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Technology.

Updated: 28 Jun 2022

Best PVRs and set-top boxes 2022: Which? Best Buy and expert buying advice

See if a set-top box or PVR suits your needs, how much money you should spend on one, what features to look out for and our pick of the best TV boxes.
Amy Axworthy
Accessibility features

Whether you're looking to record TV onto a PVR, or just want to access more channels through an aerial or satellite with a set-top box, there are plenty of options.

In this guide we'll explain the differences between the two types of device and highlight the most important features.

The best PVRs

Only logged-in Which? members can view our recommendations in the table below. If you’re not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.

  • 77%
    • best buy
    £259.00

    With its hefty 1TB hard drive and 4K support, this accomplished PVR is ready for anything, and it's easy to use.

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  • 74%
    • best buy
    £249.00

    A comparatively affordable model, this PVR has a slightly smaller hard drive but shares many of its predecessor's other features. It's one of the best we've tested.

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  • 74%
    • best buy
    £199.00

    This box promises a wealth of options and features, including some new toys for TV fans, such as taking your recordings on the road with you to watch on a tablet, and picking up your favourite show halfway through when you move from one room to another. It delivered in our tests and is a great choice.

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  • 72%
    • best buy
    £271.92

    An all-in-one PVR that has a 500GB hard drive and can record to DVD, this device isn't cheap, but there's plenty here for your money. It looks slick and scores very highly.

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Table last updated: June 2022

Not found the product for you? Browse all of our PVR reviews.

The best set-top boxes

  • 80%
    • best buy
    £124.49

    It may cost more than most, but this set-top box is top of the heap. It’s packed with features, including 4K support, access to catch-up apps and Freeview Play, which lets you watch the previous week’s shows from the electronic programme guide. It gets the basics right, too: it’s a doddle to use and the picture quality is excellent.

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  • If you’re looking to spend as little as possible but don’t want to compromise on quality, this fantastic Freeview box is the way to go. It’s easy to use and looks sharp.

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Table last updated: June 2022

Looking for something a little different? Find the perfect model for you with our set-top box reviews.

PVR vs set-top box: what's the difference?

Not much, to be honest, aside from one key factor.

PVRs have the ability to record live television, saving it to their built-in hard drive. Set-top boxes, meanwhile, merely allow you to watch live or catch-up TV via services such as Freeview or Freesat; they can't record.

Some set-top boxes have the ability to be paired with an external hard-drive, which will grant them PVR-like capabilities. When this is the case, we make sure to mention it in our reviews.

A lot of companies play fast and loose with these definitions, but we split them out in our reviews and advice to make sure you know exactly what you're getting with each product.

Don't need access to live TV channels? If you're just after something to give you access to catch-up and streaming apps, check our TV streamer reviews.

How much should I spend on a set top box or PVR?

Family watching TV with PVR

PVR prices tend to range between £120 and £300, but they can be as low as around £65. The price is often dictated by two key features:

  • The size of the hard drive – typically between 500GB and 2TB (2,000GB) – which affects how much you can record. 
  • The number of tuners. The more tuners a PVR has, the more channels you can record at once. If your device doesn't have enough tuners, you might not be able to watch live TV whilst recording another channel too, so check before you buy.

Set-top boxes are usually much cheaper, since they lack the ability to record – you can pay as little as £35 for a basic high-definition model. More expensive set-top boxes are often smart, which means they have catch-up and streaming apps, such as BBC iPlayer and YouTube. You can pay around £150 for these models. There are also 4K models on the market now (see features to look out for, below), which can up the price still further.

Best PVR and set-top box features to look out for

  • Freeview or Freesat – a Freeview device uses an aerial to access channels, while a Freesat one uses a satellite. If you have a roof-top or indoor aerial, go for a Freeview box but if you've got a satellite dish, choose Freesat. Find out more about these services in our guide to Freeview vs Freesat.
  • Is it smart? – not all PVRs and set-top boxes are internet-enabled, so if you want to access catch-up and streaming apps then choose one that is.
  • Hard drive size – a 500GB hard drive can store around 125 hours of HD TV, if that's not enough then choose a bigger model.
  • 4K – all PVRs and set-top boxes can access HD channels, but some also support the higher-quality 4K. A 4K device will let you make the most of what's available now and in the future.

When is the best time to buy a PVR or set-top box?

Both types of device can stay on sale for many years. Prices aren't that high to start with, and get even lower the longer a model is on the market. Unsurprisingly, the best time to buy is usually during a sale, such as Black Friday or the January sales (but check our reviews first to make sure you aren't being sold a dud).

How do I choose the best PVR or set-top box brand?

Humax is the big name in PVRs, but Panasonic makes them, too. Freesat also made its first forays into both the PVR and set-top box markets in 2020. Humax certainly offers the most choice with a bigger spread of pricing, so if you're after a cheaper model then it's probably best to start with its PVRs.

Sky and Virgin also make PVRs, but the SkyQ and Virgin V6 boxes are only available with a Sky or Virgin TV subscription.

Manhattan is one of the main set-top box brands, but there are also models from Freesat and TalkTalk. Manhattan has a wider range of products to suit most price points, as well as a few PVRs.

You can read more about the different brands and which make the most reliable devices in our PVR and set-top box brand guide.

How good are security support policies for PVR or set-top box brands?

We asked a range of popular PVR and set-top box brands how long they'd support smart devices with important security updates after launch. Unfortunately, many weren't willing to tell us. In the case of those who did, you might consider the support periods to be not nearly long enough.

  • Manhattan promises at least three years of support after each box is discontinued. But we don’t know when Manhattan will decide to take each product off sale.
  • Humax estimates that these models will be supported for another three to five years from 2022: the Humax HDR-1800T, the Humax FVP-5000T and the Humax Aura. Humax typically supports its PVR products for a minimum of five years, but only from the device's original release date.

Other PVR and set-top box brands that did not provide us with information on minimum update support periods include: Freesat, Virgin Media and Panasonic.

While you may not be at immediate risk if you're using a device that's unsupported, it's obviously desirable to buy and use a device that you know will receive update support for a good period of time. For more information, read our guide on Why smart device security matters.

Set-top box and PVR accessibility features

Set top box

Many PVRs and set-top boxes offer additional functionality for those with sight or hearing impairments. We've highlighted some of the most common, below.

Audio description

Audio description (AD) is an additional narrative audio track for visually impaired people. It describes what is happening on screen, from changes of location and actions to facial expressions and gestures in order to give context and set the scene. Descriptions are fitted between dialogue or commentary to avoid interrupting the flow of the programme.

Audio description can be found on many free-to-air programmes and most new digital TVs can decode the signal. 

There are two methods of receiving audio description. The description can be carried on the same channel as the original programme, or it can be broadcast on a second sound channel which contains the audio description.

The latter system allows more flexibility, as one person can listen on headphones while others watch the programme without audio description. It is also possible to change the volume of the original programme and the audio description soundtrack independently.

Subtitles

Subtitles, often referred to as Closed Captions (or 'CC') are transmitted on some digital TV shows and a PVR will automatically record them. They can be switched on or off while watching either a live or recorded program using the remote control. Legislation requires that 90% of ITV and Channel 4 programmes must be subtitled; the BBC has been subtitling 100% of its programmes since April 2008.

Subtitling obligations have been extended to many other channels, whether they are broadcast by digital terrestrial or digital satellite signals. They are not mandatory across all streaming services, but they are common on most services.

Sign language

The Communications Act 2003 requires broadcasters to meet the legal requirements either by programmes being translated into sign language or programmes being made by or for deaf people and presented in sign language.

Why Which? testing is different

We buy every PVR and set-top box we test, and we look at models of all types, TV platforms and price, including Freesat, Freeview, BT TV, Sky TV, TalkTalk and Virgin Media boxes, costing from £50 to £300. We speak to manufacturers and scour the market to make sure we test all the most popular models that you'll find in the shops or online.

Which? doesn't only tell you about the Best Buy PVRs and set-top boxes that we recommend, we also tell you which models to avoid with our Don't Buys. If a PVR or set-top box has an issue we feel is so bad it must be a fault, then we will buy a new version and retest it. We'll also speak to the manufacturer to find out what it plans to do about the problem. Take a look at this guide to find out more: How we test PVRs and set-top boxes