Pondering digital TV

ABC logosEven before the ABC switched over to the ABC1 branding to help emphasise ABC2, I had started shopping for a digital Set Top Box to get the new channels. I’ve been able to sample them through the TV tuner in the computer, but of course watching on the big screen* from the couch is always more comfortable.

Originally the plan had been to buy a plain ol’ standard definition STB, until the new High Definition second channels of the 7 and 10 networks had started up. Now it would appear to make sense to buy an HD unit instead, getting me a total of 3 extra fully-fledged channels: ABC2, 10HD and SBS Digital (though given the latter is wall-to-wall foreign language world news, my chances of understanding any of it is minimal). Plus 7HD, which has a few bits and bobs of different programming.

The question now is, should I jump in and buy an HD STB, or buy a box that also does recording to a hard drive? Indeed, what about a dual-tuner unit so I can record two channels at once (occasionally useful during media storms when I wish to stoke my ego). Those Topfield boxes are meant to be pretty good — though it looks like only the high-end (expensive) model includes an HD tuner.

Or should I go completely over-the-top and wait for the Australian launch of TiVo, rumoured to be coming up before the Olympics in August? Monthly fees attached though, so not free.

Decisions, decisions.

Not that I watch a lot of TV, but on the occasions I do flick it on, it’d be nice to have more options.

*OK, my TV is just a 68cm 4:3 CRT model, but to me it’s still big. I don’t want any bigger.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

17 replies on “Pondering digital TV”

you pose some good questions … hopefully one or your blog contributors can provide some advice. I’d like to know what to do too.

I’ve been using a single tuner SD hard disk box for over a year now and it’s brilliant. It’s full of bugs, but we work around them and the convenience we get in return is well worth the angst. Unfortunately the manufacturers know this, so they’re slow to fix such bugs.

But get an HD twin-tuner hard disk unit and you’ll have something newer, better (more expensive too) and more reliable than our early model Wintal X10a. You’ll never look back. Video tape is no longer an option!

(Comment restored from backup. Time not accurate.)

I’ve had a dual-tuner HDD based SD model Topfield for years – I would never, EVER, go back.

We barely watch any TV, but when we do damned if I would even dare not have the ability to PAUSE or REWIND what I am watching. The number of times during sports or shows we flip back to rewatch/rehear something, or even more common again that I want to watch something but my wife asks can I at least then record some other show that she was intending to watch – it’s just standard practice in our house, there’s just no way we could live without timestreaming / recording / dual tuner. Or how about starting to watch something, realise you wouldn’t mind watching it in whole another time, rewinding back to the start, and hitting record.

And yet, as I said, we barely watch TV – and even then the shows we watch we download, stuffed if we’re waiting for Australian TV networks to screen them – but I would still never be without my Toppy. I’ll switch to the HD version only when 7 start using high definition cameras to broadcast the V8 Supercars… it’s only standard definition at present (along with a phenomenal amount of compression) so no benefit in going HD for it.

(Comment restored from backup. Time/Website not accurate.)

Or build yourself a MythTV box ( There’s a number of Linux distributions that make it a lot simpler than it used to be (although I won’t deny there are still a number of snags that you can get caught on).

I bought my parents a digital STB with a hard-drive recorder in it a couple of years back. It was a good little box, but since I built my own mythtv box, I can see just how nice it is that it can download its own tv guide and I can then just select which programs I want to record from a web browser.

And the *really* neat feature is to be able to tell it something like: record the Chaser. Any channel, I don’t care whether it’s ABC1 or ABC2, or what time it is. Just record it whenever it is broadcast. And it does.

(Comment restored from backup. Time not accurate.)

See if you can get a SD HDD PVR ($100-$200) which will also record analogue in; then get a HD STB ($100) tuned to the appropriate channel and feed that in; it’s not like you’re able to see any of the extra definition or anything. Alternatively, a HD DTV card for your PC and a SD HDD PVR for most stuff.

Geez, that’s a lot of TLAs.

(Comment restored from backup. Time not accurate.)

I’m no expert in tv technology (I bought my 25? TV set in 1990) but I believe Tivo needs to be connected to a phone line to function and there is a subscription fee for Tivo service in addition to your cable bill.

As I will be living in Australia soon I get to buy a new TV set with the latest technology! In 2009 the USA will suspend analog broadcasts and people without cable will need a digital decoder box to use older TV sets for over the air signals.

I bought a dual HD set-top box and it has totally changed the way I watch telly. I never watch anything ‘live’ now, and therefore never watch any adverts.
Dual is essential – it is amazing how often good shows pop up simultaneously.
I’m not sure I would bother with HD over SD – I rarely record HD. I guess it depends on the price difference.
Nothing beats firing up Top Gear on demand after a hard days work.

I would say dual HD recorder as well just because you get everything and save the hassle of needing to by new equipment down the track. My other advice is not to go too cheap, buy as expensive as you can afford. I have a medium priced SD stb and recently got a cheap HD stb. My opinion is that with the cheap boxes you get what you pay for (ie I prefer my SD box).

Having said that, I notice Dick Smith has a pretty reasonably priced dual SD recorder at the moment.

As an owner of Topfield SD _and_ HD units, I would never go back to anything less. The firmware in the new HD Toppy has been flaky for about a year, but has now settled down to a reliable unit. Which is why I kept the SD unit – to back up recordings! Now I just enjoy being able to tape 4 channels at once ;-)

Thumbs up on HD CSI (for example) – noticeably better than DVD. If you get HD, throw away your 4:3 doorstop and get yourself a 40″+ full HD screen. Getting cheaper now and again, watching HD is lush. Oh yeah, don’t forget the PS3 for Blu-Ray now the wars have been won :)

Like the other comments, I never watch live TV.

Hope this helps.

I’m a novice at TVs and technology but I love my Topfield HD dual tuner PVR, it’s the best piece of technology I’ve bought for a long time. Yes you must buy one!

SD Dual Tuner with Hard Drive. HD is too expensive, and you really need a bigger TV and surround sound to get the full benefit.

I’ve got the low end Topfield. It has changed the way my wife and I watch TV. We have programmed our favourite shows into it. Then at night we just pick from a list of pre-recorded shows depending on our mood. I upgraded the hard drive so we can store weeks worth of shows for the slow times. My wife enjoys letting some shows build up, then she will have a marathon night :)

I can’t remember the last time we watched live tv. One problem about missing the ads though, you sometimes miss any new shows or returning shows. So we have to make sure we read the guide every now and then.

Comments are closed.