Recording TV Revisited

It’s over two years since I wrote my piece on ways to record TV programmes. Quite a lot has changed in those two years, so I thought it was worth writing an update.

The biggest change for me is that at home we’ve dragged ourselves into the 21st century and have stopped recording programmes on VHS tape. We currently have two digital video recorders and together with TV on demand services and internet “services” they have revolutionised the way we watch TV. Here’s what we currently use.

V+ box from Virgin Media. This is great. Because it comes from my cable TV provider, it’s completely integrated with their services. We have access to an eight-day programme guide and setting a recording is as simple as pointing at a programme in the programme guide and pressing the record button. The box has three cable decoders in it, so that you can record two channels whilst watching a third. It also enables you to easily record all programmes in a given series. It also allows you to pause and rewind live broadcasts. The only slight downside is that it has a relatively small hard disk so you can only record eighty hours of programmes. So far this hasn’t been an issue, but I can see it being a problem if we go on holiday for a while.

Commercial DVR. Before Virgin released the V+ box we bought an off-the-shelf digital video recorder. As it wasn’t specifically made for Virgin, it didn’t integrate quite so well with their services, but it did have a good programme guide and recording programmes was pretty simple. It has a far larger hard disk than the V+ box and could record up to three hundred hours of programmes (although I suspect some of that improvement is down to the fact that we were recording programmes in a lower quality format). It’s possible to move recordings from the V+ box to the DVR, so that’s one way to get round the 80-hour limitation on the V+ box. The downside to this, however, is that transfers take place in real time. So moving a two hour film takes two hours. One popular approach in this area is a DVR box that has a built-in Freeview decoder. I’ve never used one of these but I know a number of people that are very happy with them.

TV On Demand. I believe that Virgin Media has one of the most comprehensive TV on Demand services in the UK. This falls into two categories. Firstly, there is the Catch-Up TV section where you watch shows that were on in the last seven days. This covers BBC and Channel 4 broadcasts (along with a few smaller channels that I can’t remember). There were a few glitches early on when popular programmes were missed off the listings, but they seem to have fixed most of those problems now and you can pretty much guarantee that anything you want to watch from the BBC or Channel 4 will be on there. Then there’s the TV Choice section where they have hundreds of old TV shows available. Again, there’s a lot of old BBC and Channel 4 stuff there, but they also have deals with a number of US channels so you can watch old seasons of things like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Lost.

Bittorrent. If I forget to record something and it’s not on Catch-Up TV, then there’s always the internet. When I last wrote about this I pointed out that not all shows were available as you’re relying on the generosity (and TV tastes) of the people who share their recordings. But I can’t remember the last time I looked for a programme and didn’t find it. Oh, there’s one time that I rely on bittorrent. Virgin Media still aren’t carrying the Sky basic channels (following on from their contract dispute a year ago) so if there are US programmes that are on Sky One then I get them from bittorrent. Currently the only programme I do this for is Lost.

iPlayer/4OD. The BBC and Channel 4 both have their own online catch-up TV services. I think that ITV has one too, but I watch ITV so rarely that I’ve never tried to look for it. Both the BBC and Channel 4 services were originally Windows-based systems and therefore useless to me. However the BBC now has a Flasg streaming version available and I’ve used that a couple of times. The Channel 4 stuff is exactly the same material that is available through Virgin’s TV on demand service, so I never have a need to use it.

So that’s an overview of the systems that I use to record TV currently. I’m pretty sure that most people who I know use some combination of these technologies. The main point of this technology is to avoid missing programmes that I want to watch but as a side-effect I’m completely ready for the digital changeover (the three cable tuners in the V+ box mean we never watch terrestrial broadcasts) and we also have access to HD channels (not that there’s much HD content available in the UK yet).

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