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We recently hailed the superb Humax PVR9200T as ‘the king of PVRs' but its reign could soon be ended by a new challenger to the throne from Topfield, which comes equipped with a feature list that makes the Humax look positively archaic. It's the successor to the highly impressive TF5800PVR, which was launched back in 2005 to rave reviews and is still available, but Topfield has made several tweaks to its design that make it more relevant to today's market.
The first and most important feature to have been added is an HDMI output, which is still extremely rare among hard-disk PVRs - the only other model that springs to mind is the Evesham iPlayer. That means you can watch Freeview broadcasts in 720p or 1080i, which should have significant picture quality benefits when viewed on a hi-def ready display. However, it doesn't mean that the unit will be able to handle hi-def Freeview broadcasts when they begin.
The TF5810PVRt also features Freeview Playback, which enables you to perform a variety of recording and timeshifting tricks, offering a level of flexibility that stops this machine feeling like a second-rate Sky+. It's worth pointing out that the latest TF5800PVRs also ship with Freeview Playback and older ones can be updated using over-the-air upgrades, but the TF5810PVRt is compatible out of the box.
On board is a 500GB hard-disk - a great deal larger than the 160GB capacity offered by the TF5800PVR and the Humax PVR-9200T - which provides up to 250 hours of recording time (depending on the bitrate of the programmes you record). It also comes with two digital tuners so you can record one channel while watching another or record two channels while watching a third.
The eight-day electronic programme guide enables you to browse the Freeview channel line-up and set timer recordings by pressing just one button, and the unit will record an entire series automatically by selecting the ‘series recording' option. If two scheduled recordings clash, then the unit recommends alternative broadcast times, plus it keeps up to date with schedule changes and adjusts the timings accordingly. And thanks to the buffer memory you can pause and rewind live TV, even when recording another channel.
Elsewhere you'll find an editing mode for deleting unwanted sections from a recording. The process of doing this is a tad round the houses and it leaves a noisy edit point, but it's a handy feature that you won't find on many rivals. There's a selection of games embedded in the unit's memory and a picture-in-picture mode. It also supports MHEG5 digital text and interactive services, while the two Common Interface slots situated under a flap on the front panel lets you access pay TV channels.