HD broadcasts kneecapped by lack of HD recorder
My experience with Freeview HD so far has been brilliant (see my install notes here and on picture quality here). Except for one thing: recording programmes. Hard drive recorders with an HDMI jack and the capability to record HD broadcasts are rare beasts. Certainly, after hunting high and low and talking to industry insiders, I've been unable to find one here.
That means I'm reduced to recording HD and upscaled HD content in standard digital format, which looks terrible on a 52-inch LCD screen. Not everybody's going to be watching on such a large display, but downscaling to record produces an inherently rubbishy picture.
Freeview Managing Director Steve Browning says he is working with manufacturers on a spec for an HD-capable hard drive recorder. In accordance with Freeview's open policy, any set-top box maker will be able to build to the spec. And beyond the baseline requirements - which could be a 320GB hard drive, two TV tuners, support for a Freeview EPG and HDMI, for example - manufacturers could "build a Rolls Royce if they want to," Browning tells me.
The bad news: I spoke to one set-top box maker in active discussions with Freeview. He said the baseline spec had yet to be agreed, and didn't expect any actual hard drive recorder to be available until after August (that is, after the Olympics, when TVNZ switches on its full HD). Browning's official line is "some time before Christmas".
That's a shame. I use a hard drive recorder a lot. And I love Freeview's principle of allowing competing brands with different features - it certainly beats being locked into the single, minimalist-spec Sky TV box.
But it's a pity that having beaten Sky TV to HD broadcasts, Freeview is now set to fall behind in the recording race. Sky TV will announce its new HD service on June 11. It'll start on July 1, and debut with a new and improved version of the Sky TV PVR (personal video recorder). Details are still under wraps, but its expected to include a much larger hard drive, plus the ability to record HD.