The choice is yours with TV on demand
PVRs, DVRs, programmes on broadband... Television is undergoing a revolution in advance of the digital switchover. Esther Shaw looks at what's available – and how to find the best value package
Saturday 16 June 2007
The way we watch television is changing: not only can you record programmes, you can now also pause and rewind live TV. This is thanks to a box, known as a personal video recorder (PVR) or digital video recorder (DVR). The box is not unlike a traditional video recorder, but the crucial difference is that it makes use of a built-in hard disk to store shows – eliminating the need for video tapes.
For starters, this means improved picture, sound and reliability, but the fact that a hard disk can read and write at the same time means you can start watching a programme before it finishes recording, and press the pause button to freeze playback. Furthermore, most PVRs store the last few minutes of whatever you've been watching, enabling you to "rewind" live TV too.
Which?, the consumer body, points out a number of features to look out for when buying a PVR: these include easy programming, capacity, number of tuners, and editing facilities.
A good PVR, it says, will record at least 20 programmes from the electronic programming guide (EPG), while a typical hard disk gives around 80 hours of standard recording time. Also, look at the number of tuners, as a PVR with two tuners will let you record one programme while watching another.
PVRs work only with digital TV and are a crucial part of part of the revolution set to sweep across the nation over the next few years, in the run-up to the digital switchover. As a result, the television market is getting increasingly competitive, and providers are jostling to press their boxes on the TV viewer.
For some time now, Sky and Virgin have been locked in a bitter pricing row – with customers defecting from Virgin back in February when a contract dispute over charges led to Sky withdrawing its package of channels from Virgin's services, including shows such as Lost and 24. But both Sky and Virgin now face heightened competition, not only from one another, but from new entrants to the market, such as BT Vision.
PVRs can essentially be divided into two types: those that are tied to a subscription service, such as Sky, or Virgin Media, and Freeview PVRs that can be bought for a one-off payment. Sky was the first significant entrant to the market some five years ago, and with Sky+, you have a dedicated box next to the television.
This is a PVR which has "good functionality" according to Jason Lloyd from price comparison service Moneysupermarket.com. "You can watch a programme from the beginning while recording the rest of it," he says. "The PVR also has two tuners." One useful feature of this PVR is remote record, adds Dave Holes, spokesman for Which?, enabling you to phone, text, or go online to request that the box records a programme for you.
The box costs £99 but there's a £60 installation fee. There's also a £10 monthly charge unless you subscribe to two or more premium channels such as Sky Sports and Movies – on top of the cost of a Sky Channel package. Opt for the HD version, and this will cost you £299 for the special HD box. Virgin Media has gone down a similar route with the new Virgin V+ box. "It receives both normal and HDTV and is versatile," says Holes. "And, like the Sky boxes, has 'series link' to record a whole series with one button. It also has three tuners, which means you can record two channels and watch a third live programme."
That said, Holes says the fan is noisy, and that while the EPG is fast to navigate, you go to a different menu to make recordings.
The V+ is available only from Virgin. The box itself is free, but you pay £10-£15 a month subscription, depending on your TV package. Installation costs £25 for new customers, and £75 for existing digital TV subscribers.
BT is one of the more recent entrants to the television business, and has pumped a lot of money into promoting its new BT Vision V-box – a hybrid which combines the Freeview digital TV service with a PVR which can record up to 80 hours of programming. It is offering customers the ability to download "on-demand" from a library of films, football and TV shows. Viewers can subscribe to blocks of programmes or pay per view for films and, later this summer, Premiership football – through a deal with Setanta Sports.
There is no separate monthly subscriber fee, but users have to be BT Total Broadband customers with a Home Hub to use the BT V-box, says Lloyd.
The alternative to these services is one of the Freeview PVRs which can be bought for a one-off payment of between £100 and £300. You may not get the same choice of channels, but this could save you money in the long term.
In a recent survey by Which?, its top-scoring PVR was the Logic LPV2250 which lets you record 125 hours, has twin tuners and a "decent eight-day EPG that's well laid out and simple to use." Which? also picks out the Humax PVR9200T which can record two channels and play back a third.
"Its remote is clearly labelled, the basic functions are easy to use and the EPG is well laid out," it says. A further recommendation is the Topfield TF5800 PVR.
Elsewhere in the market, Tiscali, the internet service provider, has also moved into TV after last year's acquisition of HomeChoice, and is now offering video-on-demand (VOD) over broadband. Tiscali offers a catch-up service, allowing customers to re-watch TV shows up to seven days after transmission.
"It has a greater storage capacity and access to more 'on-demand' content than anyone else in its library," says Lloyd.
It has limited availability at the moment, as its service is only available in the London area, but it will be rolled out across the UK over the coming year.
Elsewhere, Orange, the mobile company, also has plans to offer TV over broadband – and VOD – as its sister company already does in France. "We could see this launch later this summer – and this could be a pretty good proposition," says Lloyd.
There have already been some big developments in this arena – such as 4 on Demand, where people can watch Channel 4 content from the past seven days for free, or pay a small fee for older programmes and films.
And now that both ITV.com and BBC iPlayer are developing plans to provide "on-demand" and "catch-up" TV services, we are going to see some very big changes ahead.
Fuel poverty could kill 100,000 vulnerable people over the next 15 years, charity warns
Phoenix Life: Chance of a refund for overcharged policyholders has risen
Simon Read: You're guilty until proven innocent when HMRC sends in the tax credit detectives
Simon Read: That's right, BT, they'd rather pay for a free service
Bank-beating exchange rates on your international payments
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
iJobs Money & Business
£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...
£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...
£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...
£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...
Day In a Page
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads