Tech Talk: Which is the best TV recorder?

Virgin's Tivo recorder learns your likes and dislikes, and serves up programmes to suit.

Virgin's Tivo recorder learns your likes and dislikes, and serves up programmes to suit.

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ALMOST everyone has a digital video recorder these days. They’re smart enough to rewind and pause live TV and capture an entire series with one click – but some are smarter than others.

A few, for instance, will play back programmes you haven’t even recorded – pulling them off iPlayer, 4OD or equivalent.

Digital Video Recorders, or DVRs, operate on four different platforms, and your first job is to decide which is best for you.

Freeview offers the most choice, with models from a handful of different manufacturers, starting at £99 for a high-definition model that can record up to 184 hours of programmes, two at a time, if necessary.

Freeview carries all the non-subscription channels, but its full range is available only to viewers served by one of the main transmitters.

Those in hilly areas (Ilkley, Halifax, Hebden Bridge and many other communities) lose out with the cut down “Freeview Lite”.

For those areas there is Freesat, the second subscription-free platform, which is universally available and receives signals via satellite instead of aerial. Dave, Yesterday and a few other Freeview channels are missing, but the line-up is otherwise complete. High-def Freesat boxes can be had for £115, but the real bargain here is the £170 Humax Freetime model, which combines normal programmes and internet catch-ups within the same on-screen guide. Humax and BT also market similar Youview+ boxes.

Sky’s offering, as well as its subscription-only sports and movie channels, is the technically advanced SkyPlus, which lets you programme recordings while you’re away from home.

But it’s the cable operator Virgin which blows the others out of the water. Virgin is the UK distributor for Tivo, a brand so familiar in the States it’s now used as a collective term for any and all recordings.

Tivo was launched here 15 years ago but inexplicably failed to take hold. Probably it was ahead of its time. Its remote control features red and green “Thumbs Up” and “Thumbs Down” buttons, which you use to teach it your preferences so that it records programmes for Virgin customers without being asked.

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