CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Teac PVR-160T review: Teac PVR-160T

The Teac PVR-160T isn't brimming with cutting-edge features, but it offers the usual assortment of PVR, picture and MP3 capabilities; a worthwhile investment for anybody investing in SD digital TV.

David Braue Special to CNET News
5 min read

If you're still holding out on purchasing a digital TV set-top box, the hard drive-equipped personal video recorders (PVRs) now on the market may be enough to finally change your mind.


Teac PVR-160T

The Good

Clean, smooth picture. USB link allows MP3 and picture files to be stored on the unit's hard drive. Dual tuners allows recording on one digital TV channel and watching another. Easy-to-use interface.

The Bad

Basic external display not very informative. No memory card slot for transferring photos and music. 15-second video skip makes fast-forwarding an exercise in patience. USB 1.1-only means video downloads are painfully slow. Conversion process for burning video files onto DVD not documented.

The Bottom Line

The Teac PVR-160T isn't brimming with cutting-edge features, but it offers the usual assortment of PVR, picture and MP3 capabilities in an effectively packaged box that makes it a worthwhile investment for anybody investing in standard-definition digital TV.

Because they allow informal, non-permanent recording of shows and a host of easy scheduling options, PVRs are a great companion to the improved picture quality of a set-top box, and offer an economic alternative to more expensive hard drive-equipped DVD recorders. Even without the improved quality of high-definition (HD) video, these units are well worth the extra cost.

Teac's PVR-160T features a modern, squared-off design with so many sharp edges that it's honestly a bit hard on the eyes. It's also a bit narrower than the standard 19-inch audio-video form factor, which is fine but makes it a little awkward in a rack of other components. However, your eyes will be focused on the TV while you're using this unit, so aesthetics are a minor consideration.

TEAC's Finepass USB downloader transfers pictures to the PVR-160T. Click to enlarge.

The unit's front display is sparse, with just four seven-element LEDs showing basic channel and time information. It would have been nice for the panel to feature more information - for example, during recording the display only says 'REC' but doesn't indicate which channel is being recorded.

Power, Menu and OK buttons on the front of the unit, as well as a four-way toggle and selector button combination provide access to all of the unit's functions -- a nice feature when the dog has made off with the remote control and you're dying to change the channel.

The remote is comfortable, with clearly labelled buttons including EPG, Time Shift, TV/Radio, channel favourites, recall (to return to the last channel), sleep timer, aspect ratio, alternate audio, teletext and A-B repeat. Entering of text, such as when programming timer recordings, is via an SMS-like number pad. Four coloured buttons on the remote guide a number of functions when setting and editing timer recordings. Many buttons take on other functions when listening to music or viewing photos.

With so many PVRs on the market these days, most units have a standard array of features including one-off and ongoing timer recording, chase play, the ability to play music and run video slideshows, and so on. The PVR-160T includes all of these, and the fact that both of its dual tuners are standard-definition (SD) digital is a big step up from conventional analogue VCRs since overall image quality is that much sharper and clearer.

The back of the PVR-160T has all the usual connectors, ranging from component video out and S-Video to VCR and TV SCART ports, coaxial and optical S/PDIF audio out, standard video and audio RCA ports, a serial port for software upgrades, and two sets of antenna connections for the tuners. An included loop-through cable links the two tuners.

Recorded videos can be transferred from the box to a Windows PC. Click to enlarge.

Initial setup was quick and easy, with the unit correctly locating all available SD and HD channels as well as digital radio broadcasts (HD channels can be selected, but quickly disappear in a flurry of pixilation because the unit can't keep up with the higher-bandwidth signal). The unit's clock was automatically set using the SD feed.

During playback, the unit offers 2, 4, 6, and 8 times fast-forward and reverse, although the only option for skipping through ads is a 15-second jump. A scene marking feature allows the setting of up to 10 points of interest in each broadcast, and these can be accessed easily later on. Other features include a parental lock, four 4:3 and 16:9 signal ratios, Dolby Digital sound via the S/PDIF audio out, 8 favourite channel groups, and sleep and wake timers.

Lacking are memory card readers that have become common in many higher-end units; this means the only way to get data into and out of the unit is using the included USB cable, which must be plugged into a Windows-based computer to transfer pictures, music and video. The USB drivers and associated FinePass software (the only way to view the unit's hard drive from the computer) must be downloaded from Teac's Web site.

The PVR-160T's photo album mode allows browsing of pictures, zooming in and out and panning using the remote control, and an automatic slide show option. Pictures can be renamed, sorted, stored in nameable favourite lists, and deleted. Similar features are offered in MP3 mode. In all modes, the on-screen display is informative and shows a mock-up of the keypad that helps retain context in the various modes.

Overall, the PVR-160T's performance was solid and quick. Changing channels was quick and smooth, with on-screen program information quickly updated. SD image quality was crisp and clear, with good full sound and good colour that is a big improvement over analogue TV.

Recording programs and setting record timers was intuitive and easy, with chase-play features and simultaneous recording-and-watching easy to figure out. The unit's good EPG (electronic program guide) mode allows preview of channels and selection of channels to record. It also uses the actual program name taken from the incoming signal, a nice feature that saves some annoying titling work with the remote control.

Expect to shell out apporximately AU$85 for DVR-Studio, the only software that could read the PVR-160T's .HAV files for conversion to DVD format.
Click to enlarge.

The trickiest part of using the unit was moving data to and from its 160GB hard drive. The manual's documentation was sparse on this point, mentioning where to get the drivers but not mentioning the necessary Finepass software at all. Finepass itself was easy enough to figure out, although it could definitely use a more friendly interface. It would have been nice to simply have the unit's hard drive mount as a normal USB drive, although PVR makers haven't been known for their efforts to make file transfers easy.

Finepass also allows downloading of its recorded video to a computer, but this process is mind-numbingly slow thanks to the limitations of the USB 1.1 port: a seven-minute video recording took around 20 minutes to download; USB 2.0 would be a nice and seemingly easy improvement for the next version.

At the end of the download process, we ended up with .HAV video files that Windows didn't recognise. A bit of Googling revealed that conversion software was necessary, but three different programs - all of which supposedly support the .HAV file format -- failed to understand the TEAC files. Only one program -- DVR-Studio from Haenlein Software could read the files, offering the ability to convert them to standard MPEG-2 files or streams appropriate for use in DVD authoring. At â,¬49.99 (~AU$85) this is steep cost for something that should have been included with the device.

After much effort, the result was a clean, sharp file that played smoothly in Windows. The sparse manual mentions none of this, and in fact doesn't even mention Teac's own Finepass software at all. This whole process is less than intuitive for those with little technical knowledge, and should really be documented much better in future versions.

Nonetheless, it can be done -- and this shortcoming shouldn't detract from a unit that is well implemented and a worthwhile investment for anybody considering upgrading to digital TV. Even if you think you don't need a PVR, spend a week with a unit like this and you'll wonder how you lived without it.