Topfield / Toppy users - is it better than Tivo or a Media Centre?

Discussion in 'TiVo Series 1 - UK' started by childe, Oct 12, 2007.

  1. childe

    childe Tivoer since 11/2000

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    Jan 22, 2001
    Leeds, UK
    I have been loyal to my Tivo for 7 years now, and still think it is marvellous. However, when I go large screen next year I will be ready for a replacement, if only to improve the picture quality.

    A friend has recently replaced his Tivo with a Topfield TF5800. He has applied several of the free TAPS to improve its UI and other functionality and now seems very happy with it. He thinks it is better than Tivo in almost every respect, including: size, noise, capacity (250GB out of the box), 2 tuners, speed of operation, configurability, USB interface, continuing support, ability to load/play jpegs and mp3s. He even prefers the UI, especially the way you can store programmes in your own custom folders. You can also upload your own videos. Its only shortcoming appears to be a slightly less sophisticated wishlists and ease of upgrading capacity (assuming that is even possible).

    My media needs are to be able to watch/record TV, play home videos and downloaded video, play photo slideshows and listen to MP3 music (with some options for playback). It must also be wife friendly. I’ve looked at media centers (MCE and Media Portal) and they are good, but they require a large, noisy and unreliable PC in my living room. This Toppy seems to meet all my requirements and even better, a 500GB version is due soon.

    I think Tivo’s killer USPs are its Wishlists, Season Passes and ease of use. Many of you seem to have had a Toppy for some time now. If you are still viewing this forum, how does it rate compared to Tivo or a Media Centre? How versatile/useful are the other features such as jpeg / mp3 playback? Can you play video files from an external USB hard drive?
     
  2. Paperface

    Paperface New Member

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    Sep 14, 2005
    Toppy is only Freeview afaik, so it's a bit of a non starter if you want sky or cable.
     
  3. iankb

    iankb New Member

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    Oct 9, 2000
    Reading, UK
    Not necessarily. My MCE computer is in an Antec Fusion case, and it is virtually silent. It uses 120mm fans, which can be set to a very slow, but totally-adequate, speed. The onboard graphics of my micro-ATX motherboard doesn't provide a DVI output, so I use a graphics card with passive cooling.

    You could also place the PC elsewhere, and use an Xbox 360 as an MCE extender. However, the fan of the Xbox is much noisier, so the PC is preferable, unless you wan't to access the Xbox with its cheap HD DVD drive.

    I don't know about the Toppie, but I consider one of the main advantages of the MCE computer to be the ability to support multiple concurrent users through Xbox 360 extenders.
     
  4. iankb

    iankb New Member

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    Oct 9, 2000
    Reading, UK
    MCE can control Sky boxes via IR control, but you would need to add a video-capture card to the PC to capture the output, and it might restrict you to one input.
     
  5. JonMace

    JonMace New Member

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    Mar 2, 2002
    Bromley area
    No my MCE setup is feed by 2 Cable boxes.
     
  6. childe

    childe Tivoer since 11/2000

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    Jan 22, 2001
    Leeds, UK
    Ian

    I like the look of that Antec box. However, it seems to be about £120. Adding a mother board (£100), processor (£60), graphics (£70) and hard drives (£160 for 2x500GB) is going to be around another £400-£500 at least, giving a total of over £600. This is about double the Toppy price after allowing for external hard drive. I’m not sure I could justify that with the limited differences I am aware of. I think I would be paying for a lot of computing power that I would rarely use. The extenders look interesting, especially as I will be getting a 360 soon. Does this mean I could have the 360 under the main TV with the media centre, and then an extender with my other TV, and then simultaneously use content from the media center on both TVs? How much is an extender? I couldn’t find any outlets.

    Thanks
     
  7. Pete77

    Pete77 New Member

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    Aug 1, 2006
    Not Far...
    Once the Metadata needed to fully support Freeview Playback's Series Link facility and also the Toppy's various TAPS for rudimentary Wishlists becomes widely available on most Freeview channels a Topfield may indeed be a near acceptable replacement for a Tivo, although lack of 21 days of EPG data and no 28 day rule etc may continue to frustrate.

    However I would imagine we will be well on in to 2008 or even 2009 until ITV, C4 and especially Five properly support Metadata on all their channels, so your plans to hang fire until some time next year seem wise.

    As an alternative to the Topfield and Freeview have you not also considered the BBC's new HD satellite box product next year as I suspect there will be a version with Metadata support and Freeview Playback like Series Link features with a hard drive that may be as good as a Topfield but also give you access to FTA HD programs. There won't be any HD on Freeview before 2012 and possibly not even then, so that is the main argument against the Toppy and also Freeview if your main priority is making the most of a new flat screen telly with its capability to support HDTV broadcasts.

    Of course in due course there may welll be a Toppy capable of supporting the BBC's new FTA HD satellite service..................
     
  8. rhialto

    rhialto New Member

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    Oct 13, 2002
    Warwick,...
    The Topfield box doesn't come close to TiVo.

    Its plus points are two tuners, and a bigger hard drive out of the box.

    On the negative side the user interface is awful, and it's very noisy. When recording two programmes and playing back one I can get quite nervous that it's going to blow up (this is not just my box - its all 5 of the Toppys I've come across).

    TAPs purport to improve the user interface, but they just don't in any reliable way. Either the TAP you want to use crashes all the time, or it's incompatible with another TAP you use.

    The big problem with the (current) Topfield is it doesn't have a concept of a programme or broadcast. When you enter a recording, it stores it as eg BBC1 Tuesday 6-6:30 every week. If the programme moves, tough. There are TAPs which try to address this, but in my experience none of them as successfully or reliably as a TiVo. With the introduction of Freeview playback things may change.

    Really, Topfield have ok hardware, they should license the TiVo software for their machines, which would pretty much eliminate all their disadvantages.
     
  9. Pete77

    Pete77 New Member

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    Aug 1, 2006
    Not Far...
    One is almost tempted to the view that for those who regard a Freeview Topfield as superior to a Tivo it is a pre-requisite that:-

    (a) They have not upgraded Tivo's hard drive or installed a network card or Tivoweb so imagine Tivo to be stuck back in the days of 11 hours of high quality recording or 40 hours of low quality recording with no web interface

    (b) That most of them only ever seem to have treated Tivo as being a glorified video recorder without tapes and have never properly made use of Wishlists etc, never mind concepts such as Daily Mail and so on.

    For Sky HD there is a more compelling case because it can do HD and Tivo can't but back over on Freeview the case for deserting Tivo is much, much less convincing. Newer does not always mean better..........................
     
  10. blindlemon

    blindlemon tivoheaven.co.uk

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    May 12, 2002
    Malmesbury, UK
    Indeed, and the Series 1 TiVo was so far ahead of its time that even if it were released today as a brand new product with no modifications (aside from maybe a 160gb drive, which is now cheaper than a 40gb was in 2000!) it would still be the best PVR on the market in the UK!

    Even without HD the release of a Series 2 machine with 2 freeview tuners, a 400gb drive and the latest software available to US machines would blow the rest into oblivion.

    And as for a Series 3 HD machine.... my knees are starting to tremble... :eek:
     
  11. DX30

    DX30 New Member

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    May 22, 2005
    I find the Topfield picture quality is slightly better than a Mode 0 TiVo, but to be honest I only really notice on BBC channels - most of the other Freeview channels have such low bitrates the picture quality is poor whatever you use.

    The wishlists and season pass facilities of the TiVo are definitely superior but upgrading a Topfield drive is much easier than with the TiVo (bung in the drive and Topfield formats it). I would differ from those who say the Topfield is noisy, I find it's quieter than a TiVo. There is no fan, so it's down to how noisy a disk is fitted.

    IMHO not as good as either of those two in these area's, but it's a strong 3rd - better than any other freeview pvr or sky+.

    The jpeg playback isn't great - the resolution you get is pretty low, and combined with the limited colour palette available limits the quality.

    The mp3 playback is good as long as you aren't looking at vast music collections (a few thousand songs is OK). You can get a number of 3rd party taps that support album art, playlists etc.

    No, you'll need to convert the files to the appropriate .rec format, then transfer onto the Topfield via usb. There are a number of free packages for the PC that will do the conversion, as well as some commercial packages. I think Mac versions are also available, but I haven't used them.
     
  12. Sneals2000

    Sneals2000 New Member

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    Aug 25, 2002
    Maidenhead, UK
    The Xbox 360 is the only Media Center Extender currently on sale in the UK - though a few other manufacturers have just announced new generation extenders in the US.

    I have had a Media Center PC feeding one TV, with an XBox 360 feeding a second TV. The 360 could stream all my recorded TV from the main Media Center PC, and could access Live TV via the Media Center PC, access the EPG and schedule recordings etc. My machine had two Freeview tuners - so I could watch one live TV channel on the Media Center PC and a different one live on the 360 - as long as I wasn't recording anything - on a third channel of course. Both channels could be watched with full Live TV pause functionality etc.

    You wouldn't need a 360 underneath your TV if you are a bit of a techy - as I managed to get my MCE PC to feed my SD TV using a cheap Radeon video card via a VGA to SCART cable and a custom Powerstrip Windows 1024x576 50Hz interlaced desktop mode - MASSIVELY better quality than the composite or S-video scaled and de-flickered TV outs from video cards.

    If you aren't in to this kind of tweaking then a cheap (and noisy) MCE PC with a couple of tuners could be installed somewhere out of the way, and just a (or multiple) 360(s) put under your TV(s). The PC doesn't have to be particularly powerful - as it isn't actually doing much processing - it isn't actually decoding any video - just recording it and streaming it.

    The picture quality of the 360 is great when feeding an SD TV via RGB SCART with the Xbox configured for 50Hz output. The only major bug with the 360 as an extender is if you connect it to an HDTV. If you do this the output is always at 60Hz - and as our UK TV is 50Hz you get a nasty 10Hz judder...

    In some ways the UI isn't as good as Tivo (I've used both XP MC and Vista MC and there are good things about both) - but the picture quality improvement (even over Mode 0) more than compensated me. I ran MCE for Freeview (with the 360) and only used the Tivo for PVRing non-Freeview Sky channels, until I retired it in favour of Sky+ HD.
     
  13. iankb

    iankb New Member

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    Oct 9, 2000
    Reading, UK
    You only need the Xbox 360 Core System to act as an MCE extender.
     
  14. childe

    childe Tivoer since 11/2000

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    Jan 22, 2001
    Leeds, UK
    Thanks for the feedback so far.

    As the ability to view photos and videos is essential, I'm definitely veering towards a media centre, despite its expense. I particulary like the fact that its hardware will be easily upgradable as needed, which will not be the case with a Toppy. Of course a Toppy is a lot cheaper, but it does not seem that it will actually do the job I want it to do. The media center does appear to have all the functionality I want.

    My configuration is going to be as follows:
    - Media Room with large HD flat screen and Xbox 360 Elite (with HDMI output), with TV provided via the media centre with dual freeview tuners.
    - Sitting Room with normal SD TV, a cheap freeview tuner and Tivo.

    I will use the Media Room for special events such as DVDs, video viewing, slideshows and gaming. I may also get a HD TV feed, but will initially rely on Freeview via the media center. I will also do most of my video and photo editing directly on the media centre (although I will use a different screen when the large screen is being used for other purposes). The Sitting Room will be for normal SD TV viewing via Tivo.

    Therefore I think my best bet is a media centre to sit alongside the Xbox in the Media Room. I will probably build my own media centre, starting with something like the Antec case Ian mentioned previously. Given my stated intended uses, (which include video editing and gaming) I presume I need a reasonable specification (core 2 Duo CPU for instance). Any idea what I should budget for? I'm thinking it will be around £700 (case, motherboard, CPU, graphics, dual tuner, 1TB hard drive). In real terms this is less than I paid for my Tivo 7 years ago, so its bearable. Can anyone suggest a suitable specification around this budget?

    Thanks
     
  15. martink0646

    martink0646 New Member

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    Feb 8, 2005
    Wisbech
    Hi Childe,

    I've been exploring using a MediaCentre/HTPC instead of the numerous boxes I use at the moment. Instead of diving in with both feet (in a financial sense) I thought I would test the water before spending any serious money. I found an old 800mhz P4 with 256mb of RAM that I wasn't using. I added a DvD drive, a Sound card & an old analogue PCI tuner I had lying around. I was going to connect it to my 42" plasma via VGA but the screen decided to die. The new Plasma (insurance jobbie) only had PC input through HDMI. I had to go out & buy a new graphics card (got a dual head for future proofing) for £19.95 off flea bay & a 5m HDMI/DVI cable. For software I tried all the free alternatives knowing that if I proved the concept I would get a package with MCE, when I stumbled across xLobby. It is quite simply an awesome piece of software. It is quite high end (complex & difficult to learn) & there are some issues about payment for the future (it's free at the moment), but I would check it out. It allows X10 control, RS232 device control, PPC thin clients, IR remotes, touchscreen opreation & all wonder of items that I have not yet uncovered.

    I write this because your £700.00 seems quite high. For example, go onto ebay & you will find some incredible spec machines including quite a few Antec cased ones, for a lot less than your planned budget. Just an avenue to consider.

    Martin
     
  16. mikerr

    mikerr TiVoCentral.co.uk

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    Jun 2, 2005
    Lancashire, UK
    Totally OT, but I actually use xLobby in my CarPC ;)
     
  17. childe

    childe Tivoer since 11/2000

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    Jan 22, 2001
    Leeds, UK
    Martin

    Thanks for the advice about Ebay. You are quite correct, it looks like I should be budgeting around £500 for a self build medium to high spec media centre in an Antec Fusion case. Even better!

    I too am experimenting with a cheap MC using an old salvaged pentium 4 2.8GHz. I agree this spec is more than sufficient for the basic MC features. However I want something more powerful for video editing and gaming etc. Not top of the range, but better than what I have now.

    I am currently using Media Portal, another free download probably similar to xLobby. It seems pretty good so far, although it has crashed a few times. How stable is xLobby?
     
  18. Richard Loxley

    Richard Loxley New Member

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    Jun 3, 2002
    Bristol, UK
    Many people seem to be looking for alternatives to Tivo because they want "Media Centre" capabilities (playing videos downloaded off the internet, playing mp3s, etc).

    What I did was leave the Tivo doing what it does best (recording and playing back TV) and added another device to fill in the missing link. For me that device was an original Xbox, with Xbox Media Center (XBMC) installed on it. It is a surperb bit of kit.

    XBMC is simply the best media player I have ever seen. It's free, it will play anything you throw at it, and the user interface is clear, easy and intuitive.

    Installing it requires you to follow instructions carefully, since you are hacking the Xbox slightly, which can be a little intimidating, but it takes less than an hour, and there are people offering to install it for you on ebay if you prefer.

    I paid £40 for a second-hand Xbox with a 1 year guarantee from a shop, and £20 for the infrared remote control (which you don't need, but makes it much more a part of your AV setup).

    It now sits under my telly, connected by ethernet to the file server in my home office, which contains all my media. For what it's worth, the file server is another great piece of kit - it's actually the Asus WL-500gP wireless router with a USB hard drive plugged in. This has download manager software built in so it will download bittorrents or web downloads to the hard drive without your PC having to be turned on. When the downloads are finished they are automatically made available on the file server, which in my setup means they magically pop-up on XBMC :)

    If anyone wants more advice on setting up such a system I'm happy to give some help.
     
  19. martink0646

    martink0646 New Member

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    Feb 8, 2005
    Wisbech
    Hi Childe,

    Its pretty stable. I have only had a couple of crashes & only when I am trying new things on the setup when I am stretching the old PC. In fact my main problem comes with a slight slowdown in playback of mpg files if the main PC I am using to store all my media in the office is doing some processor heavy work.

    Martin
     
  20. kewcity

    kewcity New Member

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    Feb 8, 2002
    Another media extender that you could try is the new Apple TV. Out of the box it doesn't have too many codecs it can play but with a usb key with patchstick on it apparently can play everything you can throw at it and stream. I believe it also has hdmi output.

    David
     

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