Buying a personal video recorder

Thomas Banks
Personal video recorders are becoming increasingly popular now Australia has digital television. Personal video recorders are usually easier to use than old video cassette recorders. Personal video recorders can let you watch one show and record another at the same time. One of the easiest machines to use is TiVo because of its remote control. The IQ devices for Foxtel pay television subscribers are also good. Other brands to look at include Beyonwiz and Topfield. The PlayStation 3 can also now record television using the PlayTV box.
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Thomas Banks on 22/09/2011
A TiVo personal video recorder with a remote control
TiVo with remote

Do your research when buying a personal video recorder

Personal video recorders (PVRs) are becoming increasingly popular as more Australians move into the world of digital television.

PVRs typically record straight to a hard drive instead of the magnetic tapes that old video cassette recorders use. You can program them to automatically record your favourite television shows without having to worry about taping over something by accident.

You also never have to hunt through a pile of tapes when you want to watch something. A PVR will even allow users to pause and rewind live TV.

Do your homework

Adam Turner, technology journalist for The Age, is an expert on the latest gadgets. He advises shoppers to do their homework and not to rely too much on shop assistants because their knowledge can be unreliable. He says you have to take particular care in bulk discount stores because the salespeople will often be selling everything from dishwashers to televisions.

You'll find that some store assistants will tell you whatever you want to hear in order to make a sale, Turner says. You have to watch out for the scams.

There are many different makes and models of PVRs on the market, so shoppers should think carefully about their needs and budget. But one of the most popular and easy-to-use devices is TiVo. Many people with a disability will particularly appreciate TiVo’s remote control, which is dominated by large “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” buttons which help the device learn what shows you like and dislike.

Turner says TiVo is a good choice for people who want a machine that just works. He says the Tivo is easy-to-use and has its own electronic program guide. It can keep track of shows even when they constantly switch timeslots.

More advanced features

If you are lucky enough to have a Foxtel subscription, Turner also recommends considering the IQ devices. They can record free-to-air and pay TV with similar features to the TiVo, he says.

Other brands to look at include Beyonwiz and Topfield. They offer some more advanced features, but they aren't as simple to use (as TiVo and IQ). These brands are sometimes less reliable too.

Beyonwiz and Topfield users also have to pay to subscribe to the IceTV electronic program guide if they want similar functionality to the TiVo.

Two tuners

Another recommendation when shopping for a personal video recorder is to look at models that have two tuners, which allows you to watch one channel while recording another. 

You’d be surprised how often you’d use it, Turner says, especially if you’ve got a few members of the household who all have their favourite shows.

Personal video recorders typically cost between $300 and $600, depending on the features you’re looking for. But PlayStation 3 owners have a much cheaper option – the easy-to-use PlayTV add-on. PlayTV turns your PS3 console into a PVR for less than $100.

Get a feel for prices

Turner recommends that shoppers research for products online, read a few reviews and get a feel for prices and what’s around.

When you go to the store assistants, play dumb and see what they’ve got to say, he says. If you’ve done your research, you’ll quickly get a feel for who is trying to take you for a ride.

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