I'd like to say I thoroughly researched the available digital recorders on a helpful consumer site before buying this model, but I didn't. It was X Factor final night, one of my friends was getting married, and the Granada region had very rudely just had its analogue signal turned off, rendering my video recorder entirely useless. So, on the morning of the wedding, I got up early and drove to my local 24 hour Tesco to see if they had something I could just pick up off the shelf. This was the only digital recorder they were selling at the time, but it was cheap enough (about £80) and in stock, so I carried it home, raced through the instructions and crossed my fingers that it would record what I was asking for while I was out stuffing my face and dancing up a storm in Knutsford.
It did, and I've been using it on a daily basis ever since. But 9 months on, was my thoughtless purchase a careless one, or a good, if impulsive, choice?
Having never had a digital recorder before, and having not regularly used any other model since, this review will compare it to digital TV and traditional video recorders. Since it's a basic model I'm sure fancier versions would offer snazzier functions, but since I don't know what these would be, I can't miss them.
Setting up the Digihome box is simple, which is quite useful when you also need to get to the gym, do your hair and follow some A roads into Cheshire before the wedding bells chime at noon. I simply plugged it in (Scart lead - not supplied, luckily I had a spare - connects it to the TV, plus there's a normal plug) and then went through the step by step quick set up guide to get me going. At the time, I imagined I'd go back and read the full manual at a later date, but I never did.
The box is slightly bigger than my admittedly small DVD player. It is plain black (always better than finger-print attracting silver) and quite plain, too, with only minimal printing on the front. The onscreen display, however, could not be more different, with blue and yellow the favoured colour scheme. The remote control has a scary amount of buttons, but the 3 keys ones are helpfully labelled with words: Guide, Library and Menu. Using these in conjunction with the arrows and the colour buttons mean you can access pretty much all the essential and most of the useful product features.
The GUIDE function serves as an onscreen TV guide, allowing you to see what's on for the next 14 days. This is organised numerically by channel and the way I normally use it is by scrolling down the channels, and then across the hours, to find what I'm looking for. The hours are set out in 30 minute intervals, with programmes shown for the one they start in, so something starting at 12:15 will come under noon, for example. There is another function which I virtually never use, which allows you to search based on a key word within the programme's title, and then returns all the matches from your existing programme library and the schedule for the next 14 days. You use the remote to spell out the word(s) but although the key assignments are identical to many a mobile phone, it somehow seems trickier.
To record a programme you locate it on the guide and then press the R button. It selects it and you then click R again to add it to the planned recordings list. If it is a series, you have the option to record just this one episode or series link it. For someone who has never had Sky+ of anything fancier than a video recorder, I thought this was amazing at the time: you don't have to pay attention to changes in the schedule, and shows moving day or time, you just series link it and it automatically locates and records all upcoming episodes. After you've pressed R the first time, you're also shown the list of planned recordings already selected. This is vital as you can only record two channels at the same time, so you need to check for clashes, and switch to a +1 channel if available. If you ask it to record 3 or more shows at the same time, it will start the first two on the list and only record part of the 3rd if it is still going on once one of the others finishes. So if programmes A and B are half an hour sitcoms at 8pm, and programme C is an hour long drama at the same time, you'll get all of A and B, and the second half of C. If you want to delete a planned recording from the list to ensure you get something else instead, this is easily you just scroll down and click the blue button for delete (as directed on the screen).
There are automatic options to add what they call a 'guard time' to the programme - in other words, add a few minutes to either end so you don't miss it if it starts early. I have mine set to 5 minutes either side, which is what I always used to go for with traditional videos.
I like the recorder as it's set up to be user friendly. For example, if you only partly add something to the recordings list and then try to navigate away from the page, you'll get a warning, and be asked to confirm that you wish to continue. The buttons you need to press to delete or cancel tend to be the same, but they're always stated on the relevant screen too in case you're having a mental blank.
The LIBRARY option lists the shows you have in your library, indicating with a tick those you've already watched. The information lists the name, the date and the length of the recording, and the screen also shows how much of your disc space is remaining, so you know if you need to delete something. My only niggle with this part is that it is rather unresponsive, and some buttons on the remote work quicker than others, so you can be scrolling to the programme you want and then press play, only to find the marker was still on the show above or below. While you can go straight back and rectify this, it will have ticked that other programme, even if you only had it on for a few seconds, and there's no way to mark a programme as unwatched. This is most annoying when it's a series and you then have to remember which episode it is that you still need to watch, regardless of what the screen shows.
The library doesn't provide you with a synopsis of the show you've recorded, but there is a mini preview screen to one side, so if you hover over it for long enough it starts to play and you can see which episode it is (if it's something you're intimately familiar with at any rate: show me a 5 second clip of Friends and I will correctly identify the episode 9 times out of 10). While on the guide, however, you can bring up a synopsis of a programme, useful for knowing whether or not it's an episode you need. Again, though, the recorder is rather slow at responding and you can over shoot a time slot or channel when you're scrolling, far too easily. You can go up or down, and left or right, so it's not like when you go past when setting the time on a digital clock, but it's still annoying as it does happen all the time.
The recorder occasionally sticks some recorded, promotional messages in your library, but these are invariably short, so don't take up much memory. They're also prioritised for deletion in the event of your box getting full, plus they auto delete after a few days, regardless of whether or not you have viewed them. Like any recording in the library, you can delete them without opening them, handy as well if you've recorded something you no longer want to watch.
You can zap the recorder off mid programme, but when you then switch it back on it will start again....from the beginning. This is a really useless feature: either it needs to go back to the menu, or pick up where you were in the recording. It's also annoying if you accidentally press the off button rather than, say, the fast forward, as you then have to spin from the beginning all the way forward to where you were up to.
For the most part, the recordings are of a good quality, with picture and sound just as if I were watching the broadcast live. That said, every so often there will be a blip where the picture freezes for a second, the sound goes and when it restarts a tiny bit of dialogue has been skipped. How annoying you find this depends on what you're watching and how into it you are. For the most part I'm now used to it, but at first it used to irritate me.
My sister who lives in a sensible region where analogue signals lasted a wee bit longer, bought a similar recorder in the spring, and reports that it regularly 'misses' recordings she has programmed in, and is only sometimes able to catch up on these when they're repeated. I have never once had a similar problem with this Digihome, and it has recorded every programme I've asked it to. In fact, I'd never have thought this was a possibility had she not mentioned it.
I have a digital TV with built in Freeview, but if you don't, you can use the box to get those channels. It does have a problem interfacing with my TV, though, so I can only use some TV functions when the box is off. This only really interferes when you've switched on the recorder but aren't watching a recording, but it's something I often forget to look for when I'm wondering why my TV remote is not responding. It's worth noting that the twin tuner means I can record to channels and watch another only because my TV has Freeview of its own: if yours doesn't you can either record two, or watch one and record one at the same time.
The main reason I like to record programmes is so when I watch them back I can spin through the adverts. Unlike a video which visibly fast forwards every second, this recorder 'jumps' at various intervals, depending on how fast you want to spin (at a count of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64). This means it can be harder to stop it at just the right time, and since this is another example of the recorder's slow response, it also takes a while to get it to stop going forward and rewind instead.
When you first use the Recorder, and occasionally depending on the service, you have to scan / rescan for channels. This is simple to do and noticeably quicker than scanning for channels on my TV is. The 14 day programme guide is linked to this, but after the first use, it updates this automatically without you having to rescan.
The box offers a Parental Controls setting that allows you to limit access to more adult shows, but this only applies to the Top Up TV subscribers, an option I have not invested in though it is heavily pushed in the accompanying bumf.
Pausing live TV was another first for me, and is pretty easy - you press the Pause button - but is yet another thing the machine stumbles over, and it's a little jumpy for a split second before it freezes. You can also rewind and fast forward, as you would a normal recording.
The box has more functions than I need. For example, you can cancel a recording once it has begun, but I never bother, just waiting instead for it to finish and then deleting it if I don't want it. A function I like more is the ability to watch a recording that is still in progress, though it took me a while to work out how to do this (you pick the recording from the Planned Recordings list, not the Library which would make more sense to me). Often there are multiple ways to do something, but I'll tend to have my default. For example, to change the channel you can enter the number, or scroll up and down, or go into the Guide and locate what you want and press OK. I suppose the upside of this is that it caters to individual preferences - I go with the last of the 3 options, but others might prefer the first or second.
Neither the box nor the manual state how many hours the recorder can store (the packaging probably did, but that's long gone). However based on the number of hours I currently have stored, and the amount of space remaining, I would estimate it to be about 120 hours (it's a 250gb box for people who understand such things). That is an insane amount of TV and I can't imagine ever needing or wanting more capacity than that. As it is, I've never got beyond 20% full, and that was when I series linked Come Dine on a special week when they have it on for several hours a day and it recorded a whole bunch before I noticed. One slightly silly thing about this is that it tells you the % of space you have left...not the number of hours which would be a much more usable measure.
I don't watch enough TV to be bothered by the niggles of this recorder, most notably its slow response to most commands. However, if I watched more, I would probably want to invest in a higher spec model for this alone, not to mention any other super dooper features such a model might offer.
Available online from Tesco and Amazon among others. Don't forget your Scart lead!