August 31st, 2005 • 10:26 am
One of the frustrating limitations of the previous generation of Bell ExpressVu PVR receivers (5800 model and others) was that, once a recording was started (either manually by the user or by a programmed timer), you could not turn the receiver off until the recording was over.
This might sound like it makes sense, but in fact it does not. When a PVR receiver is not in use (i.e. when you are not watching TV), you don’t really want to leave it on. After all, when the PVR unit is on, it automatically records what you are currently watching (even if you have not programmed the receiver to record the current event), so that you can pause live TV or rewind. (At any time when watching live TV with a PVR unit, you can go back — by up to an hour, depending on when you started watching the program — to replay what you have just watched.) This means that, when a PVR unit is on, the hard drive is constantly being used to record stuff. So if you are not watching TV, it makes sense to turn the receiver off to avoid unnecessary use of the hard drive and extend its life expectancy.
Typically, when you want to program the receiver to record something, you create the timer event, and then you turn the receiver off. When the event comes on, the receiver turns itself on automatically, records the event, and then turns itself off again.
But if the timer event occurs at a time when the receiver is still on, the receiver simply switches to the appropriate channel and starts recording. And that’s when the difference between a receiver like the 5800 and the new 9200 receiver becomes apparent. With the 5800, when this occurs, there’s nothing the user can do. He cannot turn the receiver off, because it’s currently recording. And he cannot instruct the receiver to turn itself off once the event is over, because there is no option to do this. So he has no option but to leave the receiver on.
Say it’s 9:55 pm and the user is watching live TV. The 5800 is programmed to record a movie that starts at 10:00 pm and lasts 2 hours. If the user does not turn the receiver off before 10:00 pm, at 10:00 pm the receiver switches to the channel showing the movie and starts recording. All the user can do is leave the receiver on and go to bed. Unless he gets up at 12:00 am to switch the receiver off once the recording is over, the receiver will stay on. And when he comes back in the morning, the receiver will still be on. This means that it will have stayed on all night, and the associated hard drive activity will have continued all night.
With the 9200, however, it’s no longer a problem. Even if the receiver starts recording something, you can turn it off at any time. The receiver goes off, but the recording light stays on and the receiver continues to record the event until it’s over. After that, the receiver stays off.
Now, of course there is an important difference that should be noted here. I am not sure how “off” the 9200 receiver really is when it’s off. Unlike what used to happen with the 5800, when you turn the 9200 off, the lights go off, but the background fan noise continues. This noise never actually stops. So it sounds like something does stay on at all times, even when the receiver is off.
Does this mean that the hard drive in the receiver stays on all the time, even when the receiver is off? This I do not know. It certainly sounds like it. Still, one assumes that, when the receiver is off and there is no timer event, no recording of audio-video signals actually takes place, so if there is any hard drive activity, it’s minimal. In other words, I still think that it’s a good idea to turn the receiver off when you are not watching.
On a side note, I am a bit disappointed in the front panel design choices of the designers of the 9200 receiver. There are a few lights on the front panel of the 9200. First, there are two amber lights side by side, for the “mode” in which the receiver is set. I only ever use the receiver in “single” mode, because I don’t have a second TV connected to it.
Then there is a green light (on) and a red light (record) for “TV1” and then a green light (on) and a red light (record) for “TV2.” Since I only use the receiver in single mode, the lights for TV2 never come on. This means that the only lights that ever come on on my receiver are the green one and the red one for TV1. In other words, there is no indication on the front panel of whether I am recording one show or two shows simultaneously.
Indeed, the receiver has two tuners and is therefore able to record two shows simultaneously. But whether I am recording a show with Tuner 1 and watching a show with Tuner 2 or recording a show with Tuner 2 and watching a show with Tuner 1 or recording a show with Tuner 1 and recording another show with Tuner 2, all I see is a single green light and a single red light. That’s not very useful. It seems to me that it would have been much more useful to have a set of green and red lights for Tuner 1 and a set of green and red lights for Tuner 2, and to have them show what is happening with both tuners at all times, and not just when the receiver is in “dual” mode with two TVs connected to it.
Instead, if I want to know exactly what is going on when both the green light and the red light are on, I have to go to the screen listing PVR events and see what’s currently recording there. It’s too bad that extra step is required. (And obviously it means that the TV has to be on.)
Still, it’s good that I can at least turn the receiver off while it’s in the process of recording something without interrupting the recording process. It seems to me that this was primarily a software issue and that Bell ExpressVu should be able to provide the same improvement in the previous generation of 5800 receivers, but it doesn’t look like this will ever happen. With ExpressVu, if you want the latest software improvements, it looks like your only choice is to get the latest hardware.