The design of the TRF2400 is in keeping with a "Masterpiece" and mimics the austere elegance of other Topfield devices like the TF7100HDPVRt. It's smaller than most PVRs and features a glossy black front with a round control panel in the centre. The front panel also features a green LCD readout, which is quite easy to discern from across a room. There is a pull-down flap on the right-hand side that hides two USB ports as well.
We really like the new remote control. It may look like a 70's scientific calculator, but it's actually quite fun. It's also a learning remote and can control up to three other devices.
We'll get the tech specs out of the way first: the Masterpiece features twin high-definition tuners, which means you can record one channel while watching/recording another; it comes with a 500GB hard drive; and it will accept an extra external drive up to 1TB.
As an internet-connected device, the Topfield offers several web services to users including weather, and YouTube (with search) and Flickr. In addition, the unit is able to play media files from an external drive and most codecs are supported, including HD video favourite MKV. While not a well-publicised feature, the Topfield does offer you the ability to move your recorded files off the machine and onto a PC. Topfield offers a browser which is actually quite intuitive, and means you can access the drive from any web browser. You can also move files onto the device's drive if you like.
The PVR supports the free seven-day electronic program guide, but the best functionality such as series and remote recording are available if you sign up for an account with IceTV. Though the unit supports the all-important MPEG4, the box is not Freeview compatible.
Topfield is one of the few companies that still allow 30-sec skipping (for ads, dontcha know) but it's a little tricky to get a handle on for first-time users because you use the coloured buttons instead. For this, the "Yellow" button skips forward and the "Green" button sets a bookmark that you can return to later.
One of the devices' most heralded features is that it has a component input for recording from other devices. But unfortunately it will only support a maximum of 576p, and so HD devices won't work.
The set-top box also comes with a game, Battle Tank, but as it's designed to be used with the wireless keyboard available on the European model it doesn't quite work properly. Topfield Australia says the keyboard may become available later as an optional accessory.
One of the things you want when buying a PVR is for the unit to be seamless — it should be easy to change channels and record new shows, for example. We don't want to have to enter menu after menu to get to the feature we want — we want it at our fingertips. While the four icons on the menu page do simplify things a little there is still some menu skulduggery involved. However, the experience is rather fluid, though not quite "slick", and it's relatively easy to record shows or find recorded ones. When compared to other Topfield units it's much better, but when judged against competitors such as TiVo and iQ we'd still give the latter two the nod. It's not always obvious which menu you need to access some features — for example, to record from the component input you need to choose "Entertainment" instead of "Record" and navigate to the bottom of that menu. Admittedly, this will only be an issue once, as you'll know where it is for next time. Topfield informs us that you can also use the "M" button as a shortcut.
Recording quality was very good, and everything from sport to an "HD" re-run of Seinfeld looked detailed and crisp. That said, up against a megalithic machine like the Panasonic DMR-BW750 flesh tones in particular were a little vague and the Panasonic showed better detail when recording sport from One HD. There was also a little more "moire" and jaggies on edges on the Topfield, but in isolation it did look pretty good.
We did have some problems accessing the Ice TV guide from work, but on a less-complicated home network the guide was able to download properly and we were able to use the remote scheduler — which is a lot better than Foxtel's needlessly Flash-heavy web guide.
All of the web features — YouTube, weather etc — worked as we expected, and we were able to view MKV files as well without an issue. On the "portability" side, we were able to view the Topfield's ".rec" files in Windows Media Player without a problem once we installed SMPlayer. This is such a great feature, and much preferable to TiVo's AU$200 Home Networking package — and it isn't weighed down with DRM! We also found playback quality on the PC was every bit as good on the TV, and Media Player was able to handle the files without the interlacing problems that some PC-recorded files have.
Recording from the component input was a little hit and miss, as it refused to record from an Xbox or DVD player — more than likely because of copy-protection issues. However, when we recorded from yet another Topfield tuner the recording came out fine — and you can tweak the recording quality if you want.
While the Topfield will ostensibly accept an external drive it didn't work with (nor recognise) the recent My DVR Expander released by Western Digital (WD) — though this is not surprising as the WD is pushed as a TiVo product anyway. Topfield advises that most garden variety external drives should work.