So, if you're looking to replace your decrepit VCR you need to pay about AU$600 for a Personal Video Recorder right? Well, not any more. While Kogan has undercut everyone with its AU$99 model, Topfield has released its own budget PVR in the Topfield TBF-7120 pack. The TBF-7120 was a set-top box that enabled users to plug in their own hard drive and use it as a PVR, and now the company has bundled the machine with a hard drive for the same price.
Design and features
The TBF-7120 is a single-tuner set-top box, which usually means you can only watch or record one channel at a time, but thanks to some wizardry on Topfield's behalf you can now watch a different channel on the same "stream" as the one you are recording. For instance, if you're taping Nine HD you will be able to watch Go or Nine SD as well. While not as flexible as a dual-tuner set-up, it's not a bad stop-gap solution. You also have the option of turning Time Shift on or off — so you can pause and rewind live TV — though you will lose this ability if you're also recording something.
The TBF-7120 is a bare-bones set-top box (STB) and so perhaps not the most stylish unit around. It's a black oblong featuring a green, four-character LED readout and a bright blue power button on the front.
The hard drive itself is fairly nondescript with a small plastic stand and the Topfield logo printed on it. The drive has a 320GB capacity and links to the STB via the single USB on the backside of the unit. You'll also need a spare power point to power the drive.
The PVR is Freeview compliant, which means that there's no 30-second skip, and you're limited to 6x fast-forward and 3x rewind. However, there is also MPEG-4 compatibility for if and when Australia ever moves to a better broadcast standard.
For your AV needs the outputs include HDMI, component, composite and digital optical.
If you've ever used a Topfield PVR then you should be familiar with the way the TBF-7120 works. The EPG and main menu are identical to other models in the company's line, and while the EPG in particular is not the easiest to navigate it's still better than most. When we first started testing the device we came across an odd quirk, if you forward through the EPG and one of the stations doesn't have all of the data loaded it dumps you back to the start of the day. We found this quite annoying and confusing and noticed other hiccups too, such as giving you EPG data four hours in advance of the actual time by default.
So, the EPG isn't the best, but how's the recorder? Good actually. Pressing the record button automatically records two hours of the channel you're on and recording quality is the equal of "live" footage. Pressing record again lets you choose to record the current show instead and even add the one after it. However, the on-screen display when trying to cancel a current recording is a bit confusing. You have two options available when you press the "Stop" — naturally being "stop the current recording" or "continue" — but the highlighted and not highlighted icons look very similar, and there's no confirmation after you choose one of the options. You don't know if you've halted the recording or not unless you check.
The unit will upscale SD content up to 1080i, and we found no negative artefacts such as jaggies or ghosting when doing so. In fact, it cut down on having a one- to two-second lag when changing between stations with different resolutions.
Though the website says the box will only accept a 320GB hard drive, and hence why there's one bundled, we had no troubles attaching an external 500GB drive to the machine and recording to it.
While it's theoretically possible to view the recordings made by the STB on a computer, we found it didn't work. Unfortunately, the REC files made by the Topfield were unreadable by our PC.
If you're looking for a "cheap" set-top box that will also record the occasional program then the Topfield TBF-7120 isn't a bad option. It's fairly quirky, but as long as you can live with the compromises inherent with having a single tuner recorder then the Topfield should work fairly well.