PVR & DVD player, or STB & DVD recorder?

John from Canberra writes:

I was after some independent advise on the best way to go forward on some electronic purchases, and was wondering if you would help.We currently have a 5 year old Sony Trinitron TV, a cheap unreliable Palsonic DVD player and a dying Sony VCR approximately 8years old. We were thinking of upgrading all with the exception of the TV. Another issue is that we live in Cook, basically line of sight to Black Mountain Tower but get bad TV reception ie people walking round the house interfere with the reception.

Our initial thought was to get a set top box with a hard drive and buy a new better quality DVD player. Since talking to a few people (sales assistants) they have said just buy a cheap standard definition set top box and add a DVD recorder with hard drive.

What would you recommend? Are any brands more reliable/recommended than others on both set top boxes and DVD recorders?

I hadn’t really considered the alternatives in this way. So, you want to time shift live TV to a more convenient viewing time. Either way would work.

You can have a hard disk equipped digital TV receiver (PVR) and record on that, while using a new DVD player for playing back commercial DVDs. OR, you can have a basic digital TV receiver (Set top box: STB) and use a hard disk equipped DVD recorder to both record from this, and play back commercial DVDs.

The latter way has the advantage of being cheaper overall, since you can get an excellent hard disk DVD recorder, such as the Pioneer DVR-530H (which is what I use) for a rapidly diminishing price, perhaps under $800 now, and a high quality but inexpensive set top box, such as the excellent Strong SRT-5006, for under $200. Also, no PVRs that I’m aware of use the ‘G-Code’ (‘Showview’ in Europe) recording system, whereas several DVD recorders from the likes of Panasonic, Pioneer, Sony, Toshiba and Philips do.

Finally, if you decide you want to keep the recording for ever, you can edit out the ads and burn it to a DVD.

However, this also has some disadvantages. First, you will have to make sure you leave your STB switched on in advance when you’re proposing to timer record. Second, unless your STB has more than one output, you’ll have to either swap cables or watch live-time broadcast TV through the DVD recorder.

But before doing this, get your TV antenna looked at. Digital TV reception may also suffer if you have problems. Direct line of sight at this quite short range ought to provide very good analogue reception. Get an antenna specialist in.

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