Model: DigitalView XC4912
Rating: 9 out of 10
Price: $49.95 inc. GST
Digital video recorders and network media players have really kicked on over the last six months or so and they’re becoming incredibly popular. And it’s not surprising given the number of big-screen TVs that have been sold in the same time frame.
It doesn’t take long sitting in front of a big-screen TV to realise that the old VCR no longer cuts the mustard in this high-definition era.
However, while a VCR might cost you less than $100 these days, the same can’t be said for most hard drive-based personal video recorders (PVRs). You’ll be lucky to spend less than $400 and get something decent – but expect to spend upwards of $600 to get something that has a digital TV tuner card and will capture your favourite TV shows.
These days, it’s rare to find a house with only one big-screen TV and that’s not surprising given how cheap most big-screen TVs are today. With Samsung flogging its 32-inch LED-backlit LCD TV for under $700 at major retailers, you’re no longer talking a king’s ransom to have two (okay, 32-inch TVs might not be ‘big screen’ but it’s still plenty big enough as a second telly).
However, when it comes to recording digital TV, you don’t need to spend another $700 or so on another PVR – in fact, you can do it for around $50.
The DigitalView XC4912 sells for only $49.95 (even cheaper on eBay) and for its tiny price tag, it’s a suprisingly good little unit.
First up, it’s a digital set-top box (STB) so if you’re using an old CRT TV and wondering what to do when analog TV begins shutting down in Australia shortly, this little unit will cover that. The downside is that it’s only a standard-definition (SD) box so it won’t show high-definition channels but if you’re using it with an old CRT TV, you won’t notice the difference.
Next, it’s a PVR but with a twist. Instead of coming with internal storage, it features a USB port where you supply the storage – and it can simply be a USB flash drive. What’s great about this is that it makes it dead easy to transfer TV shows you capture straight to your PC. Now the downside to the USB port is that it is not self-powering – that means it doesn’t have the ability to handle portable hard drives such as WD’s MyPassport Essential. USB flash drives though are no problem. (If the hard drive has external power, it should work.)
And thirdly, it’s able to work as media player – it only supports MPEG-2 video but as that is a pretty common format (free-to-air TV and DVDs are MPEG-2), you could easily slip this into your luggage if you go away for the weekend along with a USB flash drive with your favourite movies (you should be able to fit a two hour movie into 1.5GB at very good quality using MPEG-2 encoding). There are plenty of freeware tools that support encoding video to MPEG-2 including SUPER and MediaCoder.
Also, don’t expect HDMI output – the best you’ll get is S-video or composite video but again, at SD resolution, you’ll struggle to tell the difference between HDMI and S-video or even composite video in most cases.
But when you consider you’re getting a digital set-top-box, personal video recorder (with timer-recording) and media player for $50, it’s pretty decent value.
If you’ve got a big 46- or 50-inch TV, you’d probably want to choose a PVR that had high-definition capability but as a video recorder for the TV in the back room, the XC4912 does more for your $50 than we’ve seen any other STBs offer.