Newcomers to digital TV are often surprised to find that buying a digital set-top box (STB) leaves them unable to record one show while they watch another. Dual-tuner personal video recorders (PVRs) overcome this problem, but tend to be expensive.
The Topfield TF5000PVRt Masterpiece justifies its cost most convincingly. It's a standard-definition model - not the dual high-definition TF7000 model that some are waiting for - but it's a marked improvement on its predecessor, with a new black or silver design that will sit more comfortably alongside your existing home-theatre equipment.
Like all dual-tuner PVRs, the Masterpiece lets you pause, record and replay live TV, and also provides picture-in-picture so you can view two signals at the same time. Unlike some, however, these features are still available when you're recording another channel, and you can play back a file even when you're recording two programs. Depending on the bit rate of the shows you record, the 160GB Seagate hard drive will store up to 60 hours of TV.
The Masterpiece still uses dual SCART video outputs, but a SCART to component video (YUV) is provided in the box, along with outputs and cables for composite and S-video, and a passthrough for the two aerial cable inputs. Surround sound systems are served by the optical digital (S/PDIF) output.
Setting up the Masterpiece is quick and easy. You can use the Favourites function to cut out any duplicate/unwanted channels, and digital radio stations are automatically separated (and accessed by a dedicated key on the remote). Menus and on-screen displays are clear and logical, and common functions are very accessible.
What gives this PVR an edge is its USB 2.0 port, which allows you to upgrade the firmware, upload your MP3 collection, or even transfer your recorded files to a PC. It's compatible with IceTV's (www.icetv.com.au) subscription-based electronic program guide (EPG) called "IceGuide". For $3 per week, this service gives you a seven-day on-screen program listing and lets you record future events with a single button press. Topfield has also made application software available to developers, and the adventurous will find a host of useful tools for the Masterpiece available online.
Verdict It's not a perfect system, but the Masterpiece is a well-designed and user-friendly product. You can buy cheaper, but you'll find it hard to buy better.
Topfield TF5000PVRt Masterpiece
Vendor: Topfield Australia
Phone: 1300 889 803
Specs: Dual standard-definition DVBt tuners; 160GB Seagate hard disk; USB 2.0; 2 x SCART (SCART to component cable included), 1 x Composite and 1 x S-Video ouputs; 2 x RCA stereo outputs; 1 x S/PDIF Dolby AC-3 (optical digital) output; Picture in Picture; pause/ record/rewind live TV functions; MP3 playback; remote; 430x60x265mm; 5.2Kg.