Here’s our quick guide to the options for recording Digital TV in Australia. The main recording options for Digital TV are DVD/Blu-ray Recorders, Hard Drive or Personal Video Recorders, USB Enabled Set Top Boxes and Media Centre Devices and PCs.
In the old days of analogue TV recording was simple. Just get a VCR. VCRs were pretty simple, recording to a tape. Programming could be difficult though, with you needing to enter the times and date. Many people just didn’t try that part.
Now there are a huge variety of options. If you really wanted to, you could record digital TV on a VCR using a set top box, but it’d be a real pain and not particularly good quality. In this article I’ll discuss these options.
Set Top Boxes with USB Ports
One of the first Digital TV recording options came with the ubiquitous set top boxes of the early Digital TV rollout. Many people were still wanting to use their older CRT TVs or first generation flat screen TVs with Digital TV. Set top boxes started to come out with USB Personal Video Recorder functionality. This meant that they could record TV shows to a USB memory stick(find on eBay by searching “USB memory stick“) or hard drives(find on eBay by searching “hard drive“). They would usually let you select a program to record from the Electronic Program Guide. However as a device that’s primary purpose was to let you watch Digital TV, you couldn’t watch one program while recording another. It only could tune one channel at a time.
These PVR Set Top Boxes are still a good cheap option for recording Digital TV. While most people have a TV with a built in Digital Tuner, there’s no reason why you can’t still plug a PVR Set Top Box in to a HDMI port to allow you to record. As they’re no longer as popular you can find these boxes very cheaply. It would be an ideal solution for a kid’s room TV. Most of these PVR Set Top Boxes can also play media files from USB.
You can huge variety of these devices for sale at stores like department stores, electrical appliance stores, discount stores or on eBay by searching for “usb pvr set top box”.
TVs with Built-in Personal Video Recorders
Another option, very similar to the PVR Set Top Boxes described above, are TVs that have a built in Personal Video Recorder. They usually don’t have a great range of features compared to a dedicated PVR, but again for a kid’s room or bedroom it could be ideal. Typically these TVs will record to a USB memory stick or USB hard drive you connect.
In the early years of Digital TV, most DVD recorders were either only compatible with analogue TV or Standard Definition Digital TV. This would mean that there would be a number of channels you couldn’t record, the High Definition Channels. This was quite a limitation. Later there were a few models that could record HD Digital TV to DVD, but they weren’t common. There are now Blu-Ray recorders available, which all will record both Standard Definition and High Definition Digital TV channels. Most also incorporate a hard drive.
In general I’d tend not to bother with the expense of a Blu-Ray recorder. Dedicated Personal Video Recorders and Dedicated Blu-Ray players tend to have more features and are better quality than a combined multi-function device. Unless you have space constraints I’d get a separate Blu-Ray Player and Personal Video Recorder.
Hard Drive Recorders
Dedicated Hard Drive Recorders are typically known as Personal Video Recorders(PVR) or Digital Video Recorders(DVR). These devices don’t have any disc drive or tape slots, all the video storage is internal to the box. They record on a computer hard drive, which is usually built in and can’t be replaced. Most modern Hard Drive Recorders have a range of media playing features that allow them to play media files from USB memory sticks, USB hard drives or computer networks. Some will allow you to copy recordings from the PVR to computers via your network. Many offer wireless connections to the home wifi networks.
Hard Drive Recorders/Personal Video Recorders are my personal recommendation for recording Digital TV. They’re easy to use and very capable. The newer ones are now starting to become more like Media Centres than just recorders. See my more detailed article on Personal Video Recorders here.
You can find DVRs or hard drive recorders at most electrical appliance stores or in the Hard Drive Recorders category on eBay.
Media Centre Devices
Media Centre devices are basically Personal Video Recorders with a feature set that focuses on more than just free to air Digital TV recording. They offer many features for playing media files from a network and the internet, with some also having small numbers of “apps” available. Media Centre Devices differ from Media Centre PCs in that they’re a standalone box that’s convenient to use.
Not all media centres have recording capability, many are just for playback of content from the internet, your LAN or USB stick.
Media Centre PCs
A Media Centre PC is just an ordinary computer, set up to connect to a TV or projector, running media centre software. With a Digital TV capture card they can record free to air Digital TV. A Media Centre PC is the gold standard in terms of capability and features, limited only by the software they’re running. The main difference between a Media Centre PC and an ordinary Personal Computer is that they software is designed to be used by remote control, by users sitting on the couch rather than a desk.
There are a number of software options for Media Centre PC’s. There’s a number of different commercial software packages for Media Centres as well as a number of free software solutions. These will be a topic of a future article!