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.
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.