The UK's TV broadcasts are abandoning the old analogue system. Between 2008 and 2012 there may be nothing but digital TV (DTV) in your area. While that means more channels, interactivity and a generally cleaner picture quality, it also makes it harder to record your favourite shows if you try to get existing bits of technological kit to 'talk' to each other.
There are different ways through this and they don't necessarily mean buying even more new stuff. Here's our guide to recording digital TV.
RECORDING FROM A SKY, FREEVIEW OR CABLE BOX
First connect everything correctly (it seems obvious, but if you're not sure - check). For DVD or hard-disk recorder users, make sure your machine takes RGB video in via Scart and link it to the digibox's 'TV' Scart. You may need to alter your equipment's video settings for RGB input/output. While you're at it, select the preferred widescreen options for your TV. The second-best option is S-Video but fewer digiboxes output this.
If you are using a video cassette recorder then standard PAL composite video will do, unless it's an S-VHS deck, in which case take an S-Video input if possible. Direct digital connections between digiboxes and recorders are only likely to appear when next-gen Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD recorders emerge later in 2006. An exception is integrated recorders (see below).
Setting the timer
Most digiboxes have their own electronic programme guide (EPG) and a connected timer for those moments when you're not glued to the TV. In some cases, such as Sky's Programme Planner, it's a simple button-push to set reminders.
This process can also send a trigger signal via Scart. If your recorder can be set to a 'slave mode' (often called Ext Record, Satellite Record or Synchro Record) then it will respond and start recording automatically. A quirk of Sky's hardware is that the trigger is only sent via the poorer quality non-RGB 'VCR' Scart, not the RGB-TV one.
Otherwise you will have to set the timer in your recorder too, which can be laborious - especially for multiple programmes - and fraught with problems. You must remember to set the proper input channel for the digibox and the box must be on and set to the right channel (if no auto timer is set). If the box's channel is changed by someone inadvertently, or it goes into standby because of a power cut or software upgrade, or if it 'crashes', then the recorder won't know this and your recording won't work.
A £30 add-on called Phantom PVR takes some of the pain out of the above process by responding to digibox triggers and sending a remote control command to a recorder (VCR, DVD or HDD) automatically.
Controlling the digibox
A slightly more reliable method is to let the recorder control the digibox. The newest breed of digital recorders contain GuidePlus, a free EPG that also sets the timer, sends remote control signals to digiboxes and then names recordings with the right title, as opposed to obscure data such as '21:45 01/12 AV2 SP'.
Simpler recorders or VCRs may offer VideoPlus Deluxe, which uses numerical codes from published listings but does control digiboxes through an infrared remote extender accessory. You'll still need to ensure your digibox is turned on, and you won't get proper programme titles for DTV recordings.
FOR: A new recorder is not essential; widescreen recording possible AGAINST: Complex set-up; connections not always ideal; possible to record wrong channel or a blank screen RECOMMENDED: Pioneer DVR-530H - DVD-HDD recorder with GuidePlus
RECORDING FROM AN INTEGRATED DIGITAL TV (IDTV)
Most TVs with built-in Freeview tuners should have at least one bi-directional Scart connection so you can make DTV recordings on any recorder linked to this socket. This ought to work even with the set in standby - but not fully off or unplugged.
It's not always possible to get RGB picture quality this way but you should be able to use the iDTV's own timer if it has one. A few iDTVs have built-in recording, including SD memory cards in Panasonic's case or hard disk drives (for example, selected Philips, Samsung and Loewe models).
FOR: No need for an external digibox if you have an iDTV AGAINST: Doesn't work if the TV is fully switched off RECOMMENDED: Panasonic TX32LXD500 - 32in LCD iDTV that records to SD card
RECORDERS WITH BUILT-IN DIGITAL TUNERS
Why buy an all-in-one recorder?
This is the best option if you want to make the whole process easier and to get the best picture quality. You can find Freeview tuners built into a few DVD recorders or DVD/hard-disk combinations (see recommendations below).
HDDs can store many more hours than standalone DVD recorders or VCRs and at better quality. HDD machines let you play previous recordings even if you're recording something new at the time.
Hard-drive recorders with built-in digital tuners normally have a direct connection between the tuner and the recording technology. Picture quality is better, especially if the product also has an HDMI digital video output. There will be an EPG for browsing listings and setting timer events and it can't get the channel wrong!
What is a PVR?
Alternatively there are hard-drive-only digital recorders, often called personal video recorders (PVRs), which will be dedicated to either Sky, cable or Freeview services. These do not have DVD playing or recording facilities but they are more likely to contain dual tuners for recording overlapping programmes or watching one channel while recording another.
Most PVRs have a few clever features, although some such as the renowned TiVo (now unavailable in the UK except second-hand) are highly sophisticated and can even hunt down programmes that suit your taste or match certain keywords. You can find similar software on Windows Media Center PCs, while the UK's most popular PVR, Sky+, can automatically record all episodes of a recurring series (though it doesn't cope when series take a break of more than two weeks).
EXTRA FEATURES TO LOOK FOR
When High Definition TV is launched in 2006, new HD receivers for Sky and cable will be hard-drive-equipped so, at least for the time being, they are the only way to record HDTV in full quality.
A few PVRs let you edit HDD content, which is handy for chopping out ads if you're keeping a show or series for the future. PVRs with DVD-recording drives frequently allow editing and dubbing to DVD can usually be done at high speed. PVRs without DVD drives can be linked to separate DVD recorders but picture quality suffers slightly.
If you're a portable media junkie, a small but growing number of recorders will enable compressed low-resolution copies to be output to pocket video players.
FOR: Better picture; easier to use; added features such as series recording AGAINST: Not all PVRs have DVD recording RECOMMENDED KIT:
Sky+ - still the king of PVRs in the UK and soon to evolve with an HDTV edition
Humax PVR-9200T - a classy twin-tuner Freeview PVR
Sony RDR-HXD910 - stunning quality HDD/DVD recorder with Freeview and HDMI out
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Posted: 07/02/06 07:45:10 10
It's all very well having a dvdrecorder with 1 digital tuner built in, but unless you have a IDTV. You can only record the channel your watching, most people want too watch one channel & record something on the otherside. When are they going too start making these dvdrecorders with twin dital tuners.