Ditching the VHS tapes (or, getting a new Humax PVR)

Published on 4 March 2007 in , , , ,

A couple of weeks ago, I invested in a PVR – one of those digital video recorder things. It had been bubbling in my mind for a while, especially as I seemed to have a never ending pile of VHS tapes floating around the room with stuff on them, that had to be watched in strict order lest anything get missed.

I opted for the Humax PVR-9200T – a beast with 160Gb of hard drive space, which has two tuners (so you can record two different things at once – plus potentially watch a third live programme, or watch something you’ve already recorded at the same time), plus the option to connect your PC up by USB and take files onto your computer. I suspect that won’t be something I use particularly often, but it’s nice to have the ability to store something onto PC (and then DVD) should I ever want to.

I was already in the habit of setting loads of timer events on the old VCR, so that behaviour has made it across to the PVR land – more so in fact. I seem to end up with thirty odd programmes at any one time, thanks to the combined efforts of various BBC Four documentaries that sound interesting, Star Trek, The Avengers and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) – all of which are on at times I’m not around normally. Plus I’ve got behind on Primeval by a few weeks – even though it only started a month ago.

The amount of live TV I was watching previously was pretty low anyway – I just seemed to live off the old VCR. I appear to be watching slightly less, but that might change as I catch up on programmes (or when BBC Four stop showing good stuff!) More interesting is that because I’m no longer forced into watching things in a strict order, I’m obviously not doing. However I’m not often watching multiple episodes of the same series at once. For example, the other day I had two episodes of Primeval, but didn’t watch them back to back – a behaviour I probably would have done had I been watching on DVD for example.

Overall, the PVR-9200T is an impressive beast. It seems pretty reliable, and the user interface is reasonably easy to use. Strangely though, you find programmes you’ve already recorded under the oddly named “Record” menu item which is not exactly intuitive. Another minor niggle is that when you select a programme for watching, you have to press PLAY then MENU to go full screen. Instead it previews in a small screen, which is perhaps more useful if you’re trying to find a particular programme, so that’s more of a personal preference.

As an added bonus as well, the box includes the latest version of MHEG for interactive TV applications. Most boxes have MHEG 5 v1.05 – the MHEG 5 v1.06 version that the Humax has has a raft of extra features which people like myself get very excited about. Sadly there’s only one live service that uses them – the BBC’s Studio Runners game has various improvements for 1.06 boxes, which mostly are small graphical, animation touches. However 1.06 allows you to do lots of nice things with animation, video zooming, scrolling and so on.

There’s a couple of other issues I have, although they mostly seem to be solved in recent software updates – the box came with a software version from May 2006, although just last night it received an update to the August 2006 version (mostly bug fixes) via an over air download. There’s a raft of updates and improvements in a December 2006 version (including the ability to set 50 timers rather than the current 20), which hasn’t been broadcast on air yet, but can be installed via a serial cable – I just haven’t got round to it yet.

Rather annoyingly, to access radio stations (as I do a lot) you have to press a “RADIO” button rather than jumping direct via the channel number. This wouldn’t be a major issue, were it not for the fact that the remote control hides a number of buttons under a sliding cover. Most of the buttons I’ve rarely used, but having to slide the remote cover back just to get radio, or the handy instant replay (which skips back about 7 seconds for the programme you’re watching – live or recorded) is a bit of a faff. The remote is solidly built and has a pleasing weight to it – buttons are mostly of a sensible size too – I’d just prefer to be able to jump to Radio 4 from TV without having to slide the cover back on the remote. (Indeed I’ve just dropped Humax a line to say this).

If there’s any one big gripe it’s the EPG. When you turn on the PVR, it reloads the EPG from scratch which means you have to wait at least ten minutes or so before the full thing is there. Okay, it’s not the end of the world – just annoying if you want to turn on and quickly do set something in the timer. The box does allow you to set timers without using the EPG – you can enter times like you would in a traditional EPG – however I’m presuming the EPG method takes into account schedule updates (although I’ve no evidence of this). Not the end of the world – and I confess I continue to use the Radio Times as my first port of call for viewing information, not an EPG – but a mild annoyance.

Apparently it’s something the Humax engineers are working on – it being a necessary thing if the box is to support Series Link which is part of the forthcoming Freeview Playback specification. Playback will set a common standard for Freeview PVRs – a baseline as it where – so that customers will know what they’re getting, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Series Link will be a very useful feature – as anyone with a Sky+ box will probably tell me.

Speaking of Sky+, I’ll end by saying that if there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s people saying “I skyplussed it”. I mean, what’s wrong with just saying “I recorded it”? No one ever said “I VHSed it” after all. Maybe if Sky+ was a generic PVR I could understand, but it’s not and never will be. Still, on the other hand, if those people didn’t say that horrible phrase, I wouldn’t have been able to wander round proclaiming that I’d “skyplussed it on my video” in a sarcastic voice…