Doctor!

Despite passing my viva a year ago this week, I still hadn’t actually had my PhD conferred by the University and reached the promised land of graduation. So, it was very exciting to return to Cambridge last weekend to take my Doctorate. Sadly, as with every trip it seems impossible to catch up with everyone, especially as I seem to have spent much of Saturday being photographed from every angle, but it was great to see everyone that I did—thank you for coming along to help me celebrate!

The Digital (TV) Revolution

When the video recorder failed to record the soundtrack to last week’s Doctor Who it was the excuseomen I needed to splash out on a digital video recorder.

Single tuner models are now under a £100, but I think the ability to watch and record different programmes is pretty much essential for a TV recorder, so I spent the additional £25 on the twin tuner Fusion FVRT145 from Argos.

This model had favourable coverage on various websites, and overall I’m very happy with it. The interface is not going to win any awards, but unlike many no-name Freeview boxes, it’s responsive and does the job. The 80GB hard drive seems to allow for plenty of programmes to be recorded, and picture quality is acceptable using “LP” compression, although it can be a little “blocky” with “EP” compression. Recordings can be recompressed after they have been made, although it is not possible to perform any form of editing such as to trim the start or end of a recording. The first time I tried to view some digital channels, the tuner seemed to take a while to unscramble the picture which was a little odd, but it has worked fine since.

The 14-day TV guide is downloaded every night at 3am so you do have to leave the box on 24/7—and it’s got a fan which might annoy some people wishing to sleep in the same room—but the guide make recording programmes a doddle. The only feature that is really missing is the ability to schedule repeat recordings: a TiVo-owning friend enjoys the ability to issue instructions such as “record all new episodes of Doctor Who” while this box lacks even the ability to record for an hour every Saturday night at 7pm1.

uh-oh

After happily using the box for 2-3 weeks, one morning I awoke to discover that overnight all our stored programmes had been wiped. Half an hour of web-surfing later it seems that this is not uncommon for this model of recorder, but apparently can only occur if signal quality drops below 65% while recording in compressed mode. I’ll be recording in SP-mode only in the future.

Aside on Freeview

Despite the loss of our stored programmes, overall I am really pleased with my new gadget, and I think the main reason for that is Freeview. I don’t think there’s very much on TV worth watching, and when we had a standalone Freeview box, I still couldn’t find anything to watch when I wanted to veg out. But with this box, a quick flick through the programme guide reveals a plethora of delightful repeats of quality programmes such as Jeeves & Wooster and Due South on various digital-only channels. None at convenient times of course, but with a DVR suddenly all are available at a time of my choosing. Even on the traditional channels, recording is so effortless that I find myself recording programmes which sound interesting on the off-chance I may watch them if I just want to switch out my brain for half an hour… With FilmFour becoming free-to-air in July, a Freeview-enabled Digital Video Recorder ought to be an essential item for every living room.

  1. Although this feature might be of limited use given the volatility of British TV scheduling, especially during a sport-laden summer season! [back]

More Doctor Who

In case the new episodes just aren’t enough, there are three BBC Doctor Who “webcasts” from 2003 available on the Doctor Who website.

The remake of the late, great, Douglas Adams’ episode Shada is excellent—and set in Cambridge! The first webcast to be made, Death Comes to Time does not seem to be available although I don’t think that is any loss as I was not terribly impressed by it, but there appear to be two others which I don’t remember watching.