PVRs, Harddisk recorders, Freeview Playback
These are all basically the same thing, that try to do for Freeview what Sky+ does for Sky, i.e., they allow you to record programmes easily from an electronic programme guide (EPG) and let you pause or rewind the current channel. As with Sky+, you can chose when you want to watch your favourite programmes, simply selecting the programme from your list of recorded programmes. Not all PVRs are the same though and usually you get what you pay for. My recommendation would be to spend as much as you can afford. The best PVRs will carry out searches for your favourite programmes, like Sky+ but without the monthly subscription costs of Sky. PVRs are restricted to Freeview channels, but in any case you'll soon fill up your hard disk with programmes you want, or think you want, to watch.
Make sure that you spend time setting up the picture properly. I'm amazed at how many widescreen televisions I have seen in recent years with an incorrect aspect ratio, like the picture of Jose here. Most LCD and plasma displays are sold with bright, over-coloured 'showroom' display settings. It is important to set up or calibrate your new display properly, back to a setting more suitable for normal viewing. You can either follow your manufacturer's instructions or find a DVD with the THX Optimiser on it, like The Incredibles or Cars. The latter only takes a few minutes to run through.
HD-DVD v Blu-ray
It doesn't really matter now that Blu-ray has won but in any case you should go to the cinema to see films how they're supposed to be seen. My bet is that the normal DVD format will probably outlive both of the above formats, as Toshiba (HD-DVD) and Sony (Blu-ray) are more concerned about copyright protection than they are about what customers really want.
Video on-demand (BBC iPlayer, 4oD, ITV Player)
Video on-demand gives people the ability to watch TV programmes after the initial transmission date. Programmes are either streamed or downloaded to a PC using peer-to-peer technology. In the case of the latter you copy files from other PCs and not necessarily the BBC or ITV. Some ISPs are having problems coping with the resulting increase in traffic these systems are having on their network. Be careful if you are on a metered contract, say max 5GB/month, because iPlayerís default settings will share files that you have downloaded back out to other computers using up your allowance - thatís how the system works after all. If you are worried about exceeding your limit use the streaming option which uses less data but is of poorer quality.
You can now get a subscription-free satellite TV service from the BBC and ITV called freesat. Confusingly, this isn't the same as "FREESAT from Sky". The main difference is that freesat includes 2 HD channels, whereas "FREESAT from Sky" doesn't have any as it uses the Standard Sky box. So is freesat just a different form of FreeView TV then?....ummm ....No. Whereas Freeview might have country wide HD channels in time for the World Cup in 2010, freesat has them now even if there are only two. Importantly though, you will need an HDMI connector on your TV to see the HD programmes. There are other major differences between freesat and Freeview, for example, the channels are different. Freesat doesn't have some channels but does have regional BBC and ITV stations. Both do digital radio stations. Freesat is also more expensive, running to £230 for the box and satellite dish installation but you can save some money by re-using an existing Sky dish. All freesat boxes also contain an ethernet port to link to your broadband router. This can sometimes be used to stream programmes using the BBC iPlayer, so you will be able to watch this output on your TV and not have to sit at the computer. Finally, if youíre thinking of buying a freesat PVR youíll need to check your dish and cable(s) are suitable for twin tuners.
Sometimes the best way of improving your TV experience is not to replace your telly, but to replace your sound system. Adding a good 5.1 surround system will make a major difference when you watch films and sporting events. A word of warning though, they work best with the volume turned up a bit, so you might annoy the neighbours or your better half!
Donít expect any mp3 player to last longer than a few years. Batteries will fail and be difficult to replace, hard drives crash, screens crack and flash memory deteriorates. So, is it really worth paying several hundred pounds?
Remember, you cannot easily copy music from an Apple iPod back to a PC. So make sure that youíve backed-up your music collection in case your PC hard drive crashes. When you re-sync the iPod to the (rebuilt) PC the songs on the iPod may disappear.
DAB and DAB+ digital radio
Proof that not all new technology is wonderful. Many early adopters of DAB radios suffered from a dose of Emperorís New Clothes. Despite what owners would say, DAB radios were expensive, battery life was poor, quality was inferior to FM (it still is) and well, you could receive the extra stations using a Freeview box. Unfortunately, things havenít improved much and DAB is still a mess. Very few other countries have adopted it, car manufacturers have avoided it until recently and now we have the prospect of a new standard, DAB+. It is very likely that DAB transmissions will end in about 5 years or so and unless your radio is DAB+ capable, which it probably isnít, you wonít be able to receive anything after that date. If itís the extra stations youíre after, have you ever considered Internet Radio? FM and AM transmissions for local stations meanwhile will continue for decades despite what has been implied in the media.
Well I did advise customers to NOT buy one of these! Proof that TV manufacturers massively over-hype features when selling their products. Hopefully, customers will now be much more wary of 4K and HDR televisions.
Take my advice (and that of most techs) and avoid having one of these fitted at all costs. As a general rule, anything that is described as Smart, is generally proven not to be particularly smart after all. Smart Meters fail on economics, security and may tie you to one supplier. Youíll also be open to having your electricity supply disconnected remotely. Remember, installation of a Smart Meter is NOT compulsory.