Freeview Personal Video Recorder

Ye "Good" Ole' Days

The first VCRs had mechanical dials that turned the recordings on and off, something we'd go "LOL" at today. When VCRs got more popular they were as complicated to program as to set your digital wrist watch to summer/winter time, but you had to do it twice; once for the start time and once for the end time. This was usually accomplished by having the manual or a cheat-sheet very handy.
Later VCRs have "on screen" menus which make it a lot easier to program, but it's still not very intuitive. You still have to figure out when you want to start recording and when you want to stop recording. You also need to find a tape. But as the case usually is your don't know exactly what's on the tape, and you don't know where on the tape whatever is.

Haven't we all been completely stressed out when trying find the free spot on the tape and then get it to record, all while time is ticking away and the movie starts and you're failing to record the start of the show. So now you have a version of Lethal Weapon, on tape, somewhere on the tape that is, and without the prologue. nightmare!
I'm actually surprised that we loved our VCRs that much. Just a trivia question: how many meters of "old" VHS tapes do you have in your collection? My collection is somewhere around 1.5 to 2 meters (stacked side by side like books).

Let's move on to a nicer world

Wouldn't it be nice if you would have a "thingiemajig" that would work like:

  • It would know the TV schedule so you don't have to look somewhere else (news paper, TV-guide, Internet etc).
  • The device would know the TV schedule for weeks.
  • It wouldn't need tapes or discs or anything like that.
  • You could remove the commercials and unwanted pieces from your recordings - without having a 2nd device or 2nd "tape"
  • It could record the subtitles which could be displayed or hidden when you watch the show (I find it nice to turn the subtitles on for example when I'm watching in a noisy environment, or in a low noise environment).
  • Recording would be handled very easily, with just a few clicks on your TV remote (you don't even have to use a different remote).
  • When you want to watch your recordings you'd have metadata available, such as length, date recorded, and even thumbnails of scenes of the recording.

Well, you know what - this "thingiemajig" exists. It's called a PVR, a Personal Video Recorder or Digital Video Recorder (DVR).

What is a PVR?

To qualify for the TLA (Three Letter Acronym) PVR your device has to have these properties:

  • Internal storage for your recordings, this is typically a computer hard disk drive
  • Electronic programme guide that's downloaded either via modem (bad), Internet (OKish) or over the air along with the TV programs (good!).
  • TV Tuner(s), the more the merrier.

Think of the PVR as either a set-top box on steroids, or a scaled down computer.

Because most PVRs record the last 30minutes of the program you're watching it allows you to rewind live TV. It also allows you to pause live TV. And if you have paused live TV you will be watching it with a delay, which in turn means you can fast forward past the commercials. Neat!

If you have several TV tuners in your PVR you can record from several channels a the same time. Or you can watch one channel and record another one. The PVR I have has got two TV tuners, which means that I can do a combination of

  • Watch normal TV.
  • Watch paused TV and record another channel.
  • Watch one channel live and record another one
  • Record two channels and watch a recorded program

When you schedule your programs to record, you typically browse your Electronic Program Guide (EPG) and simly select the program you want recorded. This is usually two to three clicks on your remote. Should there be a conflict, say you want to record 3 programs at the same time when you only can record two, the electrickery in the box will warn you about this.

To watch a program, simply enter your library and click your way to the program you want to watch and press play. You have all the features available to you as you would have on your VCR or DVD player.


Our Digifusion box finally packed in permanently. It got worse and worse and worse. Now it's just a slow moving piece of humming gadget.
We've given up on it and the manufacturer refuses to do anything about it because it's out of warranty now. It wasn't when it started, but still...
This is the 2nd Digifusion box that we've personally experienced "blowing up", but after a bit of Googling you'll see that customers all over are disappointed in this particular PVR.
We won't be buying another Digifusion product. We're instead looking at the Humax PVR-9200T which seems to have gotten great reviews everywhere.

Our DigiFusion FVRT 100

It is now about a year since we got our PVR. This was more or less an impulse buy, however I had done a bit of research before.
One weekend in our local home electronics store we opted for the DigiFusion FVRT 100 (Official homepage), it was about £180 at that time, and if my memory serves it was the one with the largest HDD capacity available on the shelf.

Whilst time has moved on, and there probably are more evolved products out there I think that our PVR still is able to hold its own. If you're looking to buy one, please do your own research as the development of products like this move at a very rapid speed.

The specifications of our PVR are

  • 40GB HDD capable of storing up to 40 hour of (bad quality) TV programs - it stores an "adequate" amount of high-quality TV (Currently I think it's 2/3 full and contains 2 - 3 movies, 5 - 10 sitcoms/tv shows and the full series of "Rock School" with Gene Simmons.
  • Twin tuner
  • 14 day EPG (was 7 day but this was updated)

This particular PVR is capable of downloading updates over the air. This is a very neat thing which means that you don't have to worry about having the latest software in the machine. The updates are simply flown over the air just like the EPG or TV programs. You might find one day that you have new messages in the inbox descibing how you can do a "Chase play".

As this machine seems to have a bit of age on its shoulder alread there seems to be people who modify them to use a larger capacity disk (some 130 odd GB max). I've been toying with that idea, but so far it's only a plan.

TV watching - the new way.

Screenshot of the PVR pausing live TV, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Here's our PVR pausing live TV. You can see the pause sign at the top left corner, and at the bottom you can see the "time-slider" and the amount of time that you have paused for.

Screenshot of the PVR showing the  Hairy Bikers' Cookbook's synopsis., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The Electronic Program Guide on the Digifusion PVR. You see the Hairy Bikers' Cookbook highlighted and the show's synopsis. Pressing the green button will record this program.

The Digifusion PVR's recorder screen., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Here you can see the recorder screen. After seeing a program in the EPG you only have to press the green button to get to this screen, then press the green button once more to confirm the details. And this is the result.

Screenshot showing the library of the Digifusion PVR., Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Here you can see the library of recorded shows. Highlighted is a recording "The world according to Google" wihch is showing its synopsis. Below is an episode of CSI. The green/yellow/blue bar shows how much of the diskspace is used, reserved and free. Below that is a list of thumbnails for each of the 5 minute scenes that are automatically generated.

If used properly this device can make your TV life much better. The "old" way of watching TV is to abort your normal life (hahah funny!) to sit down infront of the stupid-box. If you had a VCR you would perform the heart-attack-inducing-ritual of figuring out the right tape and then finding the tape and position on the tape. (Only to forget to write down the recording and record over it again or never watch it?). Mostly it was probably easier to alienate your friends and go home to your sweet, sweeet TV than plan for the occasion and schedule a recording.
Neither way was a "Good Thing" (tm).

Enter the era of the PVR. You can now sit down, calmly I might add, and browse your programme guide for up to two weeks ahead and select the shows, with a few clicks, that you want to add.

When you finally decide that your normal life (hahaha!) needs to be disconnected and it's time for some dumbing-down in front of the stare-box, you can either check what's on the live TV or what's been collecting in your library of recorded programs. Should you choose to watch live TV, and you need to go for another beer/the loo/walk the dog/answer the phone/etc or if your other half runs into the room and just starts sharing his/her day with you, then you simply reach for the pause button and sit back and listen and nod politely (providing you don't have to do that for longer than 30 minutes). When he/she is gone, you can press play to watch what you normally would have missed; with the added bonus of you being able to fast forward past the commercials and other boring bits. With a little bit of luck, you will be able to regain the time spent getting a beer/listening to your spouse/answering the phone by fast forwarding "live TV" - a true win-win-situation.

If you elect to watch one of your favourite programs that you've recorded you have the same convenience there; fast forward if you want, or pause if needed. If the program was cr*p or you just don't want to keep it, you can just simply delete it from the disk. If you want to keep it but save a bit of space, our PVR allows you to compress the program, gaining space, but loosing quality. Neat!

In the old-age you were also faced with the dilemma of which program to watch and which one to record. If you were "lucky" you'd have two TVs and/or two VCRs so you could either go to another room (not very sociable) or rig up the 2nd VCR (not very convenient).

Negative things and alternative boxes

There's always two sides to a coin, even here. The PVR isn't without flaws. I think the biggest flaw of our PVR is that you can't move or copy your recordings to other media in any easy way. In fact the easiest way to copy them is to record them onto VHS. But as I've, just above, declared that VHS is a "Bad Thing" then I'll probably not bother with that. Maybe one day in the future I might get a DVD recorder and "pipe" the shows to that. However that would feel really dumb too as my PVR records digital tv into a digital file onto a digital hard disk drive, and the connection to my digital DVD recorder would probably be analogue (SCART cable or something like that)... I.e I would loose qualit, and probably all the metadata too. Dumb. If I'd really want I've seen that there's some program that can extract the data from the disk of the PVR. Unfortunately this involves opening the PVR up and connecting the IDE disk drive to a PC... highly inconvenient!.
I sincerely hope that the record and movie industries would "release their customers" and allow us to do what we want with our purchased media. After all I pay £10 per month to watch TV, surely that should include the right to watch it whenever and wherever I want. For a PVR all it would need is a small FTP server software on the device and a network port. That way I could access the media on the drive, copy it to my computer and burn it to CDs/DVDs. Easy peasy.

Another bad thing with the PVR is, like with all HDD based systems, that there's an HDD in it. That in turn means that the HDD will crash at some point in time. Even if it's not the physical disk that says "Bye bye" it might be a bug in the software. This happened to us. I think it has happened twice; we've lost our recordings. While I don't put my life in the hands of the PVR, it's still very annoying.

This particular PVR also lacks one killer-feature that I've not mentioned at all; Linked Recording. This is a very neat feature which was pioneered by the TiVo (???), and is also featured in the Sky+ boxes, amongst others. Linked recordings is a smart way of telling your box to record a series of shows, for example the soap addict could record all episodes of Corrie, whilst a SitCom junkie like myself would tell the recorder to record all episodes of Spin City. Recording all episodes of The Simpsons would be a given. If I could wish for one feature to be added, it would be Linked Recording.

Our PVR is a digital free to air, a.k.a FreeView box, there are other systems out there. Like the Sky+ box which is said to be even more intuitive and have more features (including linked recordings). Unfortunately Sky packages come with a pretty hefty monthly fee. There are other choices too, like Telewest, NTL etc, as far as I know all major TV suppliers already have an HDD based product or they will be bringing one out.
Naturally there's other alternatives than the DigiFusion box, so if you're in the market for one, do some research and see what suits you best.