The best set-top box 2021: the top PVRs to enhance your TV

A family watching Sky Q on their tv
(Image credit: Sky)

The best set-top boxes of 2021 make it easy to watch a mixture of live TV and your favourite streaming services all in one place. Whether you’re waiting for the next football game or flicking through Netflix for your next movie fix, a set-top box will deliver everything you need to your TV. 

Set-top boxes (also called Personal Video Recorders or PVRs) don’t just bring you all of the live events, movies and TV shows you need, but most of them also allow you to record live TV to watch later with plenty of storage space on board, so you never have to miss out on your favourite shows or spend ages looking for the latest episode on a catch-up service.

The popularity of set-top boxes has dwindled over the years as more and more people use catch-up and streaming services, like Netflix and Disney+, instead. But one of the best set-top boxes can bring you the best of both worlds, allowing you to record live TV, access the best streaming platforms and even audio streaming platforms, like Spotify, all from one device.

The design of set-top boxes has impressed massively over the years. They no longer need a whole shelf on your TV stand, they're smaller, smarter and packed with more functionality and features than ever before – like HDR support and multi-room viewing if you buy more than one. But there are many different set-top boxes to choose from, which is why we’ve selected the very best models you can buy in 2021. 

UPDATE: You might find some good deals on the best set-top boxes in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2021 sales. Check out our guide to the best Black Friday deals to snap up a bargain.

If you want to upgrade your TV while you’re at it, keep an eye on our Black Friday TV deals 2021 and our Black Friday OLED TV deals 2021 guides for big savings on some of the best TVs of 2021.

Best set-top boxes 2021:

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Humax FVP-5000T set-top box in black

1. Humax FVP-5000T

A solid set-top box that will suit everyone

Reasons to buy

+
Record four programmes at once
+
Set recordings with your phone
+
Lots of storage
+
FreeviewHD+

Reasons to avoid

-
A few years old now, but still going strong

Humax is one of the biggest names in the world of PVRs, and even though it's been on the market for a few years now the FVP-5000T is the best set-top box you can buy today. Put this nifty device under your TV and you have one of the best hubs for home entertainment.

There are three models to choose from. The entry-level model has a 500GB hard drive, but there are 1TB and 2TB versions if that's not enough for your TV habit. 

A multi-tuner array lets you record up to four programmes (or matches) at once and the 2TB Humax FVP-5000T can store a massive 500 hours of HD content. Or 1000 at SD quality. 

The Humax Live TV app for iOS and Android also lets you set recordings using your phone, and even stream TV to it directly. 

As it uses Freeview Play, the Humax FVP-5000T lets you access all the major UK catch-up services, as well as Netflix and YouTube. 

Sky Q set-top box in black in front of an ipad and tv screen

The best premium set-top box for TV addicts

Reasons to buy

+
Most comprehensive service
+
Multi-room ready
+
Records lots of shows at once

Reasons to avoid

-
Pricey

If you want the very best TV recording experience, no matter the cost, check out Sky Q – once you’ve tried this service, it’s hard to go back. 

Sky Q lets you watch TV and recordings on your phone or tablet, and stream content to other Sky boxes around the house. It’s the multi-room PVR. 

Get the top-end 2TB Ultra HD Sky Q box and you can record a massive six programmes at once while watching a seventh. You get a high-tech Bluetooth remote too. 

There is, of course, a bigger investment involved than with a standard set-top box, though, as you need to pay for a basic Sky TV subscription package, as well as other optional extras like Sky Sports. 

But, if you want your set-top box to do more, Sky Q really is something special. 

Read more: Sky Q review

Virgin Media TiVO

3. Virgin Media TiVO

A cheaper alternative to Sky Q

Reasons to buy

+
Comes free with Virgin Media TV packages
+
Cheaper than Sky Q
+
4K-enabled
+
Lots of storage

Reasons to avoid

-
Isn't as polished as Sky

If Sky looks too pricey to you, Virgin Media is another subscription option to consider. All Virgin Media TV packages now come with an advanced Virgin Media TiVO V6 box. 

It’s significantly better than most stand-alone set-top PVRs. First, it can record six programmes at once (and lets you watch a seventh). It’ll play Netflix and YouTube at 4K resolution and the 1TB hard drive can store 500 hours of SD TV, or 100 at HD quality. 

You can stream TV and recordings to a phone or tablet too. 

But is it that much cheaper than Sky Q? You’ll pay £22 a month for the basic Mix TV package, which offers 150 channels including Sky One, Fox, and of course the terrestrial channels we need for the World Cup. There’s a £20 “set up” fee too, but that’s a lot less than the £199 you’ll pay for Sky’s Ultra HD 2TB box.

Read more: Virgin Media TiVO V6 review

Manhattan T3-R set-top box

(Image credit: Manhattan)

4. Manhattan T3-R

A speedy box with future-proofed picture options

Reasons to buy

+
Responsive interface
+
Some 4K and HDR support
+
Lots of storage
+
Freeview Play UI is great

Reasons to avoid

-
No Netflix or Amazon Prime Video apps

Thanks to its powerful boxes offering responsive interfaces where other similar competition slows to a crawl, Manhattan has made a name for itself in the set-top box space. 

The Manhattan T3-R, available in 500GB and 1TB options is the brand's best yet, and can be found at prices that don't break the bank.

It lets you whizz around the Freeview Play interface, with a simple to understand UI making it pretty much foolproof. All the UK's major TV catch up services are accounted for here, with iPlayer, All 4 and the like present. It also has a function that lets you build your own 'Personal Watchlist' for on-demand content, so you can keep track of shows you're interested, no matter what channel or catch-up platform they originate from.

As quiet as it is speedy, the box makes 1080p content look sharp, but comes into its own when you have a 4K HDR TV, as both picture technologies are supported. It's limited to the YouTube app to deliver HDR content at the moment, but it is future proofed at least for when the terrestrial TV providers start offering the content.

Where it loses marks is on its recording controls (only two channels can be recorded at once) and it's lack of Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription streaming apps. If those services don't interest you however, the smooth operation of the Manhattan T3-R make it hard to ignore at its £170 price tag.

Humax HDR-1100S set-top box in white

5. Humax HDR-1100S

The best set-top box for patchy signals

Reasons to buy

+
Uses a satellite dish for better signal
+
Integrated Wi-Fi
+
Good storage options

Reasons to avoid

-
Only records two programmes at once

Is the Freeview signal weak in your area? You need a Freesat PVR like the Humax HDR-1100S. This uses a satellite dish instead of a standard antenna to receive the TV signal, which means it's the best set-top box for patchy signals. 

Integrated Wi-Fi also lets you access catch-up services, plus YouTube and Netflix. 

Like the Humax FVP-5000T you have a choice of 500GB, 1TB and 2TB models. You just have to decide how much you want to store. Want to keep the entire 2018 World Cup for posterity, including all the pre-match prattle? Look for the 1TB version. 

You can record two programmes at once using the Humax HDR-1100S, and check out the TV guide and set recordings using the Freesat phone app. 

Panasonic DMR-HWT250EB set-top box in black

6. Panasonic DMR-HWT250EB

A great set-top box for 4K TVs

Reasons to buy

+
4K-enabled
+
Lots of storage
+
Long-play recording mode

Reasons to avoid

-
Can only record two programmes at once

The Panasonic DMR-HWT250EB is a sleek-looking alternative to the Humax FVP-5000T. But what’s different with this set-top box?

It’s a Freeview Play and Freeview HD recorder, so you get the same channels and the same access to secondary services like YouTube and Netflix. It only lets you record two programmes at once rather than four, but also has a few extra tricks. 

The Panasonic DMR-HWT250EB can play 4K video through its USB port, a great extra for those with 4K TVs. It also has special long play recording modes that chip down the amount of storage your shows take up. 

You can fit up to 684 hours of HD content on its 1TB hard drive, instead of the 259 hours you’ll get directly capturing the Freeview HD feed. 

BT YouView+ set-top box in black

(Image credit: BT)

7. BT YouView+

An alternative to Freeview

Reasons to buy

+
Budget-friendly
+
Big choice of streaming platforms
+
Flexibility for BT TV subscribers

Reasons to avoid

-
Storage could be better

You might guess you’ll need some sort of subscription to use a BT YouView+ box, but you don’t.

YouView is an alternative to Freeview Play, an interface that combines normal Freeview channels with streaming services. These include Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube. 

If you want to dig deeper you can get this set-top box as part of a BT TV subscription, which unlocks access to extra channels like BT Sport and Comedy Central. 

However, one of the main benefits of the BT YouView+ box is its low price when bought solo – quite frankly, it's a bit of a bargain. 

It “only” has a 500GB hard drive, which can store 300 hours in SD quality or 125 in HD. But that just means you’ll have to juggle your recordings library more. For the tech-heads out there, this box is actually made by PVR master Humax. 

There’s also an Ultra HD version of the YouView+ box, for those with 4K TVs. 

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