Set-Top Boxes

What about Electronic Program Guides (EPGs)?

For those of us who find it difficult to program our video recorder (which is most of us) the advent of the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is a blessing. An EPG is basically the onscreen equivalent of your printed TV guide, with the advantage that it is always up-to-date and accessible at the push of a button on the remote control. This really becomes useful when it can be used to schedule programs for automated recording on to the hard-disk drive of a Personal Video Recorder (PVR). At last, choosing programs to record becomes a simple point-and-click process.

Alas, while the EPG is good in theory, in practice it has not been possible until very recently, and even now EPGs are in their infancy. So far, the only EPGs available are the one included with Foxtel Digital (the Foxtel Digital Electronic Program Guide that comes with the extra-cost optional Foxtel iQ Personal Digital Recorder) and the recently introduced "Iceguide" -- a subscription-based free-to-air digital television guide put together by Australian-owned IceTV (www.icetv.com.au). For a weekly fee, Iceguide provides an onscreen, week-in-advance guide of free-to-air television channels.

The drawback is that the Iceguide runs on a PC with an Internet connection and therefore requires the STB to be able to connect to a PC (either through Ethernet or USB) to function.

Personal Video Recorders (PVRs)

Humax PVR 8000t

PVRs are the next generation of television recording devices replacing the VCR. Unlike the VCR they use an internal hard disk for storing many hours of recorded programs -- typically over 40 hours.

PVRs come in many brands and configurations and include some combination of STB (HD or SD), an internal hard drive and DVD burner.

A top-line PVR may have all three devices built-in -- STB, hard drive and DVD burner. Or it may just have the STB and hard drive, or the STB and DVD burner. Depending on configuration, they range in price from around $500 to three or four times that much.

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