Delivering HD and standard definition TV channels via your aerial, Freeview's digital terrestrial service is now available in most parts of the UK.
While non-recording 'zapper' Freeview boxes can be picked up for around £20 these days, the PVR market is where the real 'action' is.
Most can be used to watch and record HD and SD Freeview channels and have two tuners allowing for the recording (usually of of two channels at once) to an internal, and in some cases external, hard disk. A 500GB hard disk can typically store around 220 hours of SD or 70 hours of HD recordings. Blu-ray/HDD recording combis are also available.
Most boxes are Freeview+ HD certified (or boast much the same functionality) bestowing on them similar capabilities as enjoyed by owners of Sky+ or Virgin Media's TiVo. This includes the ability to schedule automatic series recordings, pause and rewind live TV, to automatically record both parts of a split programme and to enable the user to schedule recordings of a programme by pressing the green button when a trailer is broadcast.
A number of so-called 'smart' products go beyond mere TV recording to offer such bonus features as video on demand and catch-up TV from the likes of BBC iPlayer and YouTube, web-based apps portals, internet radio streaming, the ability to play media files located on USB drives or networked computers/hard drives, or in some cases to stream TV to other devices.
Before buying, check that you're able to receive Freeview using the Freeview coverage checker.
Unrivalled storage capacity on a modest recording 'work horse'
£240: Now being sold equipped with a massive 2TB hard disk, giving it the biggest storage capacity of any Freeview HD PVR we know of, the Icecrypt T2400 sports a classy eye-catching colour vacuum flourescent display and is accompanied by a 'well weighted and comprehensively labelled' remote. Two tuners allow for the simultaneous recording of two channels at once aided by an attractively presented EPG and the picture quality of HD channels is particularly impressive. Add to this the ability to play and transfer media from USB-inserted drives to which you can also 'export' standard definition TV recordings for watching elsewhere.
Read: Icecrypt T2400 review
Humax HDR-FOX T2
Still one of the best Freeview recorders you can buy
£220: Available with 500GB or 1TB ( for around £260) drives, the HDR-FOX T2 is a veteran of the Freeview HD PVR market and still one of the best. Its slick case design was recently 're-visited' for the Humax's DTR-T1000 YouView PVR and its dual tuners but can be used record up to three channels simultaneously if two are on the same multiplex. You can also play media from USB drives and access the manufacturer's web-enabled TV Portal which features BBC iPlayer and YouTube. With very effective 1080p upscaling, picture quality for live and recorded TV is among the best around.
Read: Humax HDR-Fox T2 review
A host of smart features and a large HDD are stand out features
£300: Packing a generous 1TB drive (it can be used to record to external hard disks too) this hard disc-only Panny PVR is blessed with many of the desirable features of its Blu-ray recording/playing sibilings. It can be used to record two channels at once and SD broadcasts can be upscaled to 1080p quality via HDMI. Smart functionality includes the abilty to play media from USB drives, SD cards or networked storage and the manufacturer's VIERA Connect portal which currently features BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and Skype-calling. It can also act as a server, streaming SD recordings to other networked devices .
Product page: Panasonic DMR-HW220
Pure Avalon 300R Connect
This snazzy Pure PVR comes at a premium price
£349.99: One of the newest recorders on the market is also one of the priciest at £350 for the 1TB model or £300 for the more modest 500GB variant. It has four HDMI inputs as well as an output allowing it act as a hub for other little black boxes in your AV setup.
The remote feels a little cheap but it has a 'thoroughly polished' user interface. Web-delivered features include video on demand from BBC iPlayer and YouTube, internet radio and podcast streaming and the Spotify-style Pure Music service. It will also play media from USB or networked drives.
Apple and box apps make this worth viewing
£200: Hailing from Goodmans brand-maker Harvard International the View21 range is another combining Freeview recording with smart functionality. Available with either 320GB (for £180) or 500GB drives, it has two tuners and supports dual recording. A modest apps line up includes BBC iPlayer,YouTube, Twitter and Flickr with more promised. You can also make use of two free companion apps for Apple handhelds – View21 Photo which allows you to display stored photos via the box on the TV and View21 Play which enables remote control and even TV streaming. By no means perfect but it does a lot for the money.
Read: View21 VWFVRHD50 review
Blu-ray player/HDD combi offers the best of both worlds
£410: Helping to make the most of precious shelf space under your TV, this Panasonic box fuses a twin-tuner 1TB Freeview+ HD PVR with a 3D-ready Blu-ray disc spinner while also 'shoehorning' in an abundance of smart functionality. As well as recording two channels to the internal or an external hard disk in a choice of quality settings, you can play media from USB or networked drives or SD cards and stream TV recordings and media via DLNA to other compatible kit around the home (WiFi is built-in). The VIERA Connect apps portal meanwhile includes BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Skype calling.
Product page: Panasonic DMR-PWT520
Capable PVR/Blu-ray player combi converts TV to 3D
£400: This Samsung 'combi-deal' is both a Freeview HD PVR and a 3D-ready Blu-ray player with the ability to render Freeview broadcasts in 3D too. Housing two tuners and a modest 500GB hard drive, you can record uo two channels while watching a third different channel if two are located on the same Freeview multiplex. Smart features include the ability to play media from USB or DLNA-networked storage and Samsung's ever-expanding Smart Hub apps portal featuring YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Facebook, Twitter and many more. Samsung's SmartView app meanwhile, can be used to stream TV to smartphones and tablets.
Product page: Samsung BD-E8500
This YouView box is also a decent Freeview PVR
£299: It may be classed as a YouView box, but the DTR-T1000 is at heart a Freeview HD PVR augmented by broadband-delivered video on demand, namely catch-up TV 'players' from the four main UK broadcasters plus Sky's Now TV pay service. Currently being supplied with BT's TV, broadband and phone bundles, it's easy to use thanks to the intuitive interface which lets you search for live and on-demand programmes and picture performance is excellent. Downsides are the lack of WiFi and smart features other than a remote recording app for Apple devices. Now available with a stylish silver case as the DTR-T1010.
Read: Humax DTRT1000 review
This feature-packed recorder is smarter than most
£250: This Samsung hard disc recorder includes a a CI+ slot suitable for adding a pay TV CAM, a 500GB hard drive and twin tuners with the ability to record two channels while watching a third live channel if on the same multiplex as another
As expected from Samsung, it offers a great deal more besides TV recording.
You can also play media files from USB or networked drives and use the Smart Hub apps portal which includes a web browser and catch-up TV. In addition, Samsung's SmartView app can be used to remotely stream TV to compatible smartphones and tablets.
Product page: Samsung STB-E7500 review
This Ultra Slim box is a little slim on features too
£260: A mere 14mm deep, this 'world's thinnest' PVR will complement equally girth-challenged TVs yet Echostar has still managed to find room for a capacious 500GB disc and two tuners for dual recording.. Recorded series are handily grouped into folders and picture and audio quality is decent from both live and recorded TV. Altogether a likeable enough machine but it's a shame that, unlike the manufacturer's 'SlingLoaded' HDS-600RS Freesat PVR, there's no Slingbox-enabled remote streaming functionality onboard. Indeed, compared to most of the competition, apart from BBC iPlayer streaming the box is noticeably lacking in smart features. Style over substance then.
Product page: EchoStar HDT-620R