Cheap Sky+ Alternative

Being the tight-wad I am, I’ve decided (still) not to get Sky+. We’ve got Sky TV at home. It’s all very good, but I’m not heavily into sports and I rarely get time to watch a movie. Because of this we don’t have the “full” package but just the “Sky Family” package at about 19 quid a month. Sky get you over a barrel here. If you want Sky+ (which is the box that pauses live TV, records direct to a hard drive yadda yadda), then you pay for the box and nothing else if you’re on a “Sky World” package. Otherwise (if you’re on a family package like us) there’s a charge of 10 a month for the Sky+ service. Booo hiisss… See ? This is why I don’t want it. Another kick in the teeth is the fact that existing Sky viewers have until recently, paid a fortune for the Sky+ box, whilst new / potential Sky customers get the box for a knock-down fee.

So, I decided to do things the cheap way.. I’m not going to spend a hundred quid on a Sky+ box, then a tenna a month for using it. I’ve gone out and got myself a DVD Recorder! Ha!

The humble DVD player has been dropping in price more and more recently – now you can get one for around 30 quid. People have always kept their old VCR’s though, because you just can’t record onto a DVD that easily… until now! DVD Recorders are dropping in price quite dramatically now, as are blank DVD’s and DVD RW’s. A DVD-RW is a Re-Writeable DVD. You can format it, delete, start again, record, delete, record, delete etc etc – just like an old VCR but with much better quality. These sell for around 60 or 70p each now, but again the price is dropping daily. A DVD-R is even cheaper. These will allow you to record just once, but you’ll find these useful for recording those classic cam-corder moments or that special film you always want to keep.

So, this weekend I spent an hour or two putting my old cam-corder stuff onto DVD-R’s. Now I can go round the family and give them a copy of the DVD through the post. Cheap and easy. The only thing to watch out for is the formats – the DVD recorder I have records in the “+” format only, so I can record onto DVD+R’s and DVD+RW’s. There’s also the “-” format too. Both formats can be read by most DVD players, so I really don’t care. There’s lots of DVD recorders out now and more are coming out which record in both “+” and “-” formats. My laptop will do both so I’m not too bothered. These DVD recorders come with more inputs than you can shake a stick at. SCART, Optical, RF, Video, SVideo and more – you can even put the output of one DVD player into the input of the DVD recorder, so in theory you can make (ahem!) “backups” of your favourite DVD movies. The DVD recorder will even let you tweak the quality of the recording, so you can have High Quality, Low Quality or somewhere in-between. This is useful for fitting in lots of stuff onto one DVD disc.

The next step in my quest for cheapo-Sky+-alternative-for-cheap-gits-like-me was to get a Phantom PVR. This is a cool little box which slots into your Sky SCART output for VCR. This will detect the small signal sent out of the SCART socket when Sky is turned on or the “auto-view” option is chosen on the Sky planner. The Phantom PVR will then use the signal to begin sending out a specific sequence of IR commands. Those commands being “turn on, record”. These are pre-programmed by yourself then sent to your VCR, or to your DVD recorder. You can learn more about the Phantom PVR here.

And so I have my cheapo-alternative installed. On Sunday before I went out I simply selected “Top Gear” as an “Auto-View” and went out. When I got back it’d recorded the whole show onto my DVD-RW and I could watch it in picture-perfect quality. No fiddling with tapes or setting timers, no lost programmes (oh, all the programmes have a preview on the DVD’s as you insert them so you know what you recorded).

So I’m happy, she’s happy (she can watch Sex and the City while I put my DVD on the laptop or something). Job done. :)