Thirty years later the best digital video recorders truly are set n' forget, recording your favourite shows even if they change time slot.
The best recorders - known as Personal Video Recorders - have access to an Electronic Program Guide and let you create a "Season Pass" to automatically record your favourite shows each week, searching by actor or genre as well as title. They can even keep a TV-side vigil, checking the guide for schedule changes.
The above list of features eliminates almost every mainstream CE device that you'd find on the shelf in a shop. Most devices from the likes of Sony, Panasonic and LG rely on the Electronic Program Guide embedded in the broadcast signal and can't search the guide for your favourite shows. Nor can they create a true Season Pass.
Instead they create recurring weekly recordings, which just blindly record the same time slot each week rather than checking the EPG for schedule changes.
Considering how fond the networks are of tinkering with the broadcast schedule, recurring weekly recordings are a recipe for disaster.
|IceTV is handy for remotely scheduling a last minute recording from your computer or smartphone, but it still has its limitations.
The upcoming FreeView EPG
Freeview's FUD campaign has led people to believe that the upcoming Freeview EPG will let you set true Season Passes, and even check for real-time schedule changes, but this is not the case. Freeview has confirmed that the EPG will be exactly what we've already got
, just with a fancy skin. It's possible that such features could be added in the future, but they're unlikely to be backwards compatible with existing devices.
TiVo and Foxtel
When it comes to core PVR features such as a Season Pass, by far the best mainstream devices are TiVo and Foxtel's iQ2 (although neither allow ad-skipping). You've also got PVRs from the likes of Topfield and Beyonwiz which can download the IceTV EPG and use IceTV's advanced scheduling features.
The Media Centre approach
Another PVR option is to put a computer in your lounge room, running something like Windows Media Centre, EyeTV on a Mac or Myth on Linux.
Unfortunately IceTV isn't as tightly integrated with devices as the scheduling features built into a TiVo or Windows Media Centre.
IceTV - what it can and can't do
For example, the IceTV interface won't let you customise the pre- and post- padding per recording, it just applies its own global setting or that of your recorder. The IceTV interface won't let you specific how many episodes of a Season Pass to retain either, a handy feature which stops your hard drive filling up.
IceTV is working on adding such features, although it's obviously hampered by the range of devices it services. If you own something like a Beyonwiz, IceTV is your only option for creating a true Season Pass.
If you own a media centre and use IceTV to create Season Passes, you'll more than likely find yourself deleting them and creating them directly on the media centre so you can customise them. IceTV is handy for remotely scheduling a last minute recording from your computer or smartphone, but it still has its limitations.
Also in this series, Picking the Perfect Home Entertainment Box:
Part 3: networking your TV, PVR, console, set top box
Part 2: creating a P2P season pass
Part 1: Internet video on the PS3
Buying a TV? Also see our series How to Pick a Great Flat Screen TV, And Not Get Sucked In By Marketing Hype