This has come about a year too late for me, as I wanted the facilities of a PVR without having to pay for the privilege and so moved away from SKY to Freeview early in 2006.
At the time I was unsure whether I was getting good value from “Pay” television through SKY, and so did the geeky thing and kept a diary of my television viewing for a month. The results were surprising – despite the fact I was paying around £420 a year for the privilege of dozens of premium channels and a PVR facility, 95% of the programmes I actually watched were available “Free to Air” without the need to pay for them.
But I still wanted a PVR, and did like SKY+ and it’s features. However, SKY weren’t budging – they said if I cancelled my channel subscription, the SKY+ PVR feature went too. So I cancelled, and suddenly SKY were able to offer me the SKY+ facility for £10/month. Too late, Mr. Murdoch! I said “no thanks” to all further offers. I really resent this sort of practice – why not just tell me I could indeed subscribe to the PVR service for £10 per month, instead of pretending it wasn’t possible until they were sure they’d lost my business? This was also the culmination of a ridiculous number of anti-customer practices I’d experienced from SKY – including the fact that when I ‘phoned to cancel my subscription, I was told I could only cancel on certain days of the month. “Can’t you just use your computer to diary my cancellation for those days then?” I enquired. “No Sir, you’ll need to ‘phone back on that day”. Superb example of trying to use technology to hide what is simply a really poor customer retention policy SKY!
Anyway, SKY were history and so I started looking at the Freeview PVR options – of which there were many. The clear winner appeared to be the Topfield TF5800 PVR (pictured below). It allowed the recording of two channels whilst watching an existing recording, it featured a 300GB Hard Drive, and also allowed the use of TAPS – Topfield Application Programs. Think extensible applications for your television viewing and you’ll get the idea! This was a “killer” feature for me, and a year on I am still loving the ability to modify my PVR software how I want it. I can record entire series of programs, program my PVR by SMS text message, record programs by search key words, skip advertisements, set bookmarks in show playbacks, automatically organise my television recordings into structured folders, export my recordings for conversion to MPG, and much more.
The “Toppy” as it is affectionately known, also has a thriving community where you can get help and discuss problems. You can also find a more detailed review of the TP5800 here – what I would add is though, whatever “niggles” in the software or personal preferences you find not catered for by the bog standard Toppy box – you can simply upload a TAP and work around them!
Whilst I’ve used my laptop connected up to my Toppy via it’s USB port to do my “tinkering” up until now, I’ve recently bought a Linksys NSLU2 box which will enable me to put my Toppy on my home network for even more functionality!
Now – I can see the allure of Windows Vista’s Media Centre features, and how they might enable you to achieve the same level of functionality as my Toppy – but I think the experience works out much more expensive. You’ll be lucky to build a ultra-quiet slimline PC that you can leave on 24/7 in your living room for less than £400 including a Vista license. However, if you have done exactly this, do leave a comment and let me know how you got on!
The Topfield TF5800 cost me £300 for the box, and I also had a new television aerial installed at a cost of £100 to enable a strong signal for Freeview. Total cost = £400. A year in, I’m enjoying all the features of my SKY+ PVR, and nearly all of the television shows I used to watch (with DVD rentals and purchases to cover the gaps) but am now saving £420 a year to boot!