There are PVRs… and then there is the Sky+HD 1TB box. This latest iteration of the UK's most popular digital recorder is the fastest, slickest, biggest receiver yet from the UK satcaster.
Somewhat like Lady Gaga, the attractiveness of the original Sky+HD receiver (and now the default unit for any new Sky+ subscriber), divided opinion. But there's no debate about this new version: it's a beauty.
Slightly smaller than the original, with an unusual pearlescent grey finish and understated cosmetics, this Amstrad-made box is a bit of a head-turner. Beneath the polished hood is a hulking 1.5 Terabyte hard drive. Be aware that 'only' 1TB of this is available for your personal recordings; the rest is partitioned off for Sky's Push content service, Sky Anytime.
It may have taken Anytime (ahem) time to develop into a worthwhile service, but it is now a great (DOG-less) catch-all for key movie premieres and season openers/finales. So being able to store more content here can only be a good thing.
The iconic Sky remote has also had a very slight cosmetic upgrade which reflects the same steel-grey finish of the main unit.
Backside connections are standard fare. There's an HDMI v1.3 output, digital optical audio, Scart for legacy connection, dish-friendly F-connectors, plus (inactive) e-SATA, USB and Ethernet ports. There's also a sleeping USB behind the front fascia flap.
For the record, Sky's PVR unit does the same stuff as before, including one-touch series recording, two tuners, and pausing and rewinding of live TV. Those hoping for an additional third tuner (à la Virgin Media's V+HD unit) may be disappointed.
No need to ration
When it comes to hi-def, no other platform offers as much choice as Sky. At the last count it boasted around 40 channels, with Sky News HD the newest attraction. As any long-standing Sky+HD user knows, the actual consequence of such high-resolution richness was a need to ration what is recorded.
HD programmes naturally consume more HDD space than SD, and like many users I quickly found myself waging a King Canute-like battle against disk space. This in turn meant I was skipping a lot of material I might otherwise have liked to see, particularly from the numerous HD film channels.
The upgrade in capacity offered by the new 1TB drive changes everything. Suddenly there's no pressing space constraint. Whereas before I would make a judgement call if a show really needed to be time-shifted in high-definition, now I could always go for the best-quality option.
With four times more memory than a regular box, you can hoard around 240 hours of HD content. I suddenly found myself recording hi-def movies simply because I could, just to see how much I could budge the percentage space gauge. The freedom is dizzying.
I suspect the space boost may also pay big dividends when Sky rolls out its Pull version of Anytime later this year (that's if it involves pulling content onto the hard drive rather than just streaming?). As it stands, the box can bag around 100 hours of on-demand HD, which means you may never have to watch any standard-def channels ever again.
In practical terms, this 1TB box also seems faster than previous models. The EPG, which is cached on the drive, isn't as laggy as on the original HD boxes. Navigation is crisp and responsive. I've had both the original Thomson box (it died) and a newer (component-less) variant, and this is the best of the lot.
Image and sound quality is largely dependent on the broadcast source. Overall performance can be considered excellent, with the best-encoded channels looking astoundingly sharp. Curiously, the new box still refuses to output multichannel sound (Dolby Digital 5.1) over HDMI – only stereo PCM is available.
I still have some issues with the format of the high-def EPG interface – I can't be alone in wanting an option to disable both the mini TV and accompanying audio (I've lost count of the number of times I've inadvertently seen/heard the end of a show I'm recording) – but general usability is undeniably better.
Overall, this is welcome upgrade to the original Sky+HD design, and the hard drive bump seems appropriate given the ever-increasing number of HD channels coming to the platform. For TV and home cinema addicts, this 1TB treat is well worth the premium.
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