Expensive simplicity: the PVR tradeoff

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With the recent launch of the Foxtel IQ2, the imminent (and much-delayed) appearance of Tivo in Australia next month, and Sony promising its own PlayTV personal video recorder (PVR) option before the year is out, there are more big-name PVR choices for Aussies than ever before. Getting your favourite TV programs automatically recorded for playback at a time that suits you is an obviously appealing concept, but despite the arrival of these new entrants, you still have two basic choices: a fairly pricey system that works well but is hard to customise, or a much cheaper and more flexible option that may not deliver on the simplicity and reliability front.

For the most part, if you want the big-name brands, you're going to have to wait, and you're going to have to cough up large amounts of cash. Foxtel's IQ2 — similar to the first generation IQ but with HD and a bigger (320GB) hard drive — is officially on the market. However, you might have to wait for an installer, and you'll have to be happy to pay for installation and an ongoing $14.95 a month, on top of the existing Foxtel fees.
Tivo will hit online in mid-July and then sell initially only through Harvey Norman from the end of July, with a predicted $700 price tag. Unlike the US version, there'll be no monthly subscription fee. Sony is targeting the end of year for the PlayTV, and is promising a sub-$200 price tag — but you'll need to have purchased a PS3 first. So whichever way you look at it, big bucks are being spent.
On the other hand, there's no denying that these solutions work well. Tivo has become so ubiquitous in the US that it's become a verb ("I'll Tivo it"). The IQ enjoys a good reputation for stability, and Sony specialises in consumer interfaces. Seven (which is launching the Tivo down under) has apparently managed to get around the endless copyright battles that have prevented full coverage of free-to-air TV on electronic program guides, which will add to the appeal of the Tivo.
Aside from cost, though, there's a sacrifice of flexibility in most of these options. You can record onto the device, and possibly stream it to other screens, but that's it: there's no easy and obvious way to make a permanent copy on DVD or tape, or send shows to a portable device such as an iPod. On the Tivo, playing back video from other sources (such as downloads or rips) will likely be hard without some advanced network trickery.
If those sound like options you want, then you may be better off with a basic hard drive recorder with built-in TV burner, or by adding a TV tuner card to a media centre PC. The downside with these options is that there's much more work to do yourself, and no easy way to get an electronic program guide that lets you automatically track programs. You can subscribe to a service such as Ice TV, but that will cost $99 a year, or you can just rely on printed and online TV guides and set your own recording schedule. That's cheaper, and it's flexible, but nowhere near as simple.


Comments

    I bought my Topfield PVR two years ago, and it has provided trouble free 21st century viewing.
    No messy tapes or dvds lying around, the ability to rewind and watch a programme while it is still recording, and to record two programmes at once and watch another.

    It's great.

    A second vote for the Topfield. I've got the 4400 model (which doesn't allow the additional software tricks that more expensive Topfield models allow) and it's been the best gadget in the house. My wife absolutely loves it. It doesn't have the EPG features that the upcoming TiVo will have, but then again you can get the 4400 model (new) on eBay for around $150 these days.

    The next PVR I buy will need to have a DVD burner. We haven't missed this feature much, but occasionally it would be nice to burn a program you've recorded on the hard drive.

    We/I have been doing the latter (media pc) for ages, and while it wasn't as simple as puching a button on a PVR it wasn't too bad. The PC in Q started having hissy fits and we both (wife and I) have macbooks so its dying away. But we now have the SD STB with harddrive from Aldi, and while the EPG is CRAP, (it doesn't even give you info on one program ahead)(oh and you have to scroll thru by hour to get to "in a few days" oh and it doesn't tell you what the program is called even though it "knows" it just tells you what channel and when it was recorded) But you get scrapheap challange and can record stuff, so at about $150 its great..

    Did you mean that you would need a PS3 (you wrote PS2)for the SONY?

    D'oh! Yes, I did indeed mean PS3. Thanks for picking that up. Fixed now.

    I have the first generation IQ and I love it... The only problem I have had with it is the size of the hard drive... i've been considering the IQ2 but I don't have a HD tv so i think it would be pointless

    I've been looking for years and I have to say there's no perfect lounge room companion. Microsoft's MCE interface has potential, but it can be flaky. I have high hopes for TiVo. The lack of achieving features is annoying, but my media centre can do this and I never use the feature. Of course it's not a media player, so you'd want something like a Zensonic Z500 alongside it. Of course there's no Blu-ray here, so you'd want the Panasonic DMR-DW500 Blu-ray recorder in there. Now you've got three devices and lots of feature overlap. I'm about to start looking harder at Linux and Mac based PVRs, but meanwhile $700 for a TiVO that won't let me down (I hope) sounds like a good family-friendly solution while I continue to search for the holy grail.

    I'm really looking forward to the Tivo. I have a Mac based PVR (EyeTV) with IceTV now and it's flexible but it can also be exceedingly flaky and frustrating to use, which completely kills it for the wife. Although the Tivo is shy of some of the archiving features, I never use them anyway and I know it will be very user friendly which helps a lot with the spousal acceptance!

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