Intro & overview
Our initial impression of Evesham Technology's iplayer was that it looked to be one of the most exciting personal video recorders (PVRs) yet launched in the UK. Our take after seeing it in the flesh at a press demo was even more positive. But the only way to properly evaluate a product is to go hands on. That, as Bob Crabtree explains, is when you discover things that the press release didn't mention and a demonstrator will have made sure not to have shown you - or simply didn't know.
The iplayer is designed and made in France - by Netgem, a French outfit, oddly enough.
It's the second Evesham-branded personal video recorder we've looked at - the first was the £150 PVR160 in October last year - but the iplayer is a very different animal and one that has a whole lot of extras not usually found in a PVR.
Mind you it does cost twice as much as the PVR160 - an eye-watering £300.
Its standout feature is the ability to upscale standard-def TV to HD and output it via HDMI for viewing on a high-def TV set. There's a selection of output settings, ranging from 1080i downwards. Full 1080p high-def output, though, is not supported.
The iplayer will also be able to receive high-def transmissions if and when an HD service starts on Freeview. At that point, according to Evesham and Netgem, the only thing required for HD reception will be a software upgrade - and this will be transmitted over the air to the iplayer.
So, you could have knocked us down with a very small feather when we realised that the iplayer we had in for review was already able to receive the trial Freeview HD transmissions put out by the BBC!
More on HD broadcasts in a bit, though.
On top of that, the iplayer acts as a network media player. Better still, the traffic is two-way. As well as being able to feed to a TV set or AV system the media that's sitting on your networked Windows PCs, the Evesham box can export recorded programmes to those PCs and play them back from there.
And, those exported broadcasts (in the main) can also be played on the PC, not just on the iplayer. They can be repurposed as well - turned into DVDs or anything else you've got the tools to create.
We discovered, though that the BBC HD transmissions were protected, preventing us from playing them independently of the iplayer or editing them.
The iplayer also has a built-in internet browser based on the Mozilla engine. This lets you surf the net, play podcasts and, if you sign up for an account with the tvMax service run by Namesco, you can compose, send and receive emails, too.
Even without a tvMax account, though, you can access your own online email services - as we did Google Mail.
With internet capability comes the potential to receive forthcoming catch-up TV services that let you access over the net TV programmes that were broadcast in the previous week. Quite how this will all work remains unclear but it's an alluring prospect.
That's a brief overview of iplayer and may explain why it got us all excited. But for a more detailed take - and how iplayer ended up bursting our bubble - dive over to page two and onwards from there...