Beyonwiz T3 personal video recorder & media centre

FULL REVIEW from Best Buys Audio & AV

FOR: Lots and lots of recordings, Highly flexibile, Useful network functions

AGAINST: May be daunting for those seeking a simple unit

Price: $599 (500GB version)

 

There’s a particular sense you get from various digital PVRs. Some seem to just get by, doing what’s needed to be done, but almost resentfully. Others lope through their activities willingly, indeed positively enthusiastically.

The latter is what we got with the new Beyonwiz T3 PVR. Not to say that it’s perfect. But it’s powerful and almost complete.

EQUIPMENT
It will be complete when its HbbTV update comes, but that’s in a future firmware upgrade. When we wrote this review the firmware had been newly upgraded to support the IceTV EPG system (you get a free three-month subscription). We used it with three different firmware installations for a couple of months.

The ‘3’ in the model name is significant. This unit has three digital tuners rather than the usual two. So it can record three different stations at once. But Beyonwiz promises still more, since you can add another tuner as an optional USB plug-in ($49.95), so you could record four stations at once.

But Beyonwiz states you can record up to two channels from each — a total of eight channels at once. That makes it an octo-recorder!

We’ll see later if it can pull off this feat.

The unit is available in a number of variants, all to do with the hard disk. There’s a ‘barebones’ model with no hard drive ($499) — into which you plug an external drive for recording. There are also 1TB, 2TB and 4TB versions for $649, $699 and $849 respectively. Our review unit had a 500GB hard drive, with a price of $599.

As with all the other versions, this storage can be increased by adding that external drive, and there are plenty of options for that, with two USB sockets on the back, plus an e-SATA one. There’s also Ethernet for a network connection, and RS-232C to keep installers happy. The unit supports Wi-Fi with the addition of another optional dongle. (Beyonwiz sells them for $49.95, but a generic one we had handy worked fine.) There are also, surprisingly, two SCART sockets for European TVs.

This unit uses Linux as its operating system. Obviously a good PVR-appropriate skin has been draped over the skeleton, but it means a lot of things are relatively easily done. The web browser, for example, can operate with a plugged-in keyboard and mouse. Available is Flickr, access to publicly-available webcams, Last.FM, SHOUTCast, YouTube, AirPlayer (which makes the unit a DLNA rendering device), GMail, the Opera web browser and weather information.Additional utilities can be installed — we didn’t muck around with that stuff too much, here reporting rather on how its works as a PVR, not a computer! But do know that if you like nerding out with your gear, the Beyonwiz should definitely be on any very short list.

One feature rarely seen these days is its full time and date display when the unit is in standby mode. Speaking of which, it remains in standby mode even when making a timer recording, only switching on the bits required to do that.

PERFORMANCE
The set-up all went smoothly, capturing all the TV stations in our area. Likewise for normal (i.e. wired) network set-up. Wireless set-up took a couple of attempts while we mastered the slightly strange interface and realised we had to enter details not normally required, such as the particular security type (WPA2; it defaults to WEP).

If you want a device that is super-simple to operate, then you may prefer a device that has a few less options and insists on doing things its way. The Beyonwiz takes a little more work, but it can do pretty much anything you want it to do. For example, if you’re watching something and decide to record it, press the Record key and you’ll get a comprehensive list of options, such as ‘record to the end of the current program’, record ‘indefinitely’, record for a specific period, or until a nominated time, and an option to include the time-shift buffer. Daunting? Absolutely, at the start. But each option is numbered and very soon you’ll learn to hit record, then ‘1’ for the current program recording or whichever option you want.

There are lots of nifty little features — far too many to fully cover here. A couple that attracted our fancy were the extremely detailed information panel (this included even such things as the exact resolution of the signal, e.g. 352 x 576 for those awful advertising channels), and the informative markers next to the items on the recorded program lists. These are circles. Red ones are programs in the process of being recorded; green are completed recordings; yellow are ones that have been watched to the end. Partially-watched programs get a circle with a yellow circumference, filled in like a pie graph in proportion to the amount watched.

As is the norm these days for quality PVRs, the unit offers a ‘series record’ capability. But there are problems with these features on some other PVRs because they work off the information in the EPG, which can be too specific. So if you series record ‘My Favourite Show’, for example, most PVRs won’t record ‘My Favourite Show (Season Finale)’, which can be pretty irritating. Similarly if you’ve set most PVRs to record ‘Media Watch’, then in addition to the regular Monday night showing they will record the Wednesday night repeat, because they’re not clever enough to know the difference.

This unit is most definitely clever enough. The series record function is called ‘Auto Timer’ and allows much more control. You can set it for partial name matches or exact, and restrict it to the same time slot, the same channel, the same day of the week. Furthermore you don’t have to eyeball the EPG to find the thing, you can do a text search. And you can have the unit update its EPG on a schedule you set, so that a protracted absence won’t result in missed recordings.

Particularly impressive is the way it handles sequential episodes. When ‘Utopia’ came back on to SBS 2, two episodes were shown weekly, back to back. Some Series-type recording systems get confused by this. But no problems here. It simply recorded each one individually. We had chosen pre- and post-padding times of five minutes pre- and 30 minutes post, so it recorded from before the first episode to about halfway through the second one. Then as a separate recording, it recorded the last five minutes of the first episode, all of the second, and half an hour of whatever came afterwards. Simple and reliable.

When you’re playing back, there are six programmable skip keys for which you can set the intervals, plus ten-second arrow jumps. Playback can resume where you left off or start from the start. Subtitles are accessible on playback. When you delete a program it simply moves to a ‘Deleted’ folder, from which you can rescue it if you change your mind. After a week it disappears from there.

As for recording, it is here that this unit is a real standout. We had the extra tuner dongle available, but in the end didn’t use it. So with three tuners available, we could record six programs at once, right? Wrong! We started recording programs, adding more and more recordings. We got to 14 programs recording at once and things were still going fine! Trying one more, abruptly the unit became overloaded, very slow to respond, and recording became iffy.

Which, of course, is not something to complain about. Fourteen recordings at once is absolutely astonishing. Of course if you’re going to be doing a lot of that, consider one of the larger hard drives!

The picture settings are a little weird. For example, there’s a ‘Force Deinterlace’ mode in the AV set-up. This turns 1080i/50 material into a 1080p/25 output, by dint of eliminating half the fields, judging by the very jerky motion.

Some of the other settings promise more than they can deliver. For example, you can tell the unit to output 1080p/25 as 1080p/50, but what actually comes out is 576i/50. The ‘auto-resolution’ system unfortunately turned 576i/50 into 576p/50, so if you want to deliver 576i/50 to a high quality external deinterlacer and scaler, you’re going to have to go into the menu and change it manually.

In practice, 1080i/50 output was of pretty decent quality, and the conversion of SD to that resolution was also of pretty decent quality. We’d be inclined to switch to 576i output on quality movies so we can use our high quality deinterlacer, but for general viewing we’d leave it at 1080i.

Finally, for fun times, you can log onto the T3 using a web browser on the same network. From there you can exercise full control over it, and grab screen shots at full resolution of whatever is showing, or the on-screen menus. There’s an EPG search facility. (There’s also one in the Beyonwiz, and the ability there to query IMDB for more information about a show, but the web interface is rather easier to type into.)

CONCLUSION
The Beyonwiz T3 is a power PVR, highly reliable in operation and extremely flexible. HbbTV was still coming when we reviewed it, so more tweaking of the firmware is likely. For geeks and tweakers, this is an excellent PVR.

 

Tested with: firmware version 4.2, 20140911

Inputs: 3 x aerial for Digital TV reception

Outputs: 1 x HDMI, 1 x composite video, 1 x stereo analogue audio, 1 x component video, 1 x optical digital audio, 2 x SCART,

1 x aerial loop out

Other: 3 x USB, 1 x Ethernet, 1 x e-SATA, 1 x RS-232C

Storage: 500GB hard disk (other sizes available, see text)

Dimensions (whd): 380 x 67 x 240mm

Weight: 2.5 kilograms

Warranty: 12 months

 

Contact: Digital Trading Co

Telephone: 02 9603 1822

Web: www.beyonwiz.com.au