I just bought a Sony 42 inch Full HD TV. It is connected to Freeview via an antenna. I want to record programs. Most recording devices seem to include a Freeview tuner, but my TV has a built-in Freeview tuner. I’m confused. Presumably I don’t need a machine with a tuner? Ideas? Julian
You don’t need a machine with a Freeview tuner. In fact, you probably don’t need a machine at all. However, you might still want to buy one …
In the old days, people who wanted to record TV programs would buy a VCR or VCR to connect to their TV. The VCR had its own analog TV tuner, so it did not record from the TV – it recorded programs from the signal it received from the TV antenna. Indeed, it was an essential part of the appeal of the VCR: you could record something while watching another TV program.
Fast forward to today: The government has shut down analogue television broadcasting and replaced it with a form of digital television based on DVB-T (standard definition) and DVB-T2 (high definition). The digital signal that probably comes in through the same TV antenna needs to be decoded by a Freeview or Freeview HD tuner, and Freeview tuners have been included in all TVs sold in the UK since 2008.
Some TVs allow users to record TV programs directly to a USB hard drive, without using a VCR or DVR (digital video recorder). This involves plugging a USB stick or external hard drive into the correct USB port. In Sony Bravia TVs, this is the second USB port, labeled HDD Rec. See the section on recording to USB HDD in the European Bravia website online i-Manual (versions for other regions may vary).
Make sure to use an external hard drive with its own power supply, rather than using the power available through the USB socket.
On his website, Sony lists 14 Bravia TVs that can record to an external hard drive and 41 models that can play from an external hard drive. There is a good chance that your TV can record programs, but this is not guaranteed.
When you connect a USB storage device for recording, the TV will format it and this will delete whatever is already on the player. For playback, Sony TVs can recognize FAT and exFAT file systems, but – unlike some other TVs – Windows NTFS file system cannot.
Problem solved? Not really.
Disadvantages of USB recording
The biggest drawback of most Freeview TVs is that they only have one tuner. This is good if you are using the timer to record something when you are away, but not if you want to record one program while watching another. To do this you need two Freeview tuners.
However, USB recording technology, as it is generally implemented, has other drawbacks. (I cannot speak from experience of specific Sony Bravia models, so you will need to check what applies to your TV.)
The downsides come mainly from the content provider’s war on copy, which they almost always see as “piracy.” To begin with, Sony’s i-Manual states that “recording is not possible if the program is not authorized by the operator”. Even if it does, content providers don’t want you to be able to record a program from a TV and then plug it into a PC. Sony and presumably other TVs therefore format USB devices using partitions that PCs cannot handle.
Therefore, programs recorded via USB can be digitally “locked” on this TV. If so, you won’t be able to “start” or edit them, copy them to another hard drive, or play them in another room or at a friend’s house. These were all things you could do with an old fashioned video tape.
And if your TV dies, your recordings probably won’t work on your new TV, or not without some form of online registration. (I haven’t come across this, but please comment below if you have it.)
To sum up: USB recording should work well for timeshifting and recording programs when you are away, using the Freeview EPG (Electronic Program Guide). However, USB sticks are not a substitute for a VCR. For this you need a DVR or PVR (Personal Video Recorder).
Advantages of DVR / PVR
The main advantage of having a DVR / PVR is that it will have one or two built-in Freeview tuners, so you can record one program while watching another. Most also support ‘serial link’, so you can choose to save each edition of Dr Who or whatever, rather than ‘pasting’ each separately. Additionally, most work as DNLA servers and can stream programs to other DNLA compatible Blu-ray players and TVs through your home network.
Most PVRs allow you to save recorded programs to an external hard drive – essential when you are running out of space – and some Panasonic models can record or copy programs to DVD. However, there may be limitations on copying files from a PVR, and it can reformat your external hard drive, much like a TV. In general, high definition content and HDMI connections have more restrictions than standard definition content.
Finally, there is reading. Your Sony Bravia TV plays digital videos from your PC or other sources if you copy them to a USB stick or external hard drive in FAT or preferably exFAT format. However, PVRs generally support a wider range of video and audio formats. Check the specifications if you want to play files in avi, DivX, Xvid, etc.
As far as I know, the movie industry is pushing us towards systems that can only be used for timeshift and streaming. If you want to watch something more than once, you will need to purchase it on DVD / Blu-ray or pay-per-view.