If you've not yet made the upgrade to Freeview, you should think about spending that little bit more and buying an integrated recorder. Like Sky+, these devices will allow you to record television to an internal hard drive. But they're not just one big recorder -- these devices will buffer the current channel on the same hard drive, meaning you can pause live TV, rewind through what you've been watching and cut out the ad breaks. This kind of functionality can completely alter the way you watch television, and once you get used to it, it's difficult to go back.
Humax's box is the most basic of the four on offer here. It has an 80GB hard drive, which is enough for about 40 hours of recording, but it only has one internal tuner, meaning you can only record one channel at a time. So while you can record anything you like by selecting it from the 7-day electronic programme guide (EPG), you can't record one programme while watching another. If you can put up with this, you'll find the £180 Humax PVR-8000T intuitive to use, and it can pick up a signal where many cheaper boxes fail.
The other three boxes here feature dual tuners, meaning you can record two channels simultaneously, or watch one while recording another. Thomson's £160 take on this idea is the oldest here, but like the iPod, its design has stood the test of time. It's a joy to use, it's small and stylish, and the only thing going against it is the tiny 40GB hard drive (around 20 hours of storage). Sagem's and Panasonic's boxes offer 80GB, which is still not massive in this day and age, so if you're going to replace the hard drive anyway you'd be wise to pick up the Thomson.
Sagem's box is more or less similar to Panasonic's on specification, but as it's much cheaper (£160 as opposed to £240), Sagem's is the much more attractive proposition. The box is a strange shape that means you can't stack anything on top of it, and it can be cumbersome to use. It does everything else perfectly, though -- it picked up every channel with ease and the recordings were easy to find. We also liked the way a preview is shown on top of the EPG -- other manufacturers take note.
Panasonic is one of the few mainstream brands to release a Freeview PVR, and in biding its time the company has released the definitive model. It has advanced menus that will help you backup recordings to a DVD recorder, its menu system is a breeze, and it has the same excellent remote control as all other Panasonic recorders. It'll also fit in perfectly with the rest of your AV setup thanks to its rugged, silver exterior. The downside? A rather extortionate price tag.