Topfield's TF5800PVR was well received and it is still available, so why would you opt to cash out an extra £150 or so on this new model?
The simple answer is that the new TF5810PVR offers several enhancements and looks far better.
Style junkies may already have had their minds made up for them.
Bundles of storage
The feature count of this deck goes much deeper than a pretty fascia, of course. First of all, you get a 500GB hard disk, which will hold around 250 hours of programming.
The exact amount depends on the programmes you are recording, but this is an impressive capacity.
Next up is an HDMI able to output standard def upscaled to 576p, 720p or 1080i levels. Note that this does not make this an HD Freeview receiver. If hi-def broadcasts are ever offered through Freeview the TF5810PVR will not be able to receive them.
The twin digital tuners mean you can record two channels at the same time, while watching a third or a previously made recording. Timers are set easily using the EPG, or you can simply press the record button and start to record what you're watching.
Link with your PC
A 'buffer' is constantly recorded (unless you switch it off), which stores the last hour of programming on the channel you are watching. Switch channels, however, and the buffer is lost and starts again from scratch on the new channel.
A USB 2.0 connection makes it possible to transfer files to and from a Windows PC (five times quicker than real time, if you use 'Turbo' mode) using the downloadable software, and the Topfield can play MP3 files.
It can also handle Jpeg, Gif and bitmap image files if you download a small software file known as a TAP (Topfield Application Program).
Playback options include slow-mo (as slow as one-eighth normal speed) and high-speed search and the deck offers basic editing functions, which let you trim sections out of a recording. Finally, there's a CAM card slot for adding Pay TV services.
The deck is simple to set up. Plug it in, hook up your TV and it quickly seeks out available channels.
This smooth start doesn't last long, however. The remote is button-heavy and some of the operating procedures are a little on the clumsy side.The EPG doesn't present an easy-to-browse interface like the Sky+ box does, making it less easy to quickly scan for programme details.
The instant record function is also less than ideal. A simple press of the record button should be all it takes to record the programme currently being watched, but the default setting is actually to record a two-hour burst.
To limit this to a current programme you have to specify this, which shouldn't be necessary.
The editing function is clever, though. You highlight a section of a recording and then you have the option to either discard it and close up the remainder of the programme, or keep the highlighted section and ditch the rest.
This sort of editing option is sorely missed on the Sky+ box, so mark one up to Topfield there.
We couldn't find anything to criticise the TF5810 on when it came to picture quality. With a good strong signal, broadcast images are crystal clear and the image is detailed and very enjoyable.
A simple RGB Scart output delivers a beautiful image so don't worry if you don't have an HDMI-equipped set (but note that, unlike the TF5800PVR, this new model does not have a UHF modulator).
The HDMI feed delivers a digital feed to a TV, free from the possible corruption you can get converting to analogue.
The results are an image that is often superior to an RGB Scart feed, but which can also highlight flaws in the original digital signal.Upscaling remains a questionable feature and you will need to decide if the Topfield does a better job of this than your TV.
We preferred the results when we let our Panasonic plasma handle upscaling duties.Recordings, meanwhile, are every bit as impressive as the original broadcast, with all the detail remaining apparent.
Our one gripe here though is that editing out sections of a recording results in very messy edit points, with big digital blocks blighting the picture for a split second.
This means that multiple edit points would seriously impact on the quality of a programme, but simple top-and-tailing of a programme, to get rid of extra material before and after, would not be a problem.
The TF5801PVR delivers perfectly acceptable sound via its optical digital audio output, with movie soundtracks and sporting events served up with punch and impact - though, sadly, not in Dolby Digital as yet, which isn't Topfield's fault.
As always, performance here is dependent on the audio system you are using and the nature of the original broadcast.
A reliable PVR
We have no doubt the asking price for this deck will come down (online discounts of around £20 are already available), but we do think the Topfield is expensive as it stands.
Performance is excellent in many areas and this just about makes up for the price issue.
The Sky+ box remains the benchmark for ease of use in the PVR field and, even though the Topfield has it beat in certain areas (editing options, most notably), it just isn't as intuitive to use.
That said, if it's digital terrestrial for you, the handsomely remodelled TF5801PVR will certainly not let you down