TV Recording; Our basic recommendations






Video may well have killed the radio star but it’s catch-up TV and HDD recorders which have sounded the death knell for our trusted VCR and DVD-Recorders.

So what options are currently available for those of us still looking to record our favourite shows and programs to watch later and what are their respective pros and cons.


1.) USB Recording

Recording directly on to USB is relatively straight forward, requiring a correctly formatted USB, or external hard drive (usually FAT 32), to be inserted in to your set’s USB port. Recordings can be kept indefinitely and viewed as a separate source when reconnected to the set.


  • Simple and inexpensive (available from only £30 for a good size stick)
  • Operated from the set’s own remote control and set using the EPG system (electronic program guide) within the set itself.
  • Supported by most LED sets on the market today.


  • As sticks have no internal tuner the set itself has to tune to the channel set for recording during the allocated time. Meaning a different broadcast/recording cannot be viewed.
  • Due to restrictions on recording most USB recordings will be locked to the set they have been recorded on. Therefore playback can only take place on the same set.
Overall Score 2/5; Inexpensive but flawed.


2.) STB HDD Recorders (Set-Top box hard disc drive)


Probably the most common method for recording is carried out externally from the TV through a set-top box. These can be the well known Sky+ and Virgin boxes, requiring monthly outlay, or alternatives such as Humax and Panasonic’s range of HDD recorders. Typically these will have a separate remote control to the main set and range from £150-£300 depending on make, model and spec.


  • Simple to use with easy recording and series link facility (for automatic recording of an ongoing program) through the built in TV guide.
  • Large memory with many models allowing over 400 hours of SD (standard definition) recording.
  • Internal tuners allow at least two recordings to take place simultaneously while a third channel (or an existing recording) is viewed.
  • Available with either Freeview or FreeSat- including HD channels as standard.


  • Potential issues such a ‘freezing’ and recording errors sometimes require the units to be formatted, wiping all existing data.
  • Although many boxes provide programmable remote controls, intended to allow control of both the TV and the box itself, these do not allow all the TV functions to be accessed (for example menu preferences; colour, sound etc). This means  in most cases two remote controls are still needed.
Overall Score 3.5/5; Comprehensive and clear but leaves recordings vulnerable should an issue occur.


3.) Smart HDD Recorders

While technically still STB HDD boxes as above, this is specifically for those recorders such as the BT Youview box, which require only a single one-off payment and offer both direct recording facilities and catch-up TV provision. Similar in price to regular STB recorders the catch-up facility allows flexibility by allowing viewers to prioritise recording of certain channels-as regular (large broadcaster) programs can simply be accessed through apps, such as iplayer and ITV hub.


  • Clear EPG guide layouts with icons to indicate which programs can be accessed through catch-up.
  • Recordings can also be set remotely through a mobile phone app.
  • Multiple tuners and good memory sizes available as above.


  • ‘Catch-up’ provision depends on the specific box in question. Thankfully most now offer apps from all major broadcasters (BBC, ITV, 4 and 5) however previously this was not the case.
  • Internet services depend on the connection speed at the installation location. Not all smart STB recorders are wireless with some requiring direct LAN inputs or adaptors.
  • Regular catch-up can be limited to under one month for availability and films not available at all.
Overall Score 4/5; Good overall but not perfect.


Our recommendations…

For general recording a set top HDD recorder is the most accessible and practical option available. Multiple built-in tuners allow multiple channels to be recorded at once while another is viewed. Furthermore, facilities such as ‘series link’ and clear EPG display make setting recordings simple and resolving any clashes easy. For those au fait with catch-up TV the BT youview box gives even greater flexibility for under £200 delivered, installed and set-up.

On the other hand for those who prefer a simple system, relying mainly on one simple remote, Humax recorders such as the HDR1800T, offer similar functionality without the over complication of ‘smart’ features.


The Future

With the roll-out of fibre-broadband and ‘smart-home’ devices, like the Amazon Echo and google Alexa, it seems inevitable that sooner of later TV sets will have built in features to allow recordings directly to cloud storage. This could potentially solve the issue of recordings being locked to their original device as owners could sync their accessible devices to one main account  to add, delete or view recordings; perhaps in a similar fashion to itunes.

However in the meantime an investment in a HDD recorder is certainly something worth considering (even if it’s just to fast forward through the adverts!).