Topfield TF5810PVR personal video recorder - Review

Topfield TF5810PVR personal video recorder - Review

Topfield TF5810PVR personal video recorder - ReviewWatch and record Freeview, and do much more

Pros: Excellent build quality; Superb picture; Quick, easy menus; Well-written manual

Cons: A little more expensive than its competitors

Bottomline: The high price is justified by the TF5810's picture and build quality.

Vista compatibility: Yes

Manufacturer: Topfield

Personal video recorders that can receive Freeview, relatively rare only a year ago, are now so popular that the prices are dropping substantially.

So can it possibly be worth spending £300 on such a device? It would have to do rather a lot in order to justify that kind of outlay, but luckily for Topfield, the TF5810 does.

There are two Freeview tuners inside the box, which means it's possible to record one programme while watching another on a different channel.

The box has an HDMI socket – a small connector for hooking the box up to a high-definition television set, which carries both audio and video – and it can 'upscale' the video to fit high-definition screens. That's quite important because normal Freeview channels look awful when they're stretched to fit across large modern flat-panel screens.

The Freeview channels displayed by the TF5810 look pretty impressive, although not as good as the Freeview HD channels. Those are currently available only in London, but in any case the TF5810 can't pick them up, despite its high-definition output.

It also has an optical digital output for sound, which will give good quality stereo should you have an amplifier or speaker system that can accept it. Finally, there's a USB port on the back that allows the box to be connected to a computer.

Unlike most such devices, the TF5810 will allow users to copy recordings off the box and onto the computer for archiving. It's an easy process, although you first need to download some software from the website. The software isn't very user-friendly – in fact, the installation dialogue boxes were in Chinese, for some reason – but it works well. It would have been nice to have had it on CD, though, particularly considering the asking price.

The front-panel display is bright and clear, and shows the name of the channel or recording being shown. There's a 500GB hard disk, which is enough to store 250 hours of television. The two tuners require separate aerial inputs, but the kit comes with a connecting cable if you don't have two aerials.

There's an eight-day electronic programme guide, which can be used to look for programmes and set recordings (with just a click). A second click allows you to record a whole series (something Sky Plus users will know as Series Link). It's compatible with Top-up TV, although you'll need a subscription for that. There are a lot of third-party downloads on the internet that can change the way the box works, although that's really something for tinkerers more than home users.

Topfield is a company that pays a lot of attention to its users, and in fact a lot of user suggestions have been incorporated into the TF5810. The attention to detail shows all over the place – in the well-written manual or the fact that the menus are displayed in high definition, rather than the grotty standard definition used by many Freeview boxes, even those with HD outputs. Likewise, the box's build quality is excellent – it's the size of a DVD player and it feels very solid, again unlike the plasticky boxes some manufacturers use.

Despite the price premium, the TF8510's quality makes it more than worth the money.