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Last Updated: Friday, 28 September 2007, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Click Essentials: PVRs

Our essential guide for getting the most out of personal video recorders.

An 80GB hard drive can hold around 40 hours of programmes

Recording live TV can be frustrating. Video cassette recorders can be fiddly to program and hunting for a spare tape to record on is no fun either.

DVD recorders are a bit neater, the discs take up less space and recording quality can be better. But watch those scratches.

Cue the PVR - personal video recorder - a computer hard drive in a box. It has a large capacity: you can pause, rewind and forward live TV and setting up a recording is a doddle. But first, the jargon buster.

The size of the hard disk is important, especially if you are planning to record many hours of video. Most budget PVRs come with an 80GB hard drive. Generally, you get one hour of recording for every 2GB of space - so 80GB will hold around 40 hours of video.

But sometimes your digital supplier will reserve part of your hard drive for other stuff, like on-demand services, and this reduces the amount you can record.

Time shifting

First thing to try out is time shifting - you can pause and rewind live TV. And that means fast forwarding through adverts, and not missing anything should you be overcome by the call of nature.

Now many PVRs will let you watch one channel while recording another and depending on how clever it is, you may be able to record two channels at once and watch a previous recording at the same time. And you may even be able to get away with watching a third channel live, while recording two others.

And get ready for triple tuner PVRs, which we are starting to see, although bear in mind that many channels now have a +1 version, repeating their programmes an hour later, so you might not need one.


Next up, the electronic programme guide (EPG) - the on-screen schedule, showing what is coming up later or in days to come.

Check out how many days of EPG your PVR supports as this will determine how far ahead you can schedule your recordings.

Some recorders feature a Series Link option which means you can record an entire series of a show with one button press.

And last but not least you might want to check for a high speed USB slot on the box which means you can archive your recordings on to a PC.

If you have got all that, it is time to select a programme from the EPG, press record, and the recording is scheduled. Or just press record when watching a channel to start recording instantly.

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