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Top 5 Freeview HD recorders: Freeview Upgrades

If you don’t want a Sky or Virgin Media TV subscription but fancy some of the functions that the Sky+HD and TiVo boxes give you, then there’s a few Freeview HD recorders that might scratch your subscription-free itch.

Record while you watch with twin tuners, 1TB hard drives, catch-up apps and series link recording are now available to those who’d rather go down the Freeview route.

The only area where Team Freeview can’t offer something the competition does is the ability to record three programmes at once (or record two while watching another). This is where Virgin Media continues to reign supreme with its V+ and TiVo services.

There’s other areas where Freeview boxes are innovating. A so-called ‘backwards EPG’, which let you record and watch programmes that have already broadcast, is coming to YouView this year and is said to be a future feature of Freeview. Recently we’ve seen Freeview boxes break the mould in terms of design (see how slim EchoStar’s Ultra Slim Box is here in our pics) and TVonics’ DTR-HD500 offer speech-assisted menus, similar to the voice controls of the Sky+HD box.

In some cases you’ll also be able to attach external drives or pick up a Freeview HD box with an integrated Blu-ray player.

If you’re prepared to shell out for a big one-off purchase for the basic free-to-air channels plus glorious high-definition broadcasts then there’s plenty to choose from. Here’s five of the best Freeview HD recorders currently going.

Top 5 Freeview HD recorders: Freeview Upgrades

EchoStar Ultra Slim Box HDT-610R – £260-£280

The aforementioned EchoStar Ultra Slim Box is reportedly the slimmest Freeview HD box in the world. It measures a sprightly 270mm x 204mm x 14mm and weighs under a third of a kilo (0.28 kg). Needless to say, it’s a very nicely designed PVR.

It’s not just about exterior beauty; the menus can be changed so that they have a translucent glassy effect. This means that whatever you’re watching isn’t relegated to a tiny window in the top right when you’re pottering around in the menus, setting recordings and the like.

The eight-day EPG is easy to navigate. You can record up to two programmes at once (watching one of them as you go) and the Ultra Slim Box will automatically shift recordings if there are any clashes (if there’s any last minute programme reschedules). It’ll also search for any HD versions of programmes (where available) and stores any series link recordings into a separate folder in the library.

Finally there’s a bit of Smart TV action by the way of apps – BBC iPlayer, Picturebox and Box Office 365 apps come installed and give you a mix of catch-up (free to view and on-demand) services. You’ll need to have your Ultra Slim Box connected to your home network for these to work, natch.

EchoStar Ultra Slim Box HDT-610R specifications

Dimensions: 270mm x 204mm x 14mm

Disc size/stated recording time: 500GB (300 hours SD/125 hours HD).

Supported resolutions: 1080p, 720p, 576p, 576i

Misc connections: Ethernet (10/100) USB 2.0 (x2), SCART

Top 5 Freeview HD recorders: Freeview Upgrades

Humax HDR-FOX T2 – £200-£260

Humax’s HDR-FOX T2 offers much of what the Ultra Slim Box does; a 500GB hard drive, smart 8-day EPG plus the ability to record up to two shows at once.

The one (pending) ace the HDR-FOX T2 has up its sleeve is that Sky Player will be made available through the Internet TV Portal, rubbing shoulders with the likes of BBC iPlayer and YouTube. However, it’s been in the works for so long that we wouldn’t recommend you make Sky Player the main reason for buying.

This aside, there’re standard features such as standard def programmes getting upscaled to 1080 (p or i, depending on your preference) and Dolby Digital Pulse, meaning you can enjoy 5.1 surround from the HD channels. As well as this, for the more tech-minded viewer, you can stream media from your PC or a networked hard disc to your TV through the HDR-FOX T2.

Space-wise it’s a bit of a beast (380 x 55 x 246 mm), so if you’re really stuck for shelf space in your TV cabinet you might need to do a bit of living room feng shui first.

Humax HDR-FOX T2 specifications

Dimensions: 380 x 55 x 246 mm

Disc size/stated recording time: 500GB (300 hours SD/125 hours HD).

Supported resolutions: 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i

Misc connections: Ethernet (10/100) USB 2.0, Common Interface (CI+), SCART

Top 5 Freeview HD recorders: Freeview Upgrades

Panasonic DVR BWT720 – £370-£500

Panasonic’s DVR BWT720 has a hefty 1TB hard disc, but it also comes with a few tricks up its sleeve, namely Skype video calls and a Blu-ray recorder that can handle 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs.

We think that the Skype feature will definitely appeal to a niche number – video calling’s not for everybody, though we’re always game for any bit of tech that lets us recreate our favourite scene from Back To The Future II. Viability also depends on how good your broadband connection is; if you’re connection’s not up to handling video calls then it’s a moot point.

That said, the fact that the Panasonic DVR BWT720 is a Freeview HD box with a Blu-ray recorder might be enough. It’s a 3D Blu-ray player too, so you’re potentially killing three birds with one stone.

If this wasn’t enough then it’s also possible to copy recorded programmes from your hard disc to writeable Blu-rays for later watching. This will help you free up the hard drive, although a Terabyte is hard to fill.

In real terms, 1TB works out at 518 hours (more than 21 days!) of standard def recording and 259 hours of HD recording. If you can fill this you either don’t like watching TV as much as you think, your family’s recording a lot of TV, or you’ve just been on a really long holiday.

App-wise, there’s access to Panasonic’s Viera Cast, which also serves up videos and news from YouTube, Eurosport and Bloomberg, and the essential BBC iPlayer.

Panasonic DVR BWT700 specifications

Dimensions: 430 x 59 x 238 mm

Disc size/stated recording time: 1TB (518 hours SD/259 hours HD)

Supported resolutions: 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i

Misc connections: HDMI, Ethernet, USB 2.0, Common Interface (CI+), SCART 

Top 5 Freeview HD recorders: Freeview Upgrades

Samsung BD-D8900 – £250-£480

Like the Panasonic box, Samsung’s BD-D8900 is a 1TB titan. It doesn’t boast the Skype video call functions of the previous Panasonic box but it throws in a Blu-Ray player that comfortably spins 2D and 3D discs.

Coming with twin tuners, series link and an eight-day EPG, it offers basic Freeview HD functionality. That 1TB drive gives you a hefty 480 hours of SD recording and 240 hours of HD. Access to the Samsung Smart Hub gives you access to a range of web apps including BBC iPlayer and YouTube.

Wi-Fi is built in so you can easily connect your Samsung BD-D8900 to a home network; convenient if you’re stuck for space. There’s an Ethernet port too should you want to wire in to a powerline network or connect straight into the router.

Though there are two HDMI connections, one is audio-only. This is used for connecting to non-3D monitors/TVs if you want Dolby TrueHD sound. The other HDMI port is your main connection for your TV set.

If you’ve got an iPhone or an Android phone then you can download the Samsung Remote apps from iTunes/Google Play. This free app will let you turn your phone into an advanced remote for your BD-D8900. This not only replaces your standard remote but makes for easier typing and searching for programmes on iPlayer or surfing the web. You’ll need to have both the set-top box and your phone connected to your home Wi-Fi network for this to work, though.  

Samsung BD-D8900 specifications

Dimensions: 430 x 299 x 60 mm

Disc size/stated recording time: 1TB (518 hours SD/259 hours HD)

Supported resolutions: 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i

Misc connections: HDMI, Ethernet, USB 2.0, Common Interface (CI+), SCART  

TVonics DTR-HD500 – £180-£200

Also known as the ‘talking Freeview box,’ TVonics’ DTR-HD500 features text-to-speech technology that’s aimed at blind and partially sighted viewers. Powered by IVONA, the speech software acts as a talking guide through this Freeview box’s EPG.

Aside from this USP, you’ve got twin tuners on board, 1080p out, a 500GB hard drive and access to the BBC iPlayer. There’s two USB 2.0 ports letting you connect external drives and memory sticks.

Sadly there’s no integrated Wi-Fi. So if you want to connect your DTR-HD500 to the net wirelessly, you’ll have to sacrifice one of the USB ports to attach a wireless dongle.

The HDMI Switch feature means you can daisy-chain other devices like an Xbox 360 or a Blu-ray player to your TV through the TVonics DTR-HD500, so there’s only one HDMI connection going out into your TV; a neat way of cutting down on cable clutter.

TVonics has recently slashed the price of the DTR-HD500 as well, so it’s attractive from a cheap‘n’cheerful perspective too.

TVonics DTR-HD500 specifications

Dimensions: 85mm x 380mm x 200mm

Disc size/stated recording time: 320GB (154 hours SD/79 hours HD).

Supported resolutions: 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 720i, 576p, 576i

Misc connections: HDMI (x3) Ethernet, USB 2.0, Common Interface (CI+), SCART