How does one select a set top box or TV?

27 Jan 2008
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Llanfair Caereinion, Nr Welshpool
United Kingdom
I have 7 or 8 set top boxes in the family, and the same with TV’s, some are rather old and some are quite new, three of the set top boxes were supplied by Sky and these all follow the same program number system, but in spite of so called up-grade, the latter ones actually have lost one function, the ability to set it to auto change program.

The early free to air boxes seemed only to have now and next electronic program guide, the SilverCrest65 however did have some advantages over the sky box.

1) No measureable power use in stand by mode.

2) You could delete programs you did not want.

3) You could set the program order.

4) It could be programmed to auto switch on at set time and on a set program, so although no record, it was easy to use with a recorder.

However you could not assign numbers out of sequence so you could not set it to have same numbers as the Sky box.

The terrestrial boxes also seemed to have problems with electronic program guide, and this was also true with the TV’s.

My Panasonic TX-32LMD70 would on a regular basis ask to be re-tuned, however it was very easy to re-turn when that happened, just press one button, and the program guide worked well. However my mother’s LG 26LC55 TV with built in hard drive was a real pain to re-tune, and there were blanks on the program guide, so setting it up to record was a bit hit and miss.

The small Aldi TV was my wife’s, so I never really used it. And the old cathode-ray tube TV’s are so old there is no digital input anyway.

So we needed some modern TV’s and set top boxes, The set top box was first, IceWessel from Maplin, idea was it had internet, so it would turn TV into a Smart TV, wrong, only internet I could get to work was the weather, however it was both terrestrial and satellite in one box, it also had option for cable, but we don’t have that, and the program guide also spanned both terrestrial and satellite and plugging in a USB stick or hard drive it will record simply select program on guide and press the record button. The terrestrial and satellite were seamless, you did not need to swap one to other, but the program numbers are not pre-set, very like the old SilverCrest65, easy to move the programs, and having ITV3 next to ITV3+1 does have some advantages. Down side the program guide is slow, some times you have to select the channel to get it to work, although it should do 7 days, lucky if you can get 2 days, and without program guide you can’t record.

Now moving to Smart TV’s the one from Tesco a Blaupunkt 43/134M-GB-11B-FEGUX as you can guess from number 43 inch has all the programs in Freeview order so program 10 is ITV3, however it will not record, and like the set-top box the 7 day program guide is slow, however it is better than the set-top box, and since it will not record you don’t really need a 7 day guide. It has 2 USB inputs, and seems to work well, for £150 on black Friday 2016 it was good value for money.

The Polaroid also about £150 from Asda is very different only 32 inch, but will allow one to record onto a USB device, as with set-top box program guide is slow and patchy. But the main difference is the program numbering. 1 to 99 only for analogue and 100 to 500 for digital, it does not need to be in sequence so you could leave for example 111 free with no program, you can change the numbering, but it’s a pain as you need to make the number free first before numbering or what ever was at that number will be deleted. Using as a computer monitor I find every time I start the PC I have to go to auto position it does not remember it. Once you have gone to the work to set order of programs it is handy having a logistical order ITV1, ITV1+1, ITV2, ITV2+1 etc. But Freeview is renowned for changing frequencies and programs so how long before it all needs doing again I don’t know.

However most of what I report here you only find out after you have bought the TV, so looking for another TV to replace the 14 inch cathode ray tube one in my bed room. But how do you select a TV when most of the pros and cons only are found after you buy it?

The Polaroid I can select programs with my phone. The Blaupunkt will display phone photos on the TV. I am sure both the so called Smart TV’s will do a lot more than I use them for, both a wireless LAN.

It seems to be a mine field selecting one. How does one select a new TV? My son uses a PC for the TV, so he can select films to watch. That’s another point the LG TV’s will record Freeview, but not any other input. There is nothing in the instructions to tell you this, you only find out after you buy.
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I suggest not choosing any TV based on its "Smart" features unless it specifically has something you want/need. Also as time passes what once worked (i.e. BBc iplayer app) might not work in 6months due to changes in the app itself. I suggest getting a dumb TV/screen based on your preferences of size, brand, sound/screen quality etc... and get an android stick (Amazon fire stick, chromecast, Kodi/TV box etc...) and those will instantly give your dump TV the smart features and a whole lot more.

As for EPG/Recording features that's hit and miss with all TV's/set top boxes and even Sky changes theirs now and again (for better/worse) EPGs etc... are personal preferences. But if it was me, I would go with a set top box over any built in tuner/recoding/epg function as they are usually quicker and more reliable.
I did buy a stick before getting the IceWessel from Maplin, however it would not work without putting in my debit card details, so I returned it. Can't remember the make of stick, I have only in the last 3 months given Freeview another go, I got fed up with having to travel to mums house to re-program yet again, so went satellite only for a long time. Now living with mother so since aerial already fitted thought I would give it another go. But being able to plug in a hard drive with pre-recorded programs and films is really handy, I can leave her watching something like Cadfael for hours, but it is the little things that matter, if it will auto play next program or film then that's a lot better, like it does with U-tube. However that feature is not advertised.
Debit card details sounds dodgy and inconvenient. The amazon fire stick or generic android sticks/boxes shouldn't require that info and some of them you can hook up a usb drive/stick in order to play media. Also if you have Sky dish fitted then you can usually use that with freesat tvs/boxes.
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I use my eyes to select my TV. If the picture is to my liking, i buy the TV. (n) Sony or Panasonic for me,and i never buy them from supermarkets.

Debit card details sounds dodgy and inconvenient. The amazon fire stick or generic android sticks/boxes shouldn't require that info and some of them you can hook up a usb drive/stick in order to play media. Also if you have Sky dish fitted then you can usually use that with freesat tvs/boxes.
This is how I ended up with the IceWeasel from Maplin, I went to PC world and watched the demos, I bought a stick for my mother, she does not have a credit or debit card, so I had to return it. They were unable to recommend any stick or set top box which would allow internet connection similar to my Bluray player, so I went to Maplin, then store staff did seem better than those in PC world, however they had not realised you needed a credit or debit card to use the sticks, so I bought the IceWeasel box, however this was also not really what I wanted, the only internet service I could get to work was the weather, but it did allow me to use a standard USB storage device to play films and show pictures on the TV. It was unlikely I could get my mother to use it on her own, so it did enough.

To start with it was only connected to satellite, it was not until a lot latter that I found it would also work with terrestrial broadcasts, what was so good as far as I was concerned was I could have a single device to show both seamlessly. It also with a hard drive connected would record by single click when using the program guide. But the big down side was the electronic program guide was rather patchy. The only set top box I have used where the EPG worked A1 is the ones supplied by Sky. I find if I want to get for example the guide for ITV3 best option is to be watching ITV3.

I will guess the box can only read the guide for programs on the same multiplex broadcast? Even Freeview seems to have problems with the Guide, worked great on my Panasonic, but mothers LG was very hit and miss, which was a pity as the LG had built in hard drive and needed the EPG to program any recording. I was also surprised that there was no USB connection on the LG TV so I could not watch any home video or transfer any recording to another device, however the same goes for my Sky boxes.

The recording format on the IceWeasel has one feature I have not seen on any other, box but the Sky boxes, it will allow you to select subtitles on/off AFTER you have made the recording. One of the features I liked on the Sky+ and SkyHD+ was being able to view the program guides review after it has been recorded. However the Sky box has one huge draw back, once the card is cancelled or removed you can't view anything recorded. When the card reader on the Sky+ box went faulty, we lost all the programs we had recorded. Same was true for the DVD recorder with built in hard drive, when the unit finally failed, we lost all on the hard drive, and many of the recorded DVD's refused to play on other DVD players.

What I hope is people will add to this thread and talk about their TV or set top box, and give honest pro's and con's. It seems two of the Smart TV's we have are set for NETFLIX as yet I have not activated an account so not sure how good or bad, however Sky is expensive, and I also feel it should be like Star TV in Hong Kong, they advertised if you pay for Star TV then you have no adverts. But with Sky we pay and then get more adverts.
My opinions:

Smart TVs are useless - you are totally reliant on that particular manufacturer having the required apps available and working properly, and supporting that model in the future. Get a normal TV and whatever box/stick you want to use with it. A new box/stick is cheap. A new TV is not.
Recording things is a total waste of time - virtually everything is available on the various catch up services and most stuff is repeated often anyway.
Sky works well, but you do have to pay for it. Attempting to use it without a subscription is a total bust. Buy a proper Freesat receiver instead.
Virgin was a pile of junk the last time I used it - the box was slow as molasses, required a reboot daily and frequently did not work at all. It also cost significantly more than Sky.

IceWeasel from Maplin
No idea what that is, but the fact it came from Maplin is a sure sign that it will be overpriced tat.
Yes Maplin is expensive, but all the Tandy (Radio Shack) shops seem to have gone. For bits the only local shop is Maplin, yes there is the internet, but packet of resistors not really worth waiting the extra time.

PC World could not help me, already taken one item back, and returning items on the internet is not that easy, so better to use local shops. The EPG is poor, but the box does work and allow standard recording. My son-in-law got a box which you had to have a dedicated hard drive or stick for it, recording could only be played back on that box.

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