Not much more than a year after Beyonwiz released its T3 Linux-based PVR, it has followed up with the Beyonwiz T4, which is even higher powered than the T3, with four HD tuners built in and the ability to record many, many programmes at the same time.

In brief, the Beyonwiz is a high-definition set-top box with the ability to record from up to four different ‘networks’ at the same time. That is, you can record SBS, ABC, WIN/Nine, and Prime/Seven, all at once — and at least two programmes from each at the same time, up to a quoted total of ten simultaneous recordings.

As with the T3, the T4 comes in a range of different, well, ‘sizes’. That is, there is a choice of five hard-disk sizes, up to 6GB ($1099), or indeed, down to one without any hard disk at all ($599). Since they come with both USB and eSATA connections, even the disk-less one can record to an external drive.

The T4 has shed the SCART connections carried by the T3, which is probably just as well because that provides more room on the back for the four aerial inputs and four aerial loop outs. Three short jumper leads are provided so that you can daisychain them together. If you’re in a weak signal area, then you can install extra antennas so that there’s no splitting of the signal strength.

There’s an Ethernet connection (or Wi-Fi with the optional USB adaptor). Output is via HDMI, but component and composite video and analogue and optical digital audio are also supported. There’s also an HDMI input for recording from an external device or to use with the PIP function.

Beyonwiz T4

Most PVRs have a very basic front display; some have none at all. But the T4 has a nicely informative OLED one, with tasteful pale blue lettering. It shows very clearly what’s going on, including the name of the station and programme that you’re watching. Two display options are built in, and more are being developed by enthusiasts in an example of the kind of openness that is possible since the unit runs on the Linux operating system — obviously with plenty of media extensions and tweaking for its primary purpose as a PVR. It’s powered by a twin-core 1.3GHz processor, making it significantly faster with many functions than the T3.

The supplied infrared remote control can be set to control many brands of TVs. Included with the unit is a three-month subscription to the IceTV online EPG and control service.

Once we plugged in the unit and switched it on (there’s a hard-wired power switch on the back), it quickly fired up and started a wizard to tune in all four tuners, set the time and set up our network. The whole thing only took five minutes.

During our use of the unit it twice notified us that firmware upgrades were available. It was able to download these from the internet and install them automatically, only taking about ten minutes each time.

We just daisy-chained all the aerial connections together and plugged this up to the five-way splitter from our outside antenna, and all recordings — even when we forced it to employ all four tuners — were performed perfectly. There are menu options to show you detailed reception information, but most of what you need to know is shown on the information panel which displays when you first switch to a channel or when you press ‘OK’ on the remote. This information panel also shows quite detailed information about the current programme, including its resolution (did you know that one of the free-to-air advertising channels uses 352 by 576 pixels, rather than the usual 720 by 576?).

By default pretty much everything was switched on including the time-shift feature, which allows you to pause live TV or rewind (cool feature: the time-shift buffer can be saved as a recording). The one setting we felt important to adjust was the pre- and post-recording buffer settings, which were too low at just a few minutes. We like five minutes before and 30 minutes after the programme in order to be confident of getting the end.

And with this PVR, you might as well be generous with buffers, because you will rarely run out of recording capability. We found that the T4 could actually do more than ten recordings simultaneously, although it then became a little sluggish in responding to commands. When we got to lucky 13 it became completely unresponsive; we switched it off with the hard switch and on again to find those recordings hadn’t worked. So we’d suggest sticking to the official ten for safety.

If you have another PVR from the same family (e.g. a T3), you can use the network connectivity to watch a fifth network on your T4 using one of the tuners in the T3... even while the T3 is tuned into a different station.

You can also have the T4 log onto any shared folder on your network and make its recordings there, rather than on its internal hard drive (if it has one — this seems especially handy for the barebones model). Indeed you can have a bunch of different recording locations, save them all as ‘Favorites’ and relatively easily switch between them.

Playing back was smooth and reliable. Subtitles were available on playback. There are plenty of smoothly operating fast-forwards and rewinds speeds, up to 128×, and up to five pairs of forwards/reverse skip pairs with individually set-able jump times for each. There’s also a fast scan if you hold down the arrows. Getting around your recordings presents no problems.

A useful ‘Similar Broadcasts’ feature will search the EPG for similarly-named programmes and present a list. There is series recording of course, with quite detailed settings available. You can also hit a key to have the unit query the Internet Movie Database for information on shows, including the viewer star rating.

The picture quality was excellent, with good motion-adaptive deinterlacing so that free-to-air TV is presented in the best possible quality. Output resolutions from 576i/50 to 1080p/50 are supported.

There’s a nifty PIP feature, and this even works with the HDMI input. A Blu-ray player we tried didn’t work with that input, regardless of the output resolution we set, but we plugged in an old Beyonwiz PVR and it worked fine through the T4, both full screen and in the PIP window. We were able to successfully record it as well. We doubt that this will work with copy-protected material, but the sheer fact of being able to record any HDMI at all is a feature quite new to us.

One issue: you can edit the station lists to eliminate the duplicates. But that causes the renumbering of all subsequent stations, so the usual numbering that you’re used to when keying in stations may be upset.

There are lots of network features, with the ability to add more. These include in the standard machine a GMail reader, the Opera web browser, Flickr, an app for web cams, Last.FM, SHOUTCast and YouTube. Plus the unit will serve as a DLNA server (for photos and music only) and DLNA client (for photos, music and video).

And much to our surprise, in addition to the regular array of MP3 and AAC music, the unit would stream FLAC from our network, even up to 192kHz, 24 bits.

Although it won’t serve up video via DLNA, we were able to dial into the T4’s hard disk using our Blu-ray player, find the files containing the recordings, and play them, because all the folders are shared on the local network. If you have another T4 or T3 they can access each other’s recordings over the network.

If you’ve had any experience in transferring recordings from a PVR to your computer, perhaps to edit for more convenient viewing, then you’ll have needed a patient temperament; the large files can take an age to transfer. The T4 is the first PVR we’ve seen to pack Gigabit Ethernet. We used FTP to transfer a two-hour HD recording — 8.79GB in size — in 190 seconds, for a throughput of about 47 megabytes per second. That’s nearly five times the speed we’re used to from PVRs, and a respectable half what we get moving big files directly between our NAS and computer.

It turned out we didn’t actually need FTP. We eventually noticed that the T4 had made an appearance on the list of network resources in Windows Explorer. A couple of seconds of clicking around and we found the ‘movie’ folder which contained all the recordings. No need for the web interface, nor for FTP, we could just drag and drop files to our computer.

You can also download recordings from the web interface, somewhat more slowly. The web interface allows excellent control over the unit, plus the capture of screen grabs.

Beyonwiz has taken what was already a strong performer, the T3 PVR, and upgraded it with a more powerful processor and an extra tuner, providing a strong, stable PVR. Just pick the ‘size’ that you want. 

Beyonwiz T4

Beyonwiz T4 personal video recorder

Prices: $699 for 500GB HDD as tested;
also no HDD $599,
1TB $749,
2TB $799,
4TB $949,
6TB $1099

+ Four tuners, ten simultaneous recordings!
+ Stable performer with fine picture quality
+ Excellent network functions

-  May have to re-memorise channel numbers if you purge unused ones

Tested with firmware: 4/3.14.2

Inputs: 4 x aerial for Digital TV reception,1 x HDMI

Outputs: 1 x HDMI, 1 x composite video, 1 x stereo analogue audio, 1 x component video, 1 x optical digital audio, 4 x aerial loops

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

Storage: 500GB hard disk (see price options)

Dimensions (whd): 380 x 67 x 240mm

Weight: 2.5 kilograms

Warranty: 12 months

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