Looking at the HD PVR itself, it's a fairly basic but fundamentally unobtrusive piece of design. It must be said, though, that the plastic casing feels pretty cheap and flimsy. This shouldn't pose a problem provided you're not planning an impromptu game of Frisbee in your living room, but nonetheless it needs to be handled with some care.
Though most of connectivity is on the back, the composite and S-Video connections can be found on the front - joined by the power button and a trio of status lights on the far left. On the back, meanwhile, you'll find a full set of component inputs and outputs, allowing you to output your source device to your TV or monitor when recording. These are matched by both an optical input and an output, while a USB port is on-hand for connecting to your PC. Things are rounded-off by the power input and 'IR Blaster' output.
Setting up the HD PVR isn't complicated, though is a little time consuming given all the cabling involved. Once set-up, though, installing the drivers and software from the provided disc is all you need to do to get the HD PVR talking to your PC. You're then ready to enter Arcsoft's capture software and get recording.
Here things continue down a pretty straightforward path. Once you've selected the HD PVR from the drop down box (this software can also be used with a webcam), you then have the option to tweak all sorts of settings - including brightness, contrast, gain levels and plenty else besides. Most important, however, are the codec settings. As mentioned earlier the HD PVR encodes to AVCHD H.264 and it can do this at up to 13.5Mbits/sec. One thing you can't do, though, is change the resolution it records at, since this is always the same as the input - i.e. you can't set a 1080i source to record at 720p or vice versa. This can only be changed once you have the completed encode.
While recording you can watch the program as you would normally, though you don't necessarily have to pass the output through the HD PVR to a display if you don't want to since it is also displayed on the PC in the software - handy if you all want to do is setup a recording.