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

These days, many of us watch a healthy mix of live TV and streamed content – and the best set-top box models of 2021 make it easier to keep on top of your favorite shows, whether you're counting down the days to the return of the Premier League or flicking through Netflix for your next movie fix. 

Set-top boxes – or PVRs (Personal Video Recorders) – allow you to record live TV to watch later, so you never have to miss out on your favorite programmes or spend ages trying to find the latest episode on a catch-up service. 

While their popularity has dwindled over the years as more of us get hooked onto catch-up and streaming services like Netflix, the best set-top boxes give you the best of both worlds, allowing you to record live TV and access the best streaming platforms in one neat package. 

There are a lot of options out there when it comes to picking the best set-top box for you, which is why we've put together this handy list of the very best models you can buy in 2021.

Best set-top boxes 2020:

Humax FVP-5000T

1. Humax FVP-5000T

The best set-top box you can buy in 2020

Reasons to buy
+Record four programmes at once+Set recordings with your phone+Lots of storage+FreeviewHD+
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

Humax is one of the main names in the world of PVRs, and the FVP-5000T is the best set-top box you can buy right now. Put this nifty device under your TV and you have one of the best hubs for home entertainment money can buy. 

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 is just 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

2. Sky Q

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

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 your other subscription option. 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

(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

Manhattan is quickly making a name for itself in the set-top box world, thanks to its powerful boxes offering responsive interfaces where other similar competition slows to a crawl. The Manhattan T3-R, available in 500GB and 1TB options is their 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

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

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+

(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. 

What about my TV?

There's no point in having the best set-top box in the world if your TV's display is terrible; that's why we have the following roundups for you to browse:

On a budget? Check out the best cheap TV sales and 4K deals this month.