This model is no longer available on the ASDA website – you can however find it on Ebay for less than £50
Summary: A high spec machine, with refurbished models currently available from Asda at just £50 Inc VAT including full 12 months warranty and Top Up TV Subscription offer with Setanta Sports 1 Free for 6 months. Well worth a look.
See below for price comparison.
Pros: Clear, easy to use on-screen menus; 14 day EPG; 6 months free Setanta Sports subscription*;
Cons: Noisy hard drive could be too loud for a bedroom
Freeview Recorder Overview
If you are looking for your first Freeview Recorder with built in hard-disk drive, then this deal is a great start. If you’re looking for a replacement digital TV recorder or a second unit for a bedroom or kitchen – this is still a great start!
Until I used a hard drive recorder for the first time, I didn’t appreciate how easy they are to use, and the benefits they have over old-style VHS recorders using tapes and cassettes. Programmes are recorded in a digital format on to the internal hard drive. So when you want to record something, you don’t have to worry about finding a tape with sufficient free space, or re-winding it to the right place so you don’t record over something else on the tape. When you want to watch your recorded programmes, simply access the library and press play. On most models you can even continue watching from where you stopped last time – great if you intend watching a longer programme over a couple of nights. Deleting programmes you’ve watched is easy but with space for 120 hours of television, if you fill it then I would suggest you watch too much television!
Thomson Top Up TV 160 GB Freeview Recorder
Thomson doesn’t quite have the reputation of Humax or Wharfdale for such devices, but you really can’t ask for much more at such a great price.
It’s important to realise that these boxes have been refurbished. The original models had a software error and affected units were returned to Thomson to have the new software applied and a quick brush up. The model I bought came with all the plastic wrappings including a protective sticker over the LED panel. If you buy from Asda, Thomson provides you with the warranty for the first 6 months, with Asda topping it up in months 6-12. While this is all great news, it means you’ll have to be quick because there will surely be a limited number available. Having said that, at the time of writing (April 09), they are still available to buy from Asda’s website (see link above).
The new software that has been loaded during the refurbishment brings it up to the Freeview + standard – including pause and rewind live TV, Series Link functionality and the ability to record two different channels simultaneously.
Inside the box was everything you would need to get started… power cable, aerial cable and even a scart lead. The scart lead wasn’t the best quality so you may wish to buy a more expensive one to make the most of the digital picture. There is a bizarre loop-through system for the TV aerial, but it most cases you could happily ignore this.
The first time you turn the unit on, it scans for available channels and sets up the EPG. Very straight forward to use – follow the on-screen instructions mostly pressing OK/continue – similar to setting up any other recent TV or Freeview receiver. What did jump to my attention was the noise that it produces – it was noticeable. To give an idea, I would say it is similar to the noise a traditional VHS recorded makes – the only difference is that this noise is continuous, whether the unit is in use or in standby mode.
The remote is very reminiscent of a Sky controller, both in shape and configuration of the buttons. It has all the usual buttons you would expect – record, play, start, stop, rewind etc. It then has buttons to access the recording function and the library, from where you can playback previously recorded programmes. The remote can also be programmed to control your TV as well. Simply pressing the TV button switches the unit to send commands to your TV instead of the Freeview box. The buttons are responsive to even a light touch, so I can’t see these buttons being worn out easily.
Scheduling programmes to be recorded couldn’t be easier. Press the ‘Guide’ button to bring up the on-screen EPG (electronic programme guide); use the up and down arrows to move between channels, and the left and right arrows to move earlier and later, highlighting the program you want. The EPG has information for the next 7 days and the rewind and fast forward buttons on the control skip back and forward 24 hours at a time making it easy to navigate from day to day. Further information about the highlighted program pops up after just a couple of seconds and from there you have further options to Record by pressing the ‘R’ button on the control. At this stage, the Freeview + feature ‘Series Link’ comes in to play. If the programme you select is part of a series it gives you the option to record future episodes without any further programming – fantastic! This really brings Freeview devices in to competition with Sky+ which has had this functionality for some time. Alternatively, you could just record the one episode if you so desired
As the unit has two tuners, you can record two different channels simultaneously (and also playback a recorded program at the same time if you wish). The 160 GB hard drive gives up to 120 hours recording time – and you can always check how much space is remaining in the Library screen.
The Freeview + features should mean that scheduled recordings are automatically amended to start and stop recordings at the start or end of the programs. This however relies on the TV network operators keeping the Now & Next information up to date. (You can sometimes see this in action on your Freeview TV or receiver– if you go to the now and next info at 8.02pm and it is still showing the 7.30pm programme in ‘now’ and the 8.00pm programme in ‘next’ this is because the 7.30pm show is running late and TV network has quite rightly updated the now & next information. This is what is required for the Freeview + features to work accurately).
This now and next information is used by the Freeview Recorder in the following manner – if you are expecting a program to start at 8.00pm but it doesn’t actually start until 8.03pm it should delay recording until 8.03pm. At the same time, it should also then add a further 3 minutes on to the finish time so that it doesn’t miss the all-important ending. When I tested this, I got mixed results, but I can’t help feel it was more down the TV networks not updating the now & next info rather than the Thomson device not functioning as it is supposed to.
Playback of recorded programmes is equally as easy. Pressing the Library button brings an on-screen list of everything you have saved on your device. The Thomson interface will even attempt to filter them by category – movies, drama, Top Up TV etc. A nice feature of the Library screen is the video preview box on the right hand side. This automatically starts playing back the selected programme so you can see exactly what the program is. I find this really useful when I come to delete episodes of a series that I have recorded but can’t remember which ones I have and haven’t watched – simply watching the first few scenes of a program is generally enough to jog my memory and this little preview is ideal for this purpose.
Finally, the physical design of the box is in my opinion fairly modern in comparison even to some more recent models. It’s clear that Thomson has used the Sky boxes as a design brief and come up with something very close and would fit in nicely with your other devices either in your living room or bedroom. All of the connections and sockets are on the rear of the unit. Starting on the left, there is an ‘aerial in’ socket, then ‘RF loop out’ and ‘RF loop in’ sockets, followed by ‘RF out’. The RF loop sockets need to have the little grey loop box connected to work correctly if you don’t need the aerial feeding elsewhere, so make sure it is present on your box before turning on. In the centre are two Scart sockets, one for the VCR and one for the TV. Finally there are 3 audio outputs – a left and right, with a digital audio out socket. The final connection is for the power.
I used a power meter to test how efficient the unit was, as this is increasingly becoming a concern when buying electrical devices. The Thomson isn’t as efficient as some other models, especially the Humax PVR9150T and PVR9300T which both claim to use less than 1 watt power in standby. By comparison, the Thomson consumes 14 Watts when in standby, peaking at 19 Watts when in use.
Overall, this seems to be a great unit at the advertised price. Some customers have reported problems with their units, but with a full 12 month warranty I don’t see why you could complain. It doesn’t lack any features offered by other models and is one of the most easy to use devices I have reviewed. The 160 GB hard drive is easily enough space for you not to worry about deleting programmes every day and the £50 price tag, in my opinion, makes it an obvious choice.
Have you got one of these models? We’d love to know what you think of it and whether you agree with our review. Leave your feedback below.