WE have come a long way since the days when recording a TV programme involved setting a timer so complicated that only a schoolchild could do it. Today, with most modern devices, a single click on the electronic programme guide captures an entire series.
If that is not a function to which you are used, it may be time to consider updating your technology - although the increased availability and reliability of streaming services like the BBC’s iPlayer raises the question of whether you still need to record programmes at all.
With recordable DVDs now having gone the way of VHS tape, there are three principal options for capturing programmes you don’t want to miss. You can buy or rent a standalone recorder for Freeview, Freesat, Sky or Virgin Cable; you can plug a USB stick into the back of a compatible TV set; or you can reply on the on-demand catch-up services from all the main broadcasters. These can be received on smart TVs and on streaming devices like the Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire ranges.
If you subscribe to any premium channels, your contract should already include a hard-disk recorder - if it doesn’t, tell them you’ll be taking their business elsewhere if they don’t upgrade you. But for free-to-air viewers, a Freeview recorder is the obvious choice, unless you live in fringy transmitter areas like Wharfedale or Scarborough, in which case Freesat offers a better selection of channels.
In both cases, just under £150 is the going rate for a high definition box that will record two programmes at once, skip instantly through the adverts and intelligently adjust its schedule if a transmission is delayed at the last minute. The £140 Humax HDR-1800T Freeview box can also access the iPlayer, if you plug it into your router.
Arguably the best digital recorder is Tivo, a device so popular in America that the word has become the generic verb for recording a programme. Here, is it now offered exclusively by Virgin, so you can have it only if you subscribe to cable. Tivo’s speciality is in guessing what you might like, and filling its hard disk with its own choices so you are, in theory, never stuck for something to watch.
Any of these standalone boxes, having been engineered the the purpose, will be the most reliable way of recording what you want, but if you’re not a heavy-duty consumer, don’t overlook the USB socket built into your TV. Even cheap supermarket models often have these now, and although the exact functionality varies, they will generally let you record programmes off air onto any USB stick or even hard disk you may have lying around.
The advantage of this is that no extra expense or cabling is necessary, and your recording will be portable, though the recording format may not be universally compatible. The disadvantage is that only one programme at a time can be recorded, and the storage capacity of a USB stick is relatively small.
The last option, though it flies in the face of a 40-year convention, is to record nothing and to rely instead on streaming what you want, when you want. If you subscribe to Netflix, this is what you have to do anyway, but the BBC, ITV and Channel Four services are equally capable and offer, in many cases, a back catalogue of material not available elsewhere. It means, finally, that there need no longer be a hole in your evening’s viewing just because you forgot to press the record button.