back to article 2011's Best... DVRs and Media Streamers

The days of piling shelves high with videotape recordings of shows once broadcast then forgotten are long gone. The current generation of DVRs and media streamers ensures that no TV programme remains unwatched for long, whether you snare it with a series link or stream it via a catch-up service. These days it's hard to miss a …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Elephant in the room again.

    That PS3 there, costing less than most of these, offering more including streaming and DVR functionality, gaming, movies on demand, Lovefilm, Mubi, Wbe browser, Blu-Ray etc etc etc...

    1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Elephant in the room again.

      IIRC, the PS3 has no HD DVR functionality, and no SD DVR without an add-on. But fair point about the other features.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      PS3 and streaming don't make me laugh. I flogged my PS3 on eBay when Sony broke the buffering in firmware 2.50. When I posted to the Sony tech forums I got flamed by fanboys who claimed streaming SD content of WiFi G was impossible. Oh and the PS3 did not have any support for WMV and some other codecs

      You are better off going for cheaper streaming options like the ACRyan PlayOn Mini or WD TV Live. Whilst these are not perfect they are cheap and cheerful and support large range of codecs and containers. Including the MKV container and H.264.

      Oh and they don't have a noisy fan, or loose your credit card details.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Streaming issue?

        What streaming issue? I never had any problems. Had my PS3 since Firmware 1.60. Perhaps it's your mediaserver. I'm guessing you were using some free crud like PS3mediaserver.... Try a decent one like Twonkymedia and it just works.

        It also streams WMV (VC-1) just fine too, once you enable WMA/WMV in the settings and agree to the Microsoft licence...

        PS3 has always done H.264, as Blu-Ray uses that codec....

        Perhaps you didn't know what you were doing? from your comments it sounds very much like it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Hey fanboy, I was using Twonkyserver.

          Sony reduced the streaming buffering in version 2.50. This was evident by the reduction in pause before playing the movie. Over EXACTLY the same infrastructure (WiFi G) the XBOX, AC Ryan were able to play the streamed files. The PS3 could not.

          The fact YOU in your limited experience did not see anything it does no change the fact that I and a number of other people faced issues after the 2.50 firmware upgrade. All linked to buffering over lower speed connections.

          Does the PS3 play WMV2 files?

          I didn't say the PS3 did not support H.264, but rather pointing out that thes cheapr smaller devices do as well. But the PS3s MKV container support wasn't great back then. I don't recall the PS3 supporting subtitles in a MKV container. Does it now?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "What streaming issues?" the noob asked.

          Try these ones:

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            You know we are on Firmware V4?

            Perhaps update?

            Or do you value lame piracy too much?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              How do you update a box that has been sold on eBay?

              There are some muppets on the comments today.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              @fanboy - trollollollollololololol

              ps3s connectivity issues are numerous and well documented,

              to the point where people started blaming virgin media for the PS3s flaky wifi.

              op cant update because he, sold the POS, RTFP

              I too, got tired of that shit, and sold my PS3.

              I dare say cat5-ing my living room would have fixed my problems, but i got pissed off at having my viewing interrupted for mins at a time when the PS3 lost the signal, prompting an 'exit-refresh media servers - navigate to file i was watching' merry go round once every hour or so. At least the PS3 remembered where i got cut off from (sometimes).

  2. deshepherd

    TiVo catchup services

    VM have just rolled out a software update to the TiVo and one of the changes is that there is a better integration between iPlayer and the backwards EPG ... you can now select a BBC program from the backwards EPG and it takes you direct to that programs iPlayer page and with another button press you can start playing it. I think they couldn't do the more intuitive method of starting to play when you select from the backwards EPG since the BBC insist that everything is (seen to be) done through iPlayer thus effectively offering a link direct to the releavant iPlayer "page" is the best they can do.

  3. Danny Roberts 1


    I'd love to see a streamer with a decent interface that can pick up the metadata from my library. Being able to pick an episode from a series and see the synopsis is a godsend!

    1. Goat Jam


      Boxee (not included in this list) does a pretty good job of this, although it uses filename matching rather than metadata to match shows to the IMDB

      That means you need to name your files to a convention such as;

      My.TV.Show.Name.S01E01 - The Pilot.avi

      1. Law

        WDTV Live Hub too

        They do a decent automatic moviesheets info pages, you can alter them using thumbgen as well.

        If you set an auto-get info setting somewhere it will grab these for you. I dropped a whole series to dir over network, then went to play it and it had full series info too.

  4. JDX Gold badge

    No Humax this year?

    Outclassed or forgotten?

  5. Spender

    Unfair advantage given to Virgin Tivo

    As the only product that is only available as part of a larger subscription (and very much tied in to the Virgin package), I'm not surprised that the Virgin offering is the winner. However, a review that is nominally about DVRs and MediaStreamers (as opposed to the quality of the subscription product that none of the other candidates carry), I find this article disturbingly biased. Are you sure Virgin didn't pay for this one? Seems a little too much like an advert to me.

    1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Unfair advantage given to Virgin Tivo

      Yes, I'm sure Virgin didn't pay for this one.

      But if it wants to get a 100% score, it can send six cases of Brunello di Montalcino round to Vulture Central, marked for my attention.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon


        Blimey, I thought the minimum bribe level was one turnip!

        Inflation eh?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm off to buy a Virgin TiVo

      Based on your recomendations I'm off to buy this right away. I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't give a device such a high score to something that doesn't work in most of the country.

      1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: I'm off to buy a Virgin TiVo

        Yeah, but it does work in the important part... :-)

        1. Grease Monkey Silver badge

          Comparing the TiVo with the rest is like comparing a phone purchased as part of a contract with a phone bought outright and SIM free. The TiVo is subsidised by your monthly subsciption. Buy one of the others and use it for a few years and the cost is as listed. Get the TiVo and use it for the same length of time and the cost becomes astronomical.

          Even a Sky box allows you to use it with free to air channels when your subscription expires, what happens with the TiVo?

        2. Anonymous Coward

          BT Vision box and Sky+

          If you are rating the Virgin Tivo box (which is excellent) then you should also have rated the BT vision and Sky+ boxes.

          I have a BT Vision box - one of the original silver ones - and it works great. High definition, On Demand rentals, and very good BBC IPlayer and a pretty sizeable PVR in which I now record most CBeebies for the children.

          It does not however do Freeview-HD so am looking at potentially the WD Live box or the Apple TV.

          Having seen the Sky+ it has similar.

      2. Disgruntled of TW

        Virgin LLU relevance ...

        Ludicrous to compare Virgin TiVo with the others given the dismal network coverage of the UK. Notable is the Sam Knows website revealing that 1334 exchanges are Virgin LLU enabled (, with NONE PENDING. So Virgin are happy with the coverage they have, and stuff everyone else.

        When did they last put any fibre in the ground? Waiting for us to pay them with BDUK money no doubt. Could be a long, cold wait in the dark.

  6. jolly

    The DVR market

    No Humax to review? (not 100% sure they brought out any new models in 2011 so maybe that's why). But either way I don't think the lineup is much cop. The TVonics looks OK but the software doesn't look particularly slick. And I can't get cable so the virgin box is out for me.

    If I had to list my "wants" for a dvr/streamer they are (in no real order):

    Freeview HD recorder with iPlayer and 4od built in (or youview if it ever arrives!). Ability to upload and download media via ethernet. HDMI output. Nice remote control. And, most importantly of all, reliable recording including series links that work (and don't disappear or fail to record!).

    Unfortunately I don't think any manufacturer is interested in delivering all of the above (or even part of the above). They often seem to be let down by immature or clunky software that's coded to order by outsourced teams. Once their products are released companies seem to have little interest in fixing the bugs or adding (god forbid!) extra features*.

    * I could live with this if only they fixed their bugs!

    Humax used to update their DVR software regularly but they seem to be hampered by their offshore dev model (or financial constraints - or both). And Topfield seem to have disappeared from the market :-(

    There was a time when I thought this area of tech would eventually mature. Now I'm not so sure. Hey ho!

  7. James Hughes 1

    Where are all the other devices?

    Seem to be a veritable hatload missing from the roundup - Humax is the major missing item.

    1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Where are all the other devices?

      It's not a round-up - it's a list of what we think are the best products of the year. Humax - and others - did not make the grade.

      1. darklord

        So how come VM tivo then

        Its not a new box just a software upgrade and then theres the small fact its useless to 90% of the country.

        So as a service no its not up to the mark. Guessing VM paid more turnips for a glowing outdated by 10 yrs product which failed in the states in 1999.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Best media streamer

    Apple TV2 with XBMC installed.

    1. Matt_payne666

      or acer revo with XBMC....

      I had high hopes for the ATV2 as a bedroom streamer (only 720p didnt matter there) but reverted it back to stock as it just couldnt play most of my library :( hand it anythmg over about 10gb and it buffers more than it plays... over wifi (managed N) or wired gigabit

  9. Andrew Baines Silver badge

    Tried alsorts

    I have loads of DVDs as iso images, so wanted to watch over a streamer.

    Started off with a cheapo £20 to see if the concept worked - it did, but not well.

    Then tried a Seagate streamer thing. Dreadful UI, juttery video. Few updates, then they bought out a new version and forgot the old. No iplayer.

    Then a ACRyan - worked well some of the time. UI update made it too slow. Then they brought out a new device, then another, so I flogged it on ebay. No iplayer either

    Biggest problem with them all was that any problem was impossible to diagnose.

    Finally a £120 PC, plus a copy of Windows 7. Perfect. OK, I still need some decent library software, but I can play anything, and fix most problems. Little wireless keyboard. Got iplayer too.

  10. notcorcoran

    HTPC with XBMC. Job done.

    PS3 has fallen right out of favour for me with their recent love of Cinivania protected content (even over streaming). I used to swear by TVersity with ps3 but now looking for alternatives.

    iomegaTV with Boxee seems pretty darn good - it should be here for review!

  11. Karl 14

    Best streamer

    XBMC with Navi-X or Boxee Box with Navi-X, unbeatable!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Did you get to try the Samsung in a living room environment ? The BD player is very noisy.

    Also the tuners in these combined BD/PVR units are quite poor and not as good as the ones in Samsung TVs - this appears to have been verified by Samsung :

    I returned my BD8500 (along with the light-bleeding D7000 TV) and have opted for a Panny TV - will get the Panny PVR you reviewed and see how it is.

    1. Grease Monkey Silver badge

      That just boils down to the antenna you use. My active high gain jobby works with anything. A standard TV antenna will, when used in some areas, give poor reception.

  13. Danny 14
    Thumb Up

    LG 600

    Bought one of these from asda for £79 and its great. Iplayer implementation works. Streams with inbuilt wireless N. Plays MKV, optical audio out. USB keyboard works in the port (although some people seem to disagree, mine works fine with a cheapo M$ keyboard).

    Oh and it works with PLEX too although I havent installed that on my PC - I use a little NAS box to share on my network.

  14. Gomez Adams

    Still crippled after all these years

    All these devices (PS3 included) do not give you unfettered access to IPTV content whatever the source, whatever the format. Instead your are nannied into only having what they want you to have by channelling you through their portal. I use a nettop which does not have any of these restrictions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Unfettered Access

      Although it is not given to you by default, it is easy to add access to other services to the Fetch TV freeview+ HD PVR box (not covered here) by Putting a link on to a usb drive.

    2. Danny 14


      Im not sure what you mean. The LG can access a PLEX server. Setup whatever source you want on your plex server and the LG plays it on your TV. It also browses samba shares for music, video and piccys. Has inbuilt iplayer and other guff that I dont use (along with browser etc).

      firmware is still being updated (and can be updated offline with a USB stick if you like).

  15. completely_hatstand

    Humax didn't make the grade?

    I for one I'm glad I take the Reg Hardware reviews with a massive pinch of salt, the Humax HD Freeview box I bought for the HD recording and was then blown away by the fact it streamed ALL of my existing content from my media server (iomega) despite odd items that won't play on either my 360 or PS3.

    Even the Humax catch-up stuff seems fairly robust, though with a PVR I don't need these features often, it even thoughtfully points out that the program is available in HD if you select to record it on an SD channel in the guide...

    Now as a self confessed gadget addict I was slightly surprised that a couple of well priced over the counter products just worked without me having to mess around tweaking everything only for it all to go tits while I'm working away all week... making me very unpopular at home and then wasting most of the weekend re-installing Home-Server or some other "easy for a home user to understand" product.


    Mislabeled Article

    PVRs and streamers are different kinds of devices. Unless you're building your own box, they will have mutually exclusive features. Trying to lump them together is a bit foolish to begin with.

    This is especially true since streamers have gotten so cheap. You can easily add one to whatever setup you have. The fact that you are escalating the number of devices you are dealing with is easily offset by how cheap and small they are.

    Buy the PVR for it's recording features and ignore the rest. Get a cheap streamer to go with it. Don't worry about about a device that is a jack of all trades an master of none.

    Nothing beats an HTPC in terms of features. This goes for both the PVR and streaming features.

  17. Arnie

    Yep ION2 based XBMC

    just reiterating what others have said

    Usenet, icefilms, navi-x, fastpasstvms, hulu, iplayer, 40d, tvcatchup, mflow, 8tracks, sports devil, video devil. Skinning, complex library views, fanart, extrafant, posters, weather, hey you can even run firefox and all your old emulators - seriously, there are set top boxes? don't make me laugh.

    1. Danny 14

      still costs more though

      £79 for the LG - twice that at least for an ion system. Depending what you want out of it it is still expensive. For the record I use an XBMC "pc" as my main media center the LG is in the other room.

  18. launcap Silver badge

    .. and the VM TiVo..

    .. isn't available anywhere where VM cable isn't. Like my house. And the whole area I live in.

    Doesn't stop them bombarding us with compost-bin fodder^W^W adverts for their service though.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No 3view?

    At £145 it's one of the cheapest too (not forgetting it's been rooted as well).

  20. David Gosnell

    "Recorded HD images look transmission-fresh"

    In fairness, I'd take the unit back if anything else was the case!

  21. NeilMc

    TiVo User

    I am surprised that TiVo made the grade. Having upgraded to TiVo in the last 6 months I have been disappointed by the image quality.

    Channel 5, some of the HD channels particularly and some of the US channels all suffer with poor image quality. I think 5 USA (CSI Miami ) last night for example are all hugely pixelated which is very disappointing.

    I could not honestly agree that at £50+ per month this is a worthwhile subscription service.

    So fibre optic from VM, presented by TiVo and played through a high end Panny plasma panel I certainly expect much much more for my investment and ultimately my viewing pleasure.

    Anyone else having similar issues?



  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    a few points

    1) PS3 Argument above about not being a PVR.. Erm... LG ST600 Smart TV Upgrader?

    2) Lots of missing devices. Looks like an assortment of what's been sent in rather than a comparison of what's available.

    3) A subsidised subscription only box included without penalty. (cannot be marked on value for money without including subsidising contract)

    4) Vary sporadic details provided as if a different person wrote each review! As a media server owner the important streaming ability and file formats only got mentioned for one or two devices.. was this because it's not on the press release for the others? Also which boxes offer there own online content rather than just utube/iplayer for example Fetch TV (not included) offers a comprehensive download service, on a very reasonably priced and capable PVR & media streaming box.

    5) overall 15% sad to see that reg hardware reviews are getting worse. This article was very shallow. At risk of becoming worthless when the readers know more about the products and offerings than the reviewers..

    1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: a few points

      6) This feature is not a review.

  23. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    "The ST600 connects to any TV via HDMI"

    Except TVs without HDMI. And despite what the industry try to tell you the majority of TVs in use don't have HDMI.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Including mine

      Still using my good old CRT: well I say old, it's around 4 years, still works perfectly well, and I use the SCART on my Humax Freeview HD. Of course it won't do HD content, but conversely standard SD broadcasts don't look like pixelated messes whenever anything moves quickly either.

      I'll replace it either when it breaks, or I decide I need to free up some space, I think.

  24. Richard Lloyd

    Flawed round-up

    Including the TiVo was a joke - not only can't be it used in half the country, but it comes with an expensive subscription too, whacking its "actual" price way beyond the 199/50 quoted. The real question is - if you unsubscribe to Virgin do they take it back or - equally annoyingly - cripple it like the Sky+ HD box so you can't record on it any more (and maybe not even watch existing recordings?).

    I guess this is a list of the "best of 2011", but what if something was launched in 2010 and is better than some or all of the ones in this article? As people have said, the Humax hasn't suddenly vanished and even the Smartbox 8320HD I have (released June 2010) has still had several firmware updates this year. Can't say that the TVionics with a 75% rating in your April review is better than some of the Freeview HD DVR kit released in 2010.

    In fact, if you look at it, the mad scramble to get kit out in mid-2010 for the World Cup in HD has really left a lull in 2011 - there's been nothing released in the DVR arena, IMHO, that's a significant jump from what we saw last year. I guess manufacturers are holding back for YouView's much-delayed launch next year (Feb 2012 is the latest rumour)?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's up with the cheap tat :)

    All rather cheap and low end stuff there. What about a nice Oppo 93 or 95. Top notch quality in both sound and image and actually able to stream to 3D blu-ray ISO's plus any other format under the sun.

  26. JWS

    Where are the rest?

    Did you just get bored and stop reviewing them? There are about 20 media streamers around at the moment, several are far better than most of the ones you've noted. If it's just DVRs then the article title needs changing. I for one have a WD HDTV streamer and it's top notch and has the advantage of being flashable to give you a huge range of features.

  27. Matthew Flint

    Firmware versions in reviews?

    If you're going to criticize a product for the features in its firmware, can you include in your reviews the firmware version of the item you're testing?

    At least then we can look at the manufacturer's website and see what's changed (or not changed) since the review was written.

    Thanks :)

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