Remember the days when your video used to blink the time at you, mocking your inability to set it? Smug electronic devices are something none of us need in our lives, so we welcome high-tech products that are easy to use with open arms.
These days there's no need to set the clock, or even put a tape in. Because PVRs have automated everything, recording a programme is as easy as pressing a button.
The TVonics DVR-FP250 is one of the first 'Freeview Playback' PVRs, a range of deceives that have some standard features designed to make Freeview a more attractive proposition than digital cable and satellite. You can buy the FP250 direct from TVonics for around £190.
The TVonics FP250 is an unusual-looking thing -- it's a sort of ovoid shape, but with a whiff of lozenge about it too. If you think the description is strange, look at the photos and you'll understand why we've struggled to describe it.
The good news is it's finished in the same sort of black as most TVs, so it shouldn't look too out of place in your front room.
The rear of the unit has very little to mention, there are a pair of Scart sockets, a digital audio output and that's pretty much your lot. Obviously, there is a power connection and aerial input and outputs too.
The remote looks suspiciously like the controller you get with Sky Digital. This is hardly a tragedy -- if you're going to take inspiration from another remote, you might as well pick a good one. We found the TVonics remote easy to use and extremely responsive. It's also programmable, so it can be used to replace your existing TV controller.
The main selling point of the TVonics box is its Freeview Playback moniker. Playback applies to all Freeview recorders that meet a certain level of functionality. For example, Playback boxes must be able to pause live TV for a minimum of 30 minutes, offer an eight-day electronic programme guide and track schedule changes, to prevent you missing a programme if it gets shifted around the schedule.
The DVR-FP250 has a 250GB hard disk built in. This means you've got plenty of space for your favourite programmes. There's a simple-to-use EPG that makes choosing programmes to record a pretty simple matter -- certainly much easier than typing in VideoPlus+ numbers from the Radio Times.
It's hard to fault the picture quality on the FP250. As we always say, Freeview picture quality leaves a lot to be desired at the best of times, but the FP250 does get the best out of the source material. The Scart output is high quality, and on an LCD TV we found the picture quality to be quite a bit better than most other PVRs we've seen recently.
Sound quality is good too, and the digital audio out means you can easily run the sound through an external amp. There isn't a huge amount of surround sound on normal telly, although movies and US TV shows often have Pro Logic surround. Even if a programme doesn't offer surround, at least you can beef up the sound by bypassing your TV's built-in speakers.
Recording a programme is nice and easy. Simply press the EPG button on the remote and you'll be taken to a grid that displays programmes up to eight days in advance. From there, it's a simple matter of picking the programme you want to record. You can also set the FP250 to record the same show daily or weekly. Series link is on the way, but hasn't yet been implemented -- an over-the-air software update will add this functionality in the near future.
If you set the DVR to record a programme that's subsequently delayed, the FP250 is able to respond accordingly -- it won't just record the end of the darts and then stop ten minutes before the exciting climax of your favourite drama.
All the menus and interfaces are snappy and quick to respond. Digital teletext was also nice and quick -- a bonus if you make frequent use of interactive services.
Scart is something of a weak link in the performance chain -- ideally we'd like to see HDMI on all Freeview boxes from now on. This would preserve the signal digitally rather than converting it to analogue and back, which would help increase the quality. BT Vision, for example, offers HDMI.
If you don't have a Freeview receiver, or you're looking to buy your first DVR, then this machine could very well be what you're looking for. Decent picture and sound quality are good reasons to consider the FP250.
The Freeview Playback standard should help to improve the neglected Freeview recorder market. These devices have been around for a few years now and they haven't seen much innovation, so the ability to series link and record programmes without interruptions from the news and such should be a boon. We can only hope they manage to add a feature that blurs out the participants in The Jeremy Kyle Show, then their work would be done...
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide