Design and interface
It's safe to say that judges for design awards can skip right past this product, for the 7170 is a pleasant-looking device, but no more. The anonymous black shell is dressed up, slightly, by a faux-glass front complete with chromed buttons, and an electric-blue light encircling the power button when the unit's in standby mode. Hiding underneath a rubber flap is a USB port.
Out the back, there's a decent suite of inputs and outputs accompanying the antenna in and out jacks. On the input ledger, there's a port each for eSATA, USB and Ethernet connections. Outbound, there's composite, component, digital audio, coaxial and HDMI ports.
If you've used an older Topfield PVR or set-top box and were left underwhelmed by the interface, the TRF-7170 sports a more modern iteration that's recognisably Topfield, but substantially better. There are, however, a lot of advanced functions that are buried around the place. For instance, the coloured function buttons at the bottom of the remote allow for bookmarking and editing of recordings, but quite how these things are achieved are impossible to decipher without the aid of the manual.
The main menu is split up into Recording, Entertainment, Settings, Installation and Information. In Recording, you'll naturally find everything that you've recorded, as well as a link to the electronic program guide (EPG) and anything that you've programmed.
Unfortunately, loading the list of recorded programs takes a little longer than it should, especially for large collections, as the unit crunches away at its hard disk every single time you jump into the list. Also, it's impossible to select multiple files to delete, which can be a pain if you're trying to free up space in a hurry, or attempting to rid yourself of a series that's failed to live up to expectations.
Blessed with two tuners, the 7170 is able to record two networks at once. Indeed, it's able to record up to four separate streams at once while you watch a fifth. So, for example, you can record 7Two, 7mate, Gem and Nine simultaneously, while watching Seven or Go live. As this Topfield can handle MPEG4, you can also get your fix of Psychic TV on TV4.
The TRF-7170's 1TB hard disk should be good, according to our calculations, for between 505 hours of standard-definition footage and 175 hours of high-definition sport. The grid view for the EPG works well, allowing you to easily select programs to record. Press the remote's blue button in the EPG screen to mark the highlighted show for intelligent or series recording, which works well, picking up instances that are broadcast outside of its regular time, or even after a long hiatus.
Pity, then, that the system also has the unfortunate habit of labelling a recording based on the first show in that recording, not the program that occupies most of the time. This could lead to a lot of Deal or No Deal files, when, in fact, you've been hoarding episodes of Seven News. Another playback gripe is that when selecting a recording, the Topfield defaults to starting from beginning, not where you left off.
Non-TV media can be accessed from the Entertainment menu. JPEG images, DivX and MKV videos and MP3 music files can be enjoyed from USB drives or eSATA hard disks. They can also be copied across to the unit's 1TB hard disk, while TV recordings can be copied the other way, although you'll need a copy of KMPlayer to view recordings on a PC.
Unlike TV recordings, there's no option to resume play, nor to bookmark DivX and MKV files, so it's a good thing that the TRF-7170 can fast forward (and rewind) at 128 times the viewing speed.
The TRF-7170 can be programmed from a remote location, but this does require a bit of networking nous. Firstly, the box needs to be hooked up to your home network via the Ethernet port or the optional USB wireless dongle. Then you need to enable the system's web service and punch a hole through your firewall.
The TRF-7170 is a fully featured 1TB twin tuner PVR that does its job — just don't expect any servings of panache.