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At the time the first game of the FIFA World Cup was played, free-to-air high definition television services were available to approximately 50% of UK households. To help retailers recommend the right products for their customers, Paul Bristow, VP Strategy – Middleware and Consumer Experience, at Advanced Digital Broadcast, provides answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Why do I need a high definition set-top box?

A set-top box enables a digital TV signal to be displayed on a television screen. A digital set-top box works with any television – even very old ones – so you do not need a new television to enjoy standard digital TV. However, to receive high-definition channels you will need a set-top box that can receive Freeview HD TV services, and a television that is either ‘HD-ready’ or ‘Full HD’. Unless you purchased your TV within the last couple of months, when the first TVs with integrated Freeview HD tuners came on the market, it is likely that you will still need to buy a new HD set-top box to receive free-to-air (Freeview HD) services.

Should I buy a standard set-top box or a PVR?

A standard set-top box will likely only have a single tuner, but provides a cost-effective introduction to free-to-air high definition services.

A PVR (Personal Video Recorder – also called DVR or Digital Video Recorder) differs from a standard set-top box because it includes an integrated hard drive that provides space for recording and storing programmes. A PVR with a minimum drive capacity of 160GB should provide ample storage (more than 100 hours of standard definition video), but for heavy video consumers it might be worth considering a unit with a 250GB storage capacity. A PVR has two tuners and provides the facility to record one channel while watching another. These devices are typically more expensive than a standard receiver.

A key consideration when choosing a set-top box – PVR or not – should be whether it does the basics well: rapid channel change, a clear, easy to read EPG (electronic programme guide), and an intuitive navigation system.

What are the key functions to look for when selecting a high definition set-top box?

Picture and audio quality – HD (High-definition) TV services offer a higher quality picture, more vibrant colours, greater detail, and improved sound quality. There are two different variants of HD – one uses 720 lines and the other 1080, with1080p considered as ’full HD’ – offering the best quality viewing experience.

Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) – A set-top box contains software that presents the television choices in a menu format. It’s important to check that the programming guide is fast and easy to use.

Intuitive navigation – A clear and easy to read menu is also a key consideration so that you can access every service or application quickly.

Advanced functionality – Some set-top boxes have richer functionality than others and they can provide a more complete menu of additional services, like Video on Demand (movies available whenever you want them), pay-TV programs, catch-up TV services, like BBC iPlayer, and advanced interactive services, like weather and banking.

Hybrid – A hybrid set-top box gives you access to content delivered over both traditional broadcast and broadband networks, including catch up TV like BBC iPlayer, as well as a host of advanced interactive services. It is worth making sure that a device comes with an Ethernet connection and the services it offers currently, as well as future additions.

Flexibility/expandability – When selecting a set-top box it is important to consider not just your current requirements, but also the services that you will want in the next three to five years.

What connectors should I expect on a good quality set-top box?

The two main connectors on any set-top box are the television signal input and the output signal that goes to your television. When selecting a Freeview HD-enabled device it is important to make sure it has an HDMI (high definition media interface) as well as the standard SCART connector.

Increasingly set-top boxes also offer an Ethernet connection and additional connectivity in the form of a USB port that enable you to load user-generated media like photos and home videos onto your device. Devices with an Ethernet connection are known as ‘hybrid’.

Can I connect my HD set-top box to my home cinema?

Yes, but you will need to ensure that your set-top box has the right connectors to ensure that you get the very best audio and video experience. The ones to look out for are digital S-Video and PDIF audio connections, which will be listed on the packaging.

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