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Wintal PVR-X10 Recording Digital Set Top Box With 80GB Hard Drive - Fantastic Value

Let's cut to the chase straight away with this review. This is emerging technology and it is not yet totally fully user friendly, particularly for those of us a little bit technically challenged. Our best advice is, if you can't handle your existing video recorder for timer programming etc., then this Wintal model (and many others) in its present format is just not for you. (unless you have a spare bottle of Valium handy) We will do our best to explain how to use it for those happy to persevere. Believe us - you will be rewarded a thousand times over if you persevere and master the thing! All it takes is about a month's use, then its quirky operating system becomes second nature or dare we say the "norm"! Even though it is written in very good English, the manual simply leaves tooooo much out. Yes, you can get to use its most basic functions after about a weeks practice. The huge lack of screen shots in the area of timer programming is by far the biggest hurdle to be overcome as programming timers is totally different to your run of the mill VCR. In our view the screen shots are also too small and therefore very hard to read by many of the over fifties - you can overcome this by downloading the manual and viewing on your computer. (more on this below) This review concentrates on everything left out of the manual and tries to make it easier to understand. Please don't be put off by these comments as the unit is a beautiful piece of engineering that delivers a perfect picture and is the quietest we have ever come across. (practically no hard drive noise at all even in the 5 seconds it takes to boot up) The hard drive section works flawlessly and is an absolute credit to the manufacturers. We have heard the dreadful noise brands costing three times as much make on start up. This review assumes you are familiar with what a Digital Set Top Box actually does and how it can help you. If not, please take a few minutes to read this page full of explanations. Towards the end of this article we have listed other options such as the much dearer but superb Topfield unit (leading twin tuner brand) for those with the money and also need to record from satellite.

Warranty and Support
Both of these items are just superb - dare we say the best in the business! The warranty is an amazing 3 years! Now we know of no hard drive company offering such a long guarantee and in fact most have reduced theirs to 12 months! Wintal have an incredibly efficient Customer Care Centre. At present you don't get stuck on hold for hours and there is no automated "non human" switchboard. The Help Line is on 1300 662 946. (ask for Technical Support if you have an operation problem). We suggest you pull up this page on Frequently Asked Questions before ringing, as your question may well be in the list. The whole idea of this page however, is to provide all the answers to RVers questions. This Wintal page gives a lot of info on setting up the box and fitting the supplied cables, as the manual doesn't cover this with pictures. Scroll down to Wintal Set Top Box (in red). As good as this list is, many of the items covered below are not dealt with at all. We found Darryl in Technical Support to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful - email sueh@radioparts.com.au.

What Does the Hard Drive Do?
Put simply it will change your attitude to the humble VCR forever. First up you don't need to buy tapes ever again. The quality is absolutely astounding - exactly the same as playing a brand new DVD and unlike the DVD it can't get scratched or damaged no matter how many times you play it. This alone is a good cost saving. The huge advantage for RVers is that you can store 28 hours of television. This is great for those times you are in non reception areas. There is a weight saving over a VCR. Cassettes are also a massive fire hazard, something that most RVers seem to be blissfully unaware of. We have seen them burn - absolutely frightening and it all happens so quickly. Power consumption is a maximum 25 watts. However if you are an "ad" hater you can eliminate all ads whilst watching almost live. All you do is start recording 30 minutes before you want to start watching. More on this below.

What it Wont Do
You can't dump anything you have recorded directly to your computer. You need a PVR with a a USB to do this or own a PC with a video capture card such as the Pinnacle etc. You cannot watch one digital channel whilst recording another. You need a "twin tuner" model to do this or another STB - a second STB is still a very cheap option at just $100.00 more. Wintal are bound to have a twin tuner a bit further down the track, but were very noncommittal when we rang on this. However, when they do come they will of course be much dearer. You cannot increase the size of the hard drive. You can only record free to air programs - it will not record for instance from a DVD player or a video camera. It will not record from a satellite box. If this point is critical to you then we suggest you investigate a Topfield. Again though, future Wintals may allow this. There is minimal access to files on the disk manipulation wise. This is good in one way as it keeps it all simple and easy to understand. Say you record three consecutive shows on the ABC. You then want to keep the middle one and delete the first and last shows to increase hard drive space. You can't do this - only delete the complete file. You still need a VCR or DVD recorder if you want to keep your recordings.

What Does it Cost?
Well it all depends where you buy it. The Australian RRP is an amazingly cheap $399.00. Ours came from Global Trading via Ebay. We got ours for $255.00 plus $19.00 insured postage - totally painless transaction and we would definitely buy from Global again. One comes up on Ebay almost everyday just from this one supplier. To find them on Ebay (Australia) just put "digital set top box hard drive" in the search window. Lots of other places to purchase if eBay scares you off - $299.00 from Smartstore - $356.00 from Avshop - $399.00 from Wintal - and the other Auction House - e Bid Auctions - etc. Search around on the Australian Google for even more choices. Ours traveled very well via Australia Post, as it is very well packaged. Modern hard drives are self parking, so the problems of head crashes of the old days, just don't occur any more.

What the Box Looks Like
The Wintal PVR-X10 is pictured below. It is a really good looking unit with its mirrored front. Size wise it is no larger than most set top boxes without a hard drive - truly an ultra compact. There is of course a slight weight penalty over a standard set top box. Rather oddly this is not mentioned anywhere. It comes complete with a Scart lead terminating in 3 RCA plugs and a SVHS plug, as well as an ordinary composite lead and a couple of batteries for the remote. You really don't need to buy anything cable wiser to get it up and running. We were most impressed as this certainly does not happen with most other units!



The Rear View
The photo below better illustrates just how small this device is. It is even smaller than the Dick Smith ordinary set top box. The AC lead is permanently connected and for some odd reason it's not shown on the photo from the official Website. Please note that you will need 240 volt to power the unit. It only draws 25 watts making it ideal for RV use. Oddly the Website says 15 watts. A good way to hold this unit in place for RV use, could be Velcro as there are no mounting holes at all. It would be great if Wintal could look at this as it is a "knockoffable" item in an RV and if it were bolted down thieves might give up.



General Observations
The PVR-X10 is about the size of a thick paperback, neither too thin nor too large to be used in your space limited RV. Noise wise this unit is fantastic. Reviewers of other brands constantly remark about hard drive noise - important if you intend recording after you go to bed. We sleep about 2 metres from the unit! The all metal case gives a good feeling of quality. There is an Australian review on this page. A newspaper review is on this page. It you are a sports fanatic then buy one now! You can record your match whilst watching it live. Want to check the refs decision? Easy!!! Just keep recording and rewind to the bit you want - it keeps on recording during all this without the slightest glitch. Incidentally, the same Wintal box appears to also be sold, with a slightly different faceplate, under the brand names of Digicrystal and Supernet. We have not tried either of these - just mentioned it in case you stumble on a bargain. Below is the manufacturer specs.



Slim-line Mirror Finish Design
80GB Enhanced IDE Hard Drive
One-button Instant Record
Up to 28 Hours of continuous recording
Simultaneous Record and Playback
Timeshift Function
Present & Following Recording
Standard Definition Set Top Box
Fully DVB-T and MPEG-2 Compliant
Closed Captions and Teletext
S-Video via SCART
Up to 2500 TV and 1500 Radio Storage
Logical Channel Numbering
Auto TV Channel Set Up
Channel List Editor
16:9 Widescreen/ 4:3 Letter Box/ Full Screen Picture Modes
S/PDIF Coaxial Digital Audio Out
CD Quality Sound
Multi-Language OSD
Timer with 12 Programmable Weekly or Daily Events
Loop Through Function (RF)
Games and Calendar

The Manual
The manual is written in very good English, with clear screen dumps, however the content detail just isn't there. We strongly suggest that you download a PDF version from this page - right down the bottom. This is far easier to read as you can zoom in - Adobe Acrobat format.

All About the Remote
Now if you happen to own the Wintal WIN1XS you will notice that the remote is identical despite all the added recording functions. It has no dedicated pause, play, FF, FR, Skip Forward and back buttons. Instead it uses the number keys that do not indicate their PVR - X10functions on the remote, and therefore you will find yourself constantly referring to the menu linked to the PVR button. This is not really a problem as you learn the control numbers very quickly - just darn annoying when you first use the unit. The remote itself is a little flimsy and not really powerful enough infrared wise for use in larger RVs, as the infrared beam just doesn't bounce. This could all well be addressed in future models. Now what needs to happen with the timer is for the remote to be larger and have say a separate sliding section on the bottom, to control the recording functions. You will NEVER fathom out this device without reading the manual as it isn't at all logical. What is a PVR button for instance? WARNING: Don't leave home without the remote otherwise you will not be able to record, playback or even re-tune.

Setting Up for the First Time
Because it records, setting up has a couple of extra steps compared with a normal STB. You need to tell it your country, State and time zone offset from GMT. All you do is switch on, and provided your TV is set to AV you should get the screens below.



Tuning
This is simple and fast and the book does a great job, so we wont cover it here. In fact most users will not need to consult the manual if they have used any set top box previously. When buying any product like this for RV use, it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that tuning be fast and easy, as you will have to re-tune many many times on the road. It is super easy and fast and non complicated. We loved the signal strength meter to assist with turning the aerial to get the strongest signal. A very important feature is that it places the channels in logical order. (2, 7, 9, 10, 28 etc.) Note: In many locations you wont even need to raise the aerial - wonderful if you are trying to camp somewhere where you really shouldn't be! Who me????

Limitations of Timer Record
Rather oddly, bearing in mind the large storage capacity, there is only 12 memory slots. Timer record mode also only allows for one entry to reoccur!! Great if you want Dr Who, but not so good if you want The Bill as well to record whilst you are away for a couple of weeks! The other 11 entries have to be for a specific date as you cannot specify a day of the week. This renders the capacity of 80GB HDD only useful to record on program or set of programs on a regular basis. Otherwise you might use it to record movies as the aforementioned limitation makes it impossible to record TV programs (all but one that is) on a regular basis. Hopefully this will be fixed with a firmware upgrade. One thing we really miss on the PVR is one touch record. Yes it does have a dedicated button for this and it works fantastically well, BUT you cannot set the total recording time which is a shame. Nevertheless it's fantastic if you are watching something and want to instantly record it - super fast and easy. Having 28 hours up your sleeve though is absolutely pure bliss as you can afford to be extravagant! We have found that since we have had this unit there is always something on the hard disk to watch - we aren't hiring videos any more!

Finding the Timer Menu
To be perfectly honest we initially thought this area was a nightmare until we finally got to grips with it. Now it's simply a doddle to use and EASIER than any VCR! First up check that the time is correct. Tune to any channel and look along the status bar - far right. The screen shot below shows Ten Digital and the time is 10.26. In theory the time is actually transmitted by the broadcaster you are viewing. Didn't know that did you?



Timer Recording
This area is very, very, vague in the manual. A wonderful feature though, is it lets you record months ahead - fantastic if you must record something whilst away. If you are watching TV live, simply press Menu twice. (on right of remote) This brings up the menu shown below left. Cursor down to Timer. Click OK and the Timer List should come up - right screen shot. This shows a setting for a recording for Channel 7. Slots flagged as "deactivated" simply means it is an empty slot. Please be aware that the box MUST be in "standby mode" for timer recording to commence at the allotted time. Standby mode is reached when the unit is plugged into the mains and you turn it off using the red button top left. There is no physical on/off with on the unit.



Setting the Timer
This is beautifully simple once you know how! Use the Up/Down cursor keys to go to "Channel". Press OK. To record channel 7 just press 7 - it immediately goes to channel 7. We like this method as it is a sort of double check. You can also use the left/right cursor keys, but this is a slower method as it scrolls through all the channels. Cursor down to Date and press OK. Use the left/right cursor keys to change the date. Cursor down to Start and click OK. Now you can sit here for hours clicking the left/right cursor keys - please don't use this method. Say we want to set 3:00AM. Press the number keys in this order (it enters right to left). Press 0300. Cursor down and set the Stop time. Cursor down to Activated and use the left/right cursor keys to turn on Yes. Press the Exit button on the remote (far right). You MUST press OK next for the settings to be Saved. We have put the next bit in again as many get this wrong. Press the RED button (top left) on the remote to go into Standby mode in preparation to record. The unit MUST be connected to 240 volt. If all is well there will be a green dot on the screen and the time should be in the front panel window. TIP: The Timer settings are GREEN until you save them. Note: You can record the "following" TV program by pressing the List button - middle left. This is handy if you are nodding off to sleep and would probably botch setting the timer the long way!



Playing Back a Recording on the Hard Disk
This is where this unit simply blows away the best videos money can buy! It is simply fantastic and just so easy to use. If you are absolutely petrified of computers, fear not as everything is done in the background. Where it starts to leave videos for dead is that it NAMES all programs recorded and adds the date. No more scanning videos and stopping every few seconds to try to work out where you are! To delete an entry cursor on to it and press OK. You will get the menu below right. Cursor down to Delete and press OK. Be very careful here, as once deleted you cannot retrieve it, and there are no "Are you sure" reminders. The recorded items menu shown below left, comes up when you press the PVR button on the remote (bottom left) followed by "7". If it doesn't work (nothing happens) try the OK button. You might have to press OK several times. This two page menu also shows you how much room you have left on the hard drive. Best not to let this get tooooooo low otherwise it may overwrite something you want to keep. Like many top quality DVD player the Wintal remembers where you stopped watching the last show. Just scroll to the show you wish to resume watching and click on OK. Scroll down one to Continue and Voila it instantly resumes from exactly where you left off! Simply brilliant feature and it will remember many, many shows. We use this feature extensively. It is far better than any DVD player and of course your VCR is hopeless in this area. Note: Be aware that if you record several programs in the one large file it will take the name of the last show. If you use one touch record it uses the name ot the FIRST show. It's a good idea to make a mental note of this in case you ever can't find something. We find it helps to keep your old TV guides as these often give a good clue!



Fast Forward/Rewind and Pause
This is a stunning feature! Simply by pressing the FF or RW buttons (1 & 3 on the remote) up to six times you can control the speed of searches. A tiny window comes up in the bottom left of the screen - it displays F1 then F2 etc. On F6 the thing is literally flying! Unlike video there are no annoying "noise bars". Similarly with most DVDs you get "scenes". This doesn't happen with hard disk recorders. Instead it simply speeds through with a totally clear picture on the screen at all times. Simply brilliant! There is also another method of skipping forward. Pressing button 6 on the remote advances the program 5 minutes. You cannot change the time to say 3 minutes to skip most ads in Australia. Again, unlike your VCR where if you pause for toooooo long, you will never damage the unit. A paused picture by the way is perfect with zero noise bars.

Watching a Recording Whilst Still Recording
This is just so koooool!!!! It will change forever the way you watch TV. Basically you can watch anything on the hard drive whilst still recording. What is amazing is you can still fast forward etc. without wrecking your recording. Now that's fantastic processing power. The screen shot below left shows the recording bar across the bottom of the screen in normal record mode. The shot below right shows the same program being recorded, but we are watching a program previously recorded on the Wintal PVR-X10.



Look at the menu bar across the bottom of the left screen shot. It shows that you are recording and also playing back. It also indicates how far you are into the playback track. You can use this feature to get rid of all ads. Say you enjoy watching the travel spots the "weather man" on Channel 7's Sunrise goes to, but you don't particularly like the rest. All you do is start recording 30 minutes before you want to start watching. Then keep recording BUT start watching Sunrise from the start. Stopping recording can be a bit tricky. One would think pressing Stop or Exit would do the trick! Not true! You must press Swap. To clear these recording/playback info bars off the screen without stopping recording/playback, all you need to do is press OK. You may need to do this more than once. Rather oddly this vital piece of info is not ever mentioned in the manual!



"OK" is Your Friend!
We can't emphasise this enough! If you get "stuck" and say the PVR button (bottom left on the remote) wont bring up the recording control window, all you do is press the OK button. You may have to do this more than once. Don't forget that the remote isn't super strong infrared wise, so if you don't get the expected result aim more carefully and try again. Like anything computer processor controlled, if all else fails unplug it at the wall and leave for 2 minutes. (never do this when recording) Remember that OK is used to get rid of most "on screen" info that you don't need all the time. Similarly if pressing PVR doesn't bring up the expected recording menu in the top left of the screen, again try pressing OK a few times and it will appear! Look, none of this is on the web page as yet (July 2005) or the manual, so please remember this tip - otherwise you will go nuts! If the OK button fails then try the Exit button. Unlike Windows we have not had this unit freeze on us despite heavy use.

Electronic Program Guide
A funny one this! This function just isn't activated in Australia yet by any broadcaster. It will be paradise for all those technically challenged amongst us! To set the timer all you will need to do is select the programs you wish to record - all other settings will be automatically calculated. We can't wait!! To understand why this works you need to understand that the station transmits a digital signature for each individual program. Very clever stuff!



Other Options With Twin Tuners
The Legend Twin Tuner - around $619.00. The Legend PVR adapts to your lifestyle. You can now pause live television - to answer the phone or get a coffee - then simply press play to resume watching where you left off. The twin tuner allows you to watch one channel while recording another - simulating a TV/VCR set up but with all the advantages of digital. STOCK CODE - LPVR080 - with 80GB Hard Disk Drive, LPVR160 - with 160GB Hard Disk Drive, LPVR250 with 250GB Hard Disk Drive, LPVR400 with 400GB Hard Disk Drive. More info on this page - note that you do need to check reviews on this one as there are more than just a few reported difficulties.

Topfield TF4000T and TF5000PVRt. Without doubt this is the machine of choice for TV enthusiasts! Expect to pay around $1000.00, but the odd bargain does come up now and again, but they are very rare on eBay. The support from Topfield is absolutely brilliant and they have a very honest open forum where any "nasties" aren't removed. Lots of info on this page. So what makes this expensive box so popular? It is a Standard Definition Digital Terrestrial Receiver with Personal Video Recorder that records on to an 80gig HDD, it has twin tuners that allow you to record one program while you watch another or record two programs simultaneously, video picture in picture, MP3 Jukebox player, slide show viewer, it can also connect to your PC via USB 2.0 port allowing file transfers (mp3, Topfield Applications, firmware & copying recorded TV datastreams to your PC for processing and archiving). What are these "TAP's" you keep seeing mentioned in all the forums? "TAP" is short for "Topfield Application". In general they are small applications that enhance the STB in some way. Good examples of this are things like signal meters, Image viewers and "GUI" (user interface) enhancements like the Freespace bar. They are normally created by users using the Topfield supplied TAP tools. The graphics program used on this Website uses similar "add ons" developed by super keen users for the benefit of others. In our view this is a very good thing and augers well for any product offering this facility.

Summing Up - Wintal PVR-X10
If you do your research thoroughly you will come across the odd reviewer absolutely slamming the Wintal PVR-X10. In our view they are totally daft, as the bang for the buck just can't be beaten and it truly is a top quality unit. We just love the thing and it exceeded our expectations by a huge margin! We just can't imagine life without it! It does everything that is claimed of it at a price that is affordable by most RVers. This is even an ideal entry unit if you have never owned a digital set top box before as it exactly meets the needs of the average RVer. Don't forget most users end up with at least two set top boxes - we own three at present - obviously not in the motorhome though! We hope that this review has put you at ease with this new technology. In our view you just can't go wrong!

Absolutely recommended!

Bob & Chrissy Eustace




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