across a TV screen showing you the difference between Sky HD and Freeview whilst 'Zulu' plays? What utter taurine excrement and scrotal spheroids! Yes, there's no denying that HD is good, but standard definition Freeview TV is nowhere near as bad as (mis)represented.
According to them nothing, but nothing, has the features of a Sky Plus box. Also crap.
And it came to pass......
Anyone familiar with my opinions will no doubt have noticed that I'm partial to the 'occasional new gadget'.
In recent months, I've added a plasma TV and Blu-Ray player to my arsenal of A/V products.
The Blu-Ray player is my only source of Hi-Definition viewing, but frankly at my TV's screen size, i.e. 37-inch, I do wonder if the kerfuffle of 'going HD' is really worth it, given that my new TV was rated last year as "the best 37-inch TV tested" by a well-known magazine and so even mere "standard definition" programmes look stunning.
At the moment, unless you want to buy/rent Blu-Ray disks or download HD content to a home media server, the only other viable HD sources are a Sky+ box or its Virgin cable equivalent, neither of which appeal, in the first instance because of the 'taint of Murdoch' being visited upon it, and secondly, if I upgrade my existing Virgin facilities to include a V+ box, I object strongly to the fact that a new customer can get a better tariff (for ever) than I can. Yes, Virginmedia, stop using your existing customers like a milk-cow!
FINALLY, THE SUBJECT!
Thus I'm a firm believer in getting as much out of Freeview as I can, using a twin-tuner PVR (that's a personal video recorder) to trap as many programmes as I fancy to free me from sitting down to scheduled TV. I can also skip tedious commercials with ease and am therefore single-handedly the downfall of ITV.
Up till now, I relied on my excellent Topfield 5800, affectionately known on its own forum as 'Toppy' - not a high-street name I'll grant you, but once you've got the hang of one, I'm convinced it's the best there is when it comes to versatility.
Well until now that is. Then Topfield went and muddied their own and everyone else's waters by producing the Topfield 5810, a slicker looking machine, much more in the mould of a 'proper' piece of shiny black A/V equipment - why it's even nearly a standard width.
Essentially, a lot of the improvements are cosmetic. The fluorescent display now shows the proper channel name, e.g. BBC ONE, not P001 as in the old model. The old one only had 'eight bars' so couldn't even display the letter M at all!
Apart from looks, the 5810 now sports a larger hard drive, in my case a half-terrabyte job capable of recording about 250 hours of programmes before it starts creaking at the seams. You can't actually be specific when it comes to the byte/hours estimate as different channels use differing amounts of 'bandwidth' depending on how cheapskate they are or how little rapid motion is envisaged. Try watching some rapid movement on a shopping channel and you'll see what I mean (but why would you?).
Goodness knows how many hours you could record if you only wanted Radio 4 or the Quest channel test card, thousands most likely.
Something else to tempt the inveterate upgrader (if I knew one, ahem) is the addition of an HDMI port on the rear panel to allow for 'upscaled' standard definition on an HD-Ready TV. In this respect I believe the Topfield 5810 pips main rival Humax to the post in being the first Freeview PVR to offer this. The USB port is now a 'type 2.0' which will mean nothing except to those who try to retrieve programmes off the 5810 onto a PC for editing and archiving. The previous USB 1.0 port on the 5800 takes about 45 minutes to offload a one-hour file.
Please note: The HDMI port only upscales. No-one's holding their breath for real HD Freeview hardware, although both the Granada region (Winter Hill) which has undergone the switchover to digital and the London area (Crystal Palace) are now receiving HD broadcasts from BBC, ITV and C4. C5 will follow later. Only trouble is, no-one's got any hardware for it yet - expected 1st/2nd quarters of 2010 probably from Humax, the other main box builder.
SETTING UP THE BEAST - PHYSICAL
This has twin tuners, and Topfield still cling to a simple piece of jumper cable to 'daisy-chain' tuner one (out) to tuner two (in) with a loop of aerial cable at the back. The 'Heath Robinsonian' logic being that in a weak reception area, each tuner can have its own amplified aerial lead, giving each a fair crack of the 'reception whip'. In stronger areas like mine (12 miles from Crystal Palace's whopping great signal), the slight degradation of signal received by tuner two is neither here nor there. Thus you connect your aerial to ANT 1 (in) and a further lead onwards to your TV from ANT 2 (out). There are two SCART outputs, one for TV use and the ability to output a quality RGB signal - about as good as you'll get without going fully 'HDMI digital' and another for feeding to a VCR with a basic colour signal. Then of course there's that HDMI output, configurable to 576p, 720p or 1080i, depending on your TV.
Having made your physical connections with the best quality type of connection available to you and your TV, it only remains to turn it on and find some channels.
SETTING UP THE BEAST - MENUS
Finding new channels is a doddle. Any machine with no channels tuned in will present its set up menu on boot-up. It's then just a matter of letting it go through its routines and confirm the result. In the odd case where duplicate channels may appear, say because your aerial can 'see' beyond the nearest transmitter to the next one, you can delete unwanted channels and there's a signal strength meter to show you which one to get rid of. They normally give you a clue, like plonking themselves smack-dab in the 1000 numbering range. You can also do this with pay-channels to make the Electronic Programme Guide less crowded. Incidentally, you can use this machine with pay-channels like ESPN (was Setanta) given a suitable card and reader (CAM - Common Access Module) plugged in behind a flap on the facia.
Setting Timers - Easy peasy. Bring up the Electronic Programme Guide, the native version of which continues to show a Picture-in-Picture of the current channel. Scroll through the channels and time slots and press the record button when you reach the desired programme. It does however only show two hours worth of 4 channels per screen. The coloured buttons help you jump whole days, backwards and forwards. Then all you have to do is choose what kind of timer you wish to set: a series, a single timer etc. Timings get a certain amount of padding built in to allow for last minutes errors - particularly prevalent after the evening news.
Watching a Recording - Press the Archive button, choose your programme and hit play. It really is that simple. Incidentally you can apply this technique to begin watching programmes that are still being recorded, in what's called 'chase-play' mode.
Pausing Live TV - Quite simply, press the pause button and a disk buffer stores the channel currently being watched. Once the guy trying to sell you a better gas/electricity deal has buggered off, hit play, and it's as if you never went away.
You can bookmark recordings that you don't have time to completely watch for later reference.
There's not a lot to say really - you can't tell the difference between live TV and a recording. What else is there? This is where knowing your onions, or rather your SCARTs from your elbow helps. To be honest, the HDMI connection, whilst superb is abarely discernible improvement over a SCART set to Red-Green-Blue (ah so that's what RGB stands for!)
Along with its ability to record two programmes at the same time, you may also find that you can watch a third. This may sound impossible but consider a situation where you are occupying both tuners to record ITV1 and BBC1, these being on different frequencies. With Freeview, it's possible to see the other channels in each frequency's multiplex, for example, BBC2 or ITV2. Not all PVRs take advantage of this Freeview quirk but Topfield does.
Likewise, not only can you pause a recording, but assuming that you've been watching a programme from its beginning, you can then decide to record it all, not just what's left of it, thanks to its ability to buffer an hour's worth of past viewing as long as you didn't change channels. Very useful when "her indoors" puts her head round the door with that plaintiff "You might have told me it had started!" look on her face.
If I had a criticism, I'd say owning a Topfield PVR feels a little more of work-in-progress than a finite standalone device, like owning a PC instead of an AppleMac.
That's not to say that there's anything wrong with it. Yes, it works fine straight from the box, although early models had some teething troubles largely down to the firmware and the lack of 'maturity' in the new Freeview Playback parameters (now called Freeview + what a surprise). However, its ability to run something called a TAP (Topfield Application Program) raises it head and shoulders above its (largely) Humax competition.
However, to buy it and merely use it is a little like buying a Windows PC and complaining that Wordpad is not a very good word processor.
Just now is a great time to get a 5810, as a gent called BobD (and several friends) has just re-written his replacement Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), a TAP called MyStuff version 6.0.
Building on from the Freeview + platform's ability to track and record a specific TV series now, just like a Sky Plus box in fact, MyStuff even allows you to start searching for programmes that haven't made it onto the far end of the 8-day EPG calendar yet using something called a PowerSearch or TextSearch.
Thus, when one of those tantalizingly non-specific "Coming soon to BBC2" announcements is made, you can cobble together a search timer based on the programme's name and channel (only spell it right though, eh?*).
(*Help, I think I'm turning Canadian, eh?)
This has proved very useful for recording the Formula One racing season with 2 week gaps in between broadcasts and it even survived the jump from ITV to BBC as I hadn't specified the channel but it still has the name 'Formula 1' in its title. Search Timers don't 'die' like Series Timers, so you do need to kill them off once you're sure there's no further need for them. Otherwise they just clog up your timer list. You could set one up with the text 'Grand National' and forget it if you really wanted.
Incidentally, there does seem to be evidence to suggest that having more than 16 of the native Series Timers is a 'bad idea', with a veiled threat that problems can arise.
Also, you can set a search in motion for any programme labeled 'Movie/Drama' in data streamed from Freeview over the air. From the resultant list, which let's say you've limited to Film4, you can cherry-pick movies that take your fancy setting single timers for them as you go.
'Genre-searching' is not new but it's taken a while to mature on Freeview. Busy parents with a long summer holiday ahead of them can do a genre search on 'Children' to list anything deemed suitable for the little darlings.
Likewise, MyStuff allows you to make jumps of configurable lengths with the coloured remote buttons. For example, by default, pressing the red jumps playback by 3 minutes, the green by two, the yellow by one, and the blue jumps back 15 seconds if you've overdone it!
I find this very useful for avoiding adverts and as good an advert for watching EVERYTHING in time-shift mode as I've yet to see. In fact I now get quite indignant when I realize that I'm watching commercial TV live, and must endure the ads!
MyStuff also does away with that annoying wait whilst the EPG 'populates', the bane of many set-top boxes.
After initial boot-up, it reviews the EPG every 30 minutes or so in the background and dumps it to a file on disk. This file then forms the basis for searches and timers, all of which are then rerun to see if any differences need taking into account. It also means that there's always a 'fully populated' EPG on demand. Therefore, the worst that can happen is that it's working with data half an hour out of date.
In practice, this works very well, and can really only get tripped up by last minute programming changes, like when the Wimbledon Men's Final drags on* or if someone "important" dies just in time for the 10 O'Clock News!
(*Not a tennis fan or a Royalist then Chris?)
Cleverly, MyStuff 'pads' recordings by a configurable amount, say 3 minutes at each end. However, even more cleverly, it spots back-to-back timers on the same channel and makes one recording, still splitting them in the archive for viewing purposes. This means that it only uses one tuner, not two, as it would if the end padding of one timer overlapped the front padding of another.
MyStuff is a 'self-installing' programme - all you need to do is load the USB drivers for the Topfield to your PC first, unzip the file and run 'setup'. Errr, connect them up first, eh?
The only downside with MyStuff compared to the built-in EPG is that it doesn't have enough space to display the current TV picture as a Picture-In-Picture thumbnail. However, it can display the next two hours worth of programming for 10 channels which is pretty useful, minimizing the amount of scrolling up and sideways needed.
The only other TAP I may play around with is one that makes the front display more informative, including details of the current programme name as well as the channel. First tests of this would indicate that it works fine, but with the recorder directly below the TV, the constant scrolling is upsetting to the eye.
Well the remote control feels very indistinct and rubbery, but at least it uses different codes, so I can still use my older machine too.
There's no TAP to turn it off in the wee small hours, unlike its predecessor. Holidays aren't a problem - it comes out of stand-by to record and then turns off again - it's when you turn it on manually in the evening, and then go to bed whilst it's recording something that you'll find it humming merrily to itself next morning. You can however set a 'sleep timer' for anything up to two hours hence.
Like all twin tuner Freeview PVRs, you can't use it to archive contents to DVD on its own. However, Topfield cling to the notion of a working USB port, so at least you can retrieve anything from it to a PC.
It hums a bit, but then anything with a PC-style hard-drive will. At least it's not cooled by a fan. It's possible to turn off the drive when not needed, but this prevents you from using 'time-shift' facilities like 'pause live TV'.
If you can't be arsed to upgrade it with new firmware and TAPS, then you may well be wasting your not inconsiderable £240-ish on it. I got mine as a 'customer return' from Peter Tyson, an Amazon supplier, still with its two year warranty for £180 including p&p. I'm not surprised to see e-bay auctions with "I bought this but my wife says it's too complicated" as a reason for sale, it's quite a lot to get the hang of in one go, especially if you've never had a PVR before.
IS IT A PVR THAT CAN PLAY MEDIA FILES, OR MEDIA STREAMER WITH TWIN FREEVIEW TUNERS?
Yes, both, sort of.
Thanks to some freeware installed on your PC, standard video formats can be converted to the ".rec" format on the Toppy and transferred there via the USB port for storage amongst the TV programmes already recorded. Likewise, jpeg and mp3 files can also be stored on board in their own directory structure and displayed/played back. There's a digital S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface, so now you know) optical output so music files can be fed digitally to a suitable home cinema amplifier. As you'd expect there's a TAP to handle the multi-media aspects should you need it.
Incidentally, all TAPs seem to be freeware although I have now paid BobD £5 twice via Paypal for all his hard work on MyStuff.
Home Cinema Choice - "This is probably the best-specified standalone Freeview PVR released to date. It's versatile and performs well.", "There's nothing left for Topfield's 500GB recorder to do".
What Hi-Fi Sound & Vision - "An excellent TV tuner, smooth interface and no fuss recordings make this monstrous PVR a winner", "this unit can really hold its own against the powerhouse that is Sky+", "Images are beautifully polished with a natural colour balance, smooth motion and utterly free of noise", "With recordings, the 500GB Topfield produces nigh-on carbon copies", "All told, this is an outstanding PVR."
Several companies make twin tuner Freeview PVRs, most notably, Humax.
However, Humax, whilst still fitting a USB port to some of their latest offering taunt us with 'for future use' labeling, thereby ruling out extracting programmes to PC (older models used to be able to do this). To my knowledge, the Topfield 5810 is unique in sporting both the HDMI port and the ability to interface with a PC. I'm doing 'wonderful things' with an old PC hidden behind the telly and connected to the Toppy's USB port, a wifi connection and FTP transfer to my main PC upstairs. All I've got to now is find something worth archiving! A bit of software called VideoReDo lets me edit out the ads, do away with padding and make DVDs of what's left.
If you want non-subscription HD-quality through an HDMI output, then you need to move over to Freesat (confusing isn't it?). Humax and Panasonic make a twin-tuner Freesat PVR with HD capability, and I believe the Panasonic offering also has a DVD recorder. All you need is the same kind of dish you'd use for Sky Plus, complete with twin LNBs (and two downleads).