03 May 2014

Unbundle Yourself: Part 3 - a PVR for Antenna Users... Under $50!

By Ed




One of the big selling features of modern cable and satellite packages seems to be the Personal Video Recorder (PVR).  Simpler to use than a VCR, will remember the shows you like and grab them every week, and while you watch live TV it allows you to pause to get a drink or answer the door or whatever.

I wasn't super-pumped about any of those features, until a spent a few Sundays at a friend's house watching NFL on his PVR. He'd start recording the 1pm Kickoff game, but we wouldn't start watching it till 2-ish. You can get really spoiled watching a football game where every commercial break can suddenly fly by at fast forward and then -bang- you're back watching the game again.

Robin and I have also found that many of the shows we like to watch happen right around kid-bedtime. A PVR would be handy for that too. In other words, I'd started to see the value. Now, to find a PVR system that works with an Antenna...



I have now been looking for decent OTA Personal Video Recorder options for a while. I had pretty well given up - not because they don't exist, but because they are too costly. Save and Replay has a high-end unit that they rave about. It costs nearly $300 and if you check around, Amazon reviewers have been less than kind in their praise. I quit looking... and then of course, I found one.

While looking for a Tuner box for a hand-me-down LCD flatscreen we put in our guestroom, I came across the HW-150PVR. It was a good price - not the cheapest tuner box I had ever seen, but not the most expensive. It had many inputs and outputs, which I love. And it had a USB port, which I read could be used for playing media files. Bonus.


TVO tuned via the HW-150 PVR - crystal clear via the component connection (it also has HDMI, AV and Coax)

I also noticed that it listed PVR as a function. I figured it was a typo or some form of model number error. More reading ensued. It does, indeed, work as a PVR.
But how well does it work? I took a gamble and ordered one. For $50, I figured even if the PVR was junk, I would at least have a tuner/media player for our guestroom TV.


Pros:
  • The PVR really does work! I tried a 16GB USB jump drive, used the built-in channel guide and set it to record the Daily Show. The next morning, I watched the Daily Show. 
Left image is the PVR menu showing a preview of the recorded show. Right side is the program - look carefully in the top and you can see a 2X Fast Forward to demo that the program is actually being played from PVR.

  • The $50 price tag is crazy-cheap. You can pay $50 for a TV tuner alone, another $50 for a media player and $300 for a PVR. This does all of those things in one pretty compact little box.
  • Lots of inputs, outputs and pass-throughs. Most people like simple, and this can be as simple as hooking up a DVD player. But I also like versatility. This could connect to your TV, allow you to PVR one channel while you watch another on the pass-through. It also has audio-out options for sound systems and soundbars. It is Logitech Harmony remote compatible too for those of you into Universal Remotes.
  • The Electronic Program Guide (EPG) shows a day in advance for PVR-ing. My Sony and Samsung TVs only ever display an hour or two.

CityTV's evening schedule via the HW-150 PVR's EPG

  • Using the PVR function, you can pause and time-shift live TV. Fast Forwarding commercials rules and I am eager to try this out.

Cons 
  • The user interface isn't great. The overall structure takes a little getting used to and I have had it freeze a couple times (usually while doing something demanding like using the EPG to channel surf for programs to record). Switching off and on always fixed any issues.
  • The PVR function works best with a portable hard drive. If you use a USB thumb drive, be sure to format it in the machine to FAT32. I've read reviews complaining about USB drives not working at all, but as long as I changed the format from NTFS to FAT32, it was all OK. The portable Hard Drive I tested worked regardless of format. If that all read as gibberish, this may not be a user friendly PVR for you
  • The PVR eats up memory - about 1GB for every 10 minutes of HD recording. My 16 GB jump drive would only be good for about 2 hours. There isn't a way to change the recording quality either, so if you get one of these baby's with PVRing in mind, get a big portable hard drive as well.
  • It requires a little tech skill to learn. This is probably true of any PVR system, and honestly, I found programing with this thing easier than using a VCR to record programs in the 90's, so it isn't that bad.
  • Brand Rep? "MediaSonic" and "Homeworx" are not household names. I have owned this unit exactly 1 month, so I can't tell how durable/reliable it is in the long term. They do have very active Customer Service forums on their website and release firmware updates as required, so that seems like a good sign. They should maybe toss in a couple AAA batteries for the remote in the future.



So my final thoughts? Worth it 100% as a fill-in TV tuner for my guest room. I can PVR occasional shows as needed and experiment to see if it merits buying another unit for use in our main media room. Were I to do that, I would add a larger, dedicated hard drive to record to and be all set. I leave it to you if you want to roll the $50 dice like I did.


Do you PVR? Is it worth the extra fee for you?

4 comments:

  1. This sounds cool for a non-cable/satellite subscriber like me. Rather than an antenna and OTA signals, I get the local broadcast stations (CBS, NBC, etc.) via my apartment complex's cable provider. Do you think this would work with that setup?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the answer is no - I had a look at the manual and website and it only ever says "digital" or "ATSC" signal. I'm pretty sure that most cable companies use analog, NTSC signal for the basic service. I couldn't find a 100% certain answer though, sorry.
      I'll keep looking and repost if I do find a definitive answer. Thanks for the question.

      Delete
  2. Hi: I'm interested in this unit as a PVR. Some reviews in Amazon said the sensitivity of the tuner wasn't as good as their tv. Did you find that? This post is from 2014. How is the reliability over the last two years?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ron - I didn't notice much difference between my regular tuners and the Homeworx PVR one. I honestly didn't give it much of a try because it was a guest room thing for us AND because it stopped working after the first year. This could be just a bad unit or it could be because I never really turned it off, but my reliability score for it is 'low'. Hope this helps and thanks for asking as I had been meaning to update this post with a "it stopped working" detail.

      Delete

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