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NextWave Digital PVR-3790 review: NextWave Digital PVR-3790

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The Good Massive 200GB hard drive for around 100 hours of recordings. USB 2.0 for archiving programs. Attractive, funky design.

The Bad Can't record two channels at once. PVR software doesn't support Mac. Changing channels is slow. No component, DVI or HDMI ports. Doesn't automatically bookmark recordings.

The Bottom Line An easy to use personal video recorder suitable for those wanting to upgrade their VCR, but avoid the costly high-definition path. Dual SD tuners will satisfy TV addicts or families that need to record one channel while watching another.

7.1 Overall

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We first saw the 200GB NextWave personal video recorder (PVR) at the CEDIA home entertainment expo on the Gold Coast in July. As it supports standard definition (SD) digital free-to-air broadcasts, you're able to plug it in to almost any current analog television for crisper pictures, better quality sound, extra digital channels, and it's an easy way to record all your favourite shows.

Design
Nextwave Digital has given the PVR-3790 a modern look with a black and silver checkboard front panel and a circular set of buttons smack in the middle which reminds us of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, although as much as we tried we couldn't get it to glow red or talk back to us. Being VCR-sized at 350 by 270 by 60 millimetres, it should be easy to stack into any home entertainment cabinet. At the top-left of the front panel is a fairly rudimentary yellow-green status display, which shows basic information like channel numbers and playback/recording information. As with most home theatre devices, interaction with the PVR-3790 is mainly through the remote control, which is dark grey and has an array of 51 labelled buttons laid out not too confusingly.

Video connections at the back of the unit are nothing special; there are composite, S-Video and two SCART ports. NextWave promotes the PVR-3790 as supporting component output but you'll need to purchase a SCART-to-component cable separately for this. While stereo analog audio is onboard, you'll want to use the 3790's optical audio connection for use with a surround sound system. There are no HDMI or DVI ports, which isn't surprising considering this is only an SD unit.

Features
NextWave Digital states that the 200GB hard drive can store around 100 hours of digital TV. Although there are two SD tuners inside, unfortunately the 3790 doesn't let you record two channels at once. Instead you are able to simultaneously record one channel while watching another. Up to 20 recordings can be scheduled, but setting these up is a tedious process as, unlike the Topfield TF5000PVRt, there is no support for a third-party electronic program guide (EPG) the the one from IceTV for on-screen browsing of the week ahead. There is a built-in EPG function, but as Australian broadcasters stubbornly refuse to transmit schedules over free-to-air, it only shows what's on now and next.

Timeshifting can be set to automatically buffer up to 30 minutes of any channel you're watching, allowing you to pause and rewind "live" TV. Telextext is also onboard and accessible when on Seven Network channels.

A 4x zoom feature on the remote control allows you to get in close to the action and scroll around the screen. There is also a screen capture button that stores images on the hard disk. Tucked away in the utility sub-menu is a calendar, a Tetris-like game and a browser to view captured images.

In the box there is an AV cable, loop through cable for the second tuner, Windows software for downloading videos from the PVR, but unfortunately no USB cable. There is also a 46-page user manual with instructions and illustrations for setting up the PVR and using its features.

Performance
After the initial setup, which took less than 10 minutes, the PVR-3790 found all the free-to-air channels in auto scanning mode. We were then able to delete channels such as the dull-as-dishwater D44 broadcasts and unsupported high-definition channels. Channels can be renamed and you can put your favourites into groups.

While setting the 3790 to continuous Timeshifting mode in the menu automatically saves up to 30 minutes of a broadcast, pressing pause on the remote while watching a program will work for up to an hour.

The scratching sound of a hard disk is the last thing you want in the background when you're trying to immerse yourself in a movie. Thankfully we found that unless you're lying down on the floor near the 3790, operational noise is barely audible.

Picture quality was excellent, with no visible noise or artifacts present during playback. The PVR also fast-forwarded and rewinded smoothly at all speeds: 2x, 4x and 8x. We like the fact that you can alter how far the skip buttons on the remote jump forward or back, with a range of settings between 10 seconds and 15 minutes -- setting it to 30 seconds was very handy for ad skipping.

Like many PVRs, which tend to have more complex firmware than DVD players and VCRs, the 3790 takes some time to start up -- around 40 seconds. Our biggest bugbear with the PVR-3790 was a three second delay when switching between channels. It might not sound like much but it really adds up when you are channel surfing. Another anomaly was that our test unit lost sound output twice -- using optical -- but the problem was fixed by a simple reboot.

While some PVRs we've tested automatically place a bookmark when you press stop during playback -- so you can return to that point at a later time -- the NextWave unit always started playback from the beginning, which means you have to skip forward to find where you left off.

All things considered, the NextWave PVR-3790 is a decent hard disk-based SD recorder with a fairly inexpensive price tag considering its large recording capacity. Our only caveat is that channel surfers will get frustrated by its relatively slow channel changing speed.

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