When Freeview PVRs arrived in 2003, it was easy to see how the ability to pause live TV and make recordings to the hard drive would revolutionise the way we watch TV. After using these first-generation devices though, it became clear that having only one tuner, and hence the ability to only record and watch one channel, would restrict their potential, especially in a home with many different viewing tastes. When dual tuner devices arrived, the dream was finally realised, and you could record one channel to the hard drive while watching another.
Despite not being as popular (or as fully featured) as the Sky+ system, Freeview PVRs are still a great-value purchase if you watch a lot of TV. Most of the devices below are very good value when compared with other AV products, and when you get used to setting recordings with a single button from the electronic programme guide, pausing TV while you make a cup of tea or rewinding back to the beginning of a recorded programme when you get home, you'll wonder how you ever got by without one.
Humax's PVR-9200T is the most fully featured device currently on the market. It beats the rest of this group with one feature alone -- while all these boxes can record up to two channels at once, the Humax lets you watch an entirely separate channel while you record two others. The remote control looks like it fell out of a child's playset, but the box will also record TopUp TV channels if you pay for the subscription card. You can also transfer images via USB from your computer, although some sort of PC editing features would have been far more useful. It's not like you'll need to worry about cutting down your recordings though -- the 160GB hard drive will store more than 70 hours of recordings.
Sagem's PVR-7280T is slightly less powerful than Humax's box, and has half the hard drive capacity. Nevertheless, it has a low-end price, a simple interface and a TopUp TV slot for upgrading to more premium channels. The 80GB hard drive is enough to hold around 40 hours of programming, which is big enough for most users. It isn't very stylish though, and the one big fault of the box is that you can't record two channels simultaneously, just record one while watching another. It's a strange feature that loses the Sagem marks next to the other boxes here.
Pansonic's TUCTH100 is noteworthy because it's the first recorder to emerge from a major manufacturer. The interface, box and remote control design are all miles ahead of anything else on offer, and there are even options to help you dub your favourite programmes to DVD. Given the cost of the product, you'd expect a larger hard drive than 80GB, but the twin tuners allow you to record or timeshift with up to two channels simultaneously. Not that there's a lot in it, but we also rate Panasonic's box as offering the best AV performance out of any of these products, although a box with component video outputs for a flat-screen display would definitely have been welcome.
Thomson's DHD4000 is one of those products that's strong enough not to have warranted an update, despite being available for well over a year. Its power and ease of use blew us away when we reviewed it, with the dual tuners and slinky design offering Panasonic a template that it would eventually improve on. The only problem is the small 40GB hard drive, which is barely enough for 20 hours of recording -- a quarter of what Humax's box offers. Still, if you've got an eye for a bargain, you should be able to shop around and find the Thomson box very cheaply, and even replace the hard drive if you're technically minded.