The TF-T6211 marks a bit of a departure for Topfield, which is a long-time player in the personal video recorder field in Australia, with a number of highly regarded classic models over the years. Rather than using its own long-standing control systems here, the interface on the T6211 is based on the Android operating system, most commonly seen in mobile phones. It uses version 4.2 of Android, known as ‘Jelly Bean’. Will the new TF-T6211 thus diverge from successful Topfields of the past?
Topfield is not alone in going Android. Companies both major and minor are recognising the versatility of Android as an operating system and interface — all Sony’s 2015 smart TVs, for example, will be Android-based. As Google’s operating system, Android brings with it easy access to the Google play store, delivering both additional content to watch, and a massive store of apps across a broad range of activities.
But let’s start with the core abilities of this PVR, relating to recording terrestrial television. The T6211 is provided with two tuners and the ability to record two programs at once, and a 500GB hard-disk drive to store the recordings. There’s analogue AV output, plus optical digital audio, though most users will likely be using the HDMI connection. There is an Ethernet socket and two USB connections.
There are a couple of nice inclusions with the unit. One is a Wi-Fi dongle (with antenna) for use with the one of the USB sockets. The other is an HDMI cable, saving purchasers the high cost of the HDMI cables that consumer electronics retailers sell separately.
The unit is powered by a hefty wallwart rather than having the power supply built in. And the unit itself is quite a bit smaller than the usual PVR dimensions, measuring just 260mm wide, some 100mm narrower than most. The front display is clear if basic, showing just four characters of status, such as the current TV station.
If you want a useful additional aid for navigating the many features provided by the included Android apps, Topfield has this Mini Air Mouse accessory available (an alternative to this might be to use a simple wireless mouse and keyboard combo with their receiver plugged into a USB port). The Android section of the Topfield is effectively a real computer, capable of doing pretty much anything — just go to the Google play store for more apps if anything is missing. We spent a bit of quality time with the web browser, which was quite responsive and nicely rendered all the web pages we visited. We also streamed high-def video from our server effectively; all video is converted to 50Hz output, though, so some jerkiness may become apparent for 24 or 60fps material. You can also stream recordings and live channels out to an Android tablet with ease.
On first start-up, the unit booted fairly quickly to a main menu that offered set-up and installation items, as well as access to Android apps. We had absolutely no problems setting up, but Topfield has three videos on YouTube (under Whiz Bang) which walk you through the main functions and set-up. We went straight to the Installation section and within seconds had the unit scanning for our local digital TV stations. Within a couple of minutes it had captured all the stations and was ready for use. Subsequent switch offs and ons showed that the unit doesn’t go into a quick start standby mode, but switches itself off pretty thoroughly. Starting up again took just under 40 seconds for a TV picture to appear on screen.
We soon came to realise one great virtue of this PVR — for the most part it doesn’t seem to be an Android box. That might seem a strange thing to proclaim as a virtue, but we’ve experienced some fairly clunky Android media boxes in recent years. This one you can just treat this as a low-cost, effective PVR and not even notice the operating system. It operates smoothly, too, with quick responses to the remote control and nice fade transitions as menus come up.
And there’s no cause for concern that having Android as your control system could lead to app crashes which might affect recordings that are under way or about to trigger. The system appears to be well sandboxed against such problems. We did manage to crash Android several times, but all that happened was that the system returned us to TV mode and, all importantly, didn’t affect the recording that was under way at the time.
Operationally the TF-T6211 proved not dissimilar to other Topfield PVRs, which means that it’s pretty easy to use. Once we’d tuned it in, for example, we could hit the OK/List key to bring up all the stations, select the duplicates in our area, choose ‘Delete’ and get rid of them. You can go back to the Install menu to set up favourites lists.
In the settings menu you can set the default time-shift period — this is on and set to two hours by default, so you can always rewind live TV up to two hours. You can boost this to up to five hours. You can also set pre- and post-program buffers for recording, to make sure you don’t miss any part of your program.
To program recordings you can work via the EPG or through a special ‘Recording’ menu to the ‘Reservation’ page. This permits editing of existing recording parameters, deleting set timers or manually adding new ones. The EPG supports at least eight days of schedule (if the TV station deigns to broadcast it). And although when we first met this PVR there was no ‘intelligent’ or ‘series’ record capability available, this has been added in the most recent firmware upgrade — Topfield is a company that listens to its users through feedback and forums, delivering ongoing tweaks to firmware which can bring new abilities like this series recording even long after purchase. This is doubly so with an Android-based machine, of course, given the ever-expanding range of Android apps available to be downloaded.
With one exception the playback control was excellent. There are lots of fast forwards and rewind speeds — up to 128×. If that’s not quick enough for you, you can hit the left or right arrow keys to bring up a progress bar, then hold down the arrows to scoot through a whole recording in seconds. If you jab the arrow keys, you move one per cent of the run time per jab. If you want to get somewhere really fast, at any point during playback just press a number key to jump to that proportion of the way through the program. Press ‘3’ for example, and you go straight to 30%. All these jumps were fast and certain, with no hanging or delays, and it’s an excellent way of getting around a recording quickly.
In addition to this, if you stop playback, you have the option of resuming where you stopped when you next run that recording.
The unit also has slow motion (down to 1/16th speed) and a pause. You can set programs to play back in loop mode continuously and display subtitles during playback.
But there was an omission: there were no fixed interval skip keys by which you could jump a minute or thirty seconds or some such. These are most useful for jumping through advertisements. A 1% skip doesn’t cut it because the size of the skip will depend on the length of the program. So with this unit you’re going to have practice with the fast forwards and rewind keys to make your way through the advertisements.
The unit offers output resolutions of anything from 576i up to 1080p. The automatic deinterlacing when handling SD stations was quite good, producing a clean picture with no obvious artefacts. However if you want to use the better video handling of, say, your display or your home theatre receiver, you can easily change the output resolution using a key on the remote, or just set it to ‘Auto’, in which case the output format will change to match the native resolution of the station or recording that’s playing.
The unit is not FreeviewPlus enabled, but it does have the Android catch-up apps for ABC iView, SBS On Demand and Ten Play already installed. Of course, with Android you can find an app to do just about anything. For example, if you want to transfer a recording you can copy it to plugged-in storage using the PVR’s facilities. Or you can install an Android FTP server to allow the unit to be accessed by computers on your network; Topfield advertises the ability to view programmes on Android tablets, for example, though we didn’t go that far in this review.
The Topfield TF-T6211 Android Smart PVR turns out to be a highly effective PVR with its Android extensions providing true and impressive ‘smart’ functionality.
+ Excellent value for money; Very good traditional PVR performance; Series recording now added
- Android smart features as far as the eye can see; No fixed time skip keys
Tested with: firmware HTFA.188.8.131.52
Outputs: 1 x HDMI, 1 x composite video,
1 x stereo analogue audio, 1 x optical digital audio, 1 x aerial loop out
Inputs: 1 x aerial for Digital TV reception
Other: 1 x RJ45 Ethernet, 2 x USB (host type), USB Wi-Fi dongle included
Hard disk: 500GB
Dimensions (whd): 260 x 50 x 206mm
Warranty: 12 months
Contact: Toppro Pty Ltd