Preparing for the digital handover: the best of the set-top boxes

By Chris Cope,

It all started off with a trial in the small Welsh communities of Ferryside and Llansteffan. 500 properties switched over to digital television in 2005, way before anyone else did, as part of a Government trial. Next was the Copeland area in the Borders in 2007. And now in 2010, BBC One and Two, ITV, Channel Four and five are systematically being dumped from the analogue airwaves as the Digital Switchover really starts to take a grip across the UK.

There’s a whole host of digital television set-top boxes out there to buy if you’ve never made the digital TV leap yet – but if you fancy something a little different, there’s also a load of other digital avenues to investigate.

Boxee-Box

There’s a host of HTPCs around – Home Theatre PCs – or integrated digital TVs too, but are these about to sound a death knell for the more traditional set-top box? LatestGadgets decided to look at some set-top boxes on the market and ponders if they’re about to become obsolete in the face of more upmarket and deviant forms of digital television.

1. Philips DTR220 Freeview Set-Top Box – With a guide price of £35, this set-top box is digital television at a modest price and perfect for those on analogue television needing to make the transition to digital.

2. Alba ALDTR160 Freeview+ recorder (guide price £70) – Taking the next step up, Freeview+ draws inspiration from Tivo and Sky+ and allows you to record digital televison. It’s got a 160GB hard drive, equating to 80 hours of material, so recording your episodes of Coronation St. hasn’t quite been so easy.

3. Sky+ HD – You can now pick up Sky+ boxes relatively cheaply if you’re about to join Sky – or if you’re an existing customer – so there hasn’t really been a better time to delve into satellite television. And with HD functionality too, super-sharp image quality is one of this box’s more redeeming features.

4. Sony Bravia KDL46EX503U (£996.55 on Amazon) – Splash out with the 46-inch Sony Bravia TV with built in Freeview HD. It’s got all the mod-cons – like WiFi and Internet Video capabilities – and of course, integrated Freeview HD. Freeview has never quite been so luxurious.

5. Boxee Box – Boxee is a novel concept – a free computer program allowing you to collate videos from your computer and the Internet, pulling content from a number of outside sources too, such as YouTube and Last.fm. D-Link have made the soon-to-be-released Boxee Box, a sleek looking box which removed the PC from the Boxee equation, allowing you to watch content from the Internet or your hard drive. It’s similar to Home Theater PCs, but is designed for the living room.