The TRF7160's design is pretty nondescript. We're quite used to set-top boxes being black little numbers with not much pizzazz, and that's the TRF7160 in a nutshell. It's visually very similar to the TBF-7120, except that the hard drive's internal and the LCD display extends to more than four characters. Bland isn't necessarily bad in the PVR space, though, as ideally you're going to want to spend more time looking at the display above it anyway. From the rear you'll find composite, component and HDMI video output, optical audio and a single USB and LAN port.
One thing you shouldn't have to spend much time looking at is a good remote control, but the TRF7160's remote is far from good. It's cluttered with way too many buttons that are all closely grouped together and similarly shaped. Even after extensive testing, we still couldn't confidently hit the play button on the middle of a group of similar sized buttons without visually checking first. To make matters worse the buttons are squishy and sometimes unresponsive.
The TRF7160 is a dual-tuner EPG with a 500GB hard drive with support for up to 1080i video output. In terms of digital free-to-air that's fine — nobody's yet broadcasting in 1080p — but in terms of playing back other video it's a slightly limiting factor. The TRF7160 is capable of media playback in DivX, .vob, .mkv or MP4 format, although annoyingly it can't do so over a network despite the presence of an Ethernet port. Instead, it can only handle those media files if they're on a USB flash drive, the port for which is on the rear of the unit. That means if the playback feature is important to you, you can't put it into an AV cabinet.
So what's the ethernet port for? At a basic dull level, it'll handle firmware updates. At a slightly more compelling level, it'll also allow you to play an in-built networked video game. Finally, it opens up the possibility for the TRF7160 to serve files and create new recording profiles over the internet. The TRF7160 isn't Freeview certified, which means that ad-skipping is supported via a dedicated button on the remote control.
The TRF7160 passes the test in terms of basic PVR functionality, as it'll capably handle EPG scheduling, pausing live TV and playback of recorded files. Similar to other Topfield PVRs we've tested lately the in-built menus work but lack elegance or simplicity, something that's made a little worse by the provided remote control. Far too often we had to interrupt our TV viewing time simply to work out the next menu command, something that a little bit of design work and better build quality could easily have rectified.
We've seen plenty of bodgy in-built games in set-top boxes before, with variants on snake and Tetris the usual suspects, but Topfield's mined another gaming genre with its in-built game, Battle Tanks. It's a Worms clone, controlled entirely from the remote control, and it's playable either over the network or as a single player game. It's an ambitious gambit that doesn't quite pay off, again due to the remote control not being as precise as it really should be.
Over the internet, you can access already recorded content and set up new timers, but unless you're very network savvy, you'll find Topfield's provided instructions a little bare-bones for getting the service working. Even after we'd opened ports and set up fixed IP addresses for everything, we struggled to get the system working at times. When it did, it was very rudimentary, and best used more for setting remote recordings than attempting to transfer files.
The TRF7160 ticks the right PVR boxes in most important aspects, but we can't say it's a particularly engaging choice. It's hampered by the need for complex networking set-up in order to get remote access working and by a poorly laid out remote control, factors that make it less compelling next to similarly priced PVR options.