After talking about it for a while, we finally upgraded to MySky HDi. Things didn’t go smoothly at first: the first box they gave us didn’t work properly, although it did work in an annoying kind-of way that made me waste a couple of hours trying to figure out if it was broken or whether I just wasn’t understanding something. Two days after I reported the problem over the phone a techie turned up and fixed the problem (eventually) by replacing the whole unit.
However, now that I’ve had a few days to play with a working box, I have to say it’s pretty freaking amazing. The unit combines a 360-gig hard disk with four tuners, all decoding the same signal from the satellite dish. (Interestingly, there are four sat-dish connectors on the back of the box, but only the first one has the cable plugged into to, so there must be some kind of internal splitter feeding the one signal to all four tuners.) One of the tuners is given over to extracting the Guide information (names, descriptions, and screening times of the shows coming up in the next week), leaving three general-purpose tuners. This means that you can be watching one channel while simultaneously recording two others.
Integrating the decoder and the recorder into one device certainly makes recording things very easy. If you are watching a show and you want to record it, just hit a button. If you are looking at something in the guide and you want to record it, hit a button. There is never any need to set start and stop times – it gets all that info from the listing information. Things still aren’t quite as good as they should be: clearly there are no start/stop markers in the signal to indicate when programs begin and end, it’s all done via timings. So even if the Guide has a to-the-second idea of when a program is to start, there’s no guarantee that it will actually start at that time. The box solves this problem in what is probably the best way until start/stop information is actually embedded in the signal. When you request a program be recorded, it actually starts recording a couple of minutes before the nominal start time, and keeps recording until a few minutes after the nominal end time. But then when you go to watch a recorded show, the default position it starts playback at is the nominal start time. So far this has never been exactly the actual start time, but it’s always been close. Also there is no automatic way to skip ads. One would assume that this would be technologically feasible, but presumably the broadcasters wouldn’t license their content to a system that offered that ability.
The recording process doesn’t just record the show, but also its name and description and the date and time it was recorded.
I haven’t seen this in action yet, but the documentation claims that the box will notice a change in the screening time for a show you’ve requested a recording of, and update itself to record the new slot rather than the old.
In addition to just recording a specific program, you can also set “Series Link” on a show, which means that all future episodes of the show will be recorded. This is very, very handy. For example I have the nightly news on series link, so it doesn’t matter what time I get home from work – the news is always waiting for me.
In addition to recording programs you’ve explicitly asked it to, the box also keeps a cache of up to 60 minutes of stuff you’ve been watching. I think this cache is reset to empty whenever you switch channels. One consequence of this is is that if you decide half-way through a show that you want to record it, then your recording will start from the beginning of the show, not the point you hit the record button (provided that the start of the show is in the cache). It also means that you can rewind through a show that is being broadcast. You can also pause a live broadcast. When you resume, the system will keep recording the actual broadcast while showing you the point you are up to. If you want you can even fast forward through a “live” program, or just hit a button to catch up with where the show is at. I haven’t tried it yet, but it should be possible to watch a live program say 15 minutes behind the broadcast, catching up a little at each ad break as you fast forward through the ads.
If you have a show set to record, it will be recorded even if the unit is in standby! Clearly standby doesn’t mean much more than turning off the feed to the screen.
Despite the “HD” in the title, only one channel (TV3) actually broadcasts in HD. You can get an “HD ticket” (for an additional $10/month) which gets you a sports channel and a movie channel in HD, but it doesn’t seem right to me that a product with HD prominently in the title doesn’t supply HD as a matter of course.
Although I think Sky is wayyyy overpriced for what you get, this is certainly a very cool box of tricks, and I’m having terrific fun with it.