Topfield's TF6000PVRt, available in either black or a very evil twin style silver plastic casing is, at first glance, almost indistinguishable from Topfield's previously available PVR, the TF5000PVRt. The remote is the same -- although if you're moving from either the silver or black to the opposite number you'll get a swap from black to silver in the remote body, and vice versa -- and for the large part all of the menus, setup screens and functions are likewise identical. The remotes are in fact identical on every functional score, which gave us no end of headaches while running two units simultaneously.
The sole remarkable design difference between the two models is the inclusion of an antenna socket (and a provided antenna) that gives the TF6000PVRt wireless connectivity options for downloading and uploading files and program guides. It's a good addition to the series -- previously, the only way you could wirelessly update the TF5000PVRT was with a very specific Netgear router, and even that was limited to IceTV updates only.
The wireless connection used by the TF6000PVRt is an 802.11b/g connection, which isn't exactly up to flinging around high definition content, but then, the TF6000PVRt isn't a high definition recorder in any case; you're limited to a set of twin standard definition tuners. The hard drive has taken an upgrade hit, with a 200GB model in the TF6000PVRt. That's good for just over fifty hours of recorded content on the drive.
As with the TF5000PVRt, the real appeal of the TF6000PVRt lies in the amount of customisation you can perform on the box, thanks to its ability to run small compatible applications -- called TAPs, or Topfield Application Programs -- to tweak the box's performance, give it an electronic program guide, or even run Doom. Well, crawl Doom, really, as it's pretty much a tech demo, and we're not sure why you'd want to, but the functionality is there. Also in common with the TF5000PVRt, the TF6000PVRt comes with a six month subscription to IceTV's electronic program guide (EPG) service, although the setup for the EPG is somewhat different to that of the TF5000PVRt.
Setting up the TF6000PVRt is much like any other Digital STB in the first instance. The setup menus are easy to navigate and with a minimum of fuss we had the unit scanning for local digital channels in the Sydney market, which it found and named appropriately. The next step involves setting up the wireless connectivity, and it's here where we suspect that many consumers will become stuck; even with a fairly good grasp of wireless technology we were stumped by some of the TF6000PVRt's wireless setup menus. Even the product manual, which is exemplary in this day and age of PDF manuals by sheer dint of weighing in at 78 actual pages, isn't much help, as it's rather poorly translated and the layout makes it tough to work out what some numeric settings are actually for. Hopefully a future firmware update -- and perhaps a rewrite or retranslation of the manual -- will sort out the sometimes awkward nature of the TF6000PVRt's wireless operation.
Once wireless operation is up and running, it's possible to remotely control the TF6000PVRt, including uploading and downloading programs, MP3 files and TAPs. It's worth bearing in mind that the TF6000PVRt's recording format is rather data heavy -- a typical one-hour program can easily tip the 1GB mark -- so file transfers can be somewhat slow. The Web interface is very simple to use, although irritatingly it insists on Internet Explorer as its browser of choice. It's also completely unprotected by any kind of password, which is poor security, especially when the product manual suggests using DDNS to remotely program the Topfield. A great idea in theory, but do you want your program archive -- and potentially your network -- open to the entire Internet? It's also somewhat disappointing that the wireless functionality of the TF6000PVRt can't be used in a UPNP streaming fashion from a media server, although that's more of a feature wish than a true omission.
One of the major draws of the Topfield range has been its ability to use the paid IceTV EPG for easy program recording, and the inclusion of wireless makes this even easier in theory, as there's no need to plug the unit into a nearby net-connected PC to keep your television guide up to date. This functionality is provided by a modified version of the IceGuide4Topfield TAP, the Ice Net Loader TAP. While the ability to have a constantly updated EPG is a great one -- it'll update automatically every 24 hours, or you can force updates manually through the TAP interface -- the implementation was marred in our testing by a high level of programming errors. Installing the TAP involves a USB connection and the usual Altair-driven transfer used for most TAPs, and then a reboot of the TF6000PVRt. You've then got to enter your IceTV username and login, which was where our TF6000PVRt locked up -- every time. A phone call on a Friday evening at 8:30pm -- half an hour before IceTV's support lines are meant to close -- was met with an answering machine, and at the time of writing, we're still to hear back from the IceTV support technicians. Thankfully, we were able to muddle through solving the problem ourselves; for the record if your system locks up on entering the IceTV password, then reboot, connect up via USB and delete every TAP on the system, as well as any Ice data already on the unit. Then reboot, re-upload the Ice Net Loader TAP and cross your fingers -- that's the solution that eventually worked for us.
The TV watching and recording experience with the TF6000PVRt was essentially identical to that of the TF5000PVRt, which isn't that suprising. We did notice some issues when connecting via component cables -- the TF6000PVRt lacks HDMI or DVI, making component your best visual choice -- in that on some system reboots the picture came up extremely garbled. Testing with the almost identical TF5000PVRT on the same cables and the same display (the Philips 32PF9830) revealed no such issues -- again, hopefully a firmware upgrade will fix these slight glitches.
The TF6000PVRt represents a nice evolution of the TF5000PVRt model, although if you've already got one of the existing boxes the addition of wireless may not be enough of a carrot to make the upgrade worthwhile, especially with the wireless connectivity being as relatively fiddly as it currently is. If you're after a brand new PVR with good EPG integration and a wide range of customisable options, however, it's hard to overlook the TF6000PVRt.