Now that VCRs have been banished to the annals of home entertainment history, personal video recorders (PVRs) have taken their place as the easiest and most affordable way of recording TV programmes.
These digital recording devices allow you to store hours of footage on to an integrated hard drive without the need for any software. Making recordings is as simple as highlighting a programme from the accompanying electronic programme guide (EPG) and leaving the rest to technology. The hard drive also supports various time-slip functions, such as chasing play and pausing live TV, in case the phone rings midway through a climatic ending.
The best models include dual digital TV tuners, which essentially means that you can record one Freeview channel while you watch another. Some even allow you to record two channels simultaneously. If you've ever been embroiled in an argument when two programmes share the same time slot, then this is your salvation.
We've selected four recent models that prove, when it comes to recording, digital does it better:
Goodmans' GHD8015F is the most affordable model on the market. For less than £100 you can expect a few compromises such as an outdated design, restricted connectivity and the absence of a CI card slot to support TopUp TV subscription channels. The 80GB hard drive isn't massive but there's enough space to record up to 35 hours of footage using a single recording quality mode. Nonetheless, performance is excellent for the price, with stable, balanced images and indistinguishable recordings that offer great value for an entry-level buyer.
Sharp's TU-R160H shares the same construction, user interface and even remote as the Goodmans' model -- leading us to believe that it's fundamentally the same device cloaked in a more stylish design. There are similar limitations with the absence of a CI card slot, and only the Scart output is RGB enabled so recordings of separate devices like a satellite box are compromised. The difference in price, however, is justified by a larger 160GB hard drive that can store up to 80 hours of superb quality recordings.
Sony's SVR-S500 appears overpriced for a specification that only includes a relatively small 80GB hard drive. What you do get for your money is immaculate build quality, a super-stylish design with dual RGB connectivity and a choice of recording quality modes that can store between 40 and 80 hours of footage. Image quality and subsequent recordings, even using low quality modes, are close to class leading, but usability could be better and the cooling fan is distractingly noisy.
Humax's PVR 9200T is still our preferred PVR, with an outstanding range of features attached to a competitive price tag. What really sets it apart is the ability to record two programmes at the same time -- while watching a third. The 160GB hard drive carries enough space for around 100 hours of single quality recordings, and advanced features include CI card support and convergent USB connectivity that lets you back up TV recordings on to your PC. There are regular software updates with the latest version adding chasing play and auto padding, which allows you to extend the start and finish times of recordings. Image quality is slighted by bleached black levels, but few other PVRs can claim as many features.