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Technology.

12 August 2021

Which PVR and set-top box brand to buy in 2021

Unique Which? reliability data can help you choose a PVR or set-top box brand that lasts. We survey owners of BT, Humax, Manhattan, Panasonic, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media  PVRs and set-top boxes to find out which develop the fewest faults over time.
Martin Pratt
PVR Reliability

According to our latest survey, the prevalent fault with both PVRs and set-top boxes is a tendency for the picture to lock up and freeze on a screen. This issue accounted for almost 30% of all the faults respondents told us about.

Recording a series of your favourite show onto a PVR only to have it break down just as you reach the finale would be crushing, and losing access to all your TV channels by virtue of a faulty set-top box would be no less aggravating. That’s why each year we ask more than 10,000 Which? members to tell us whether they are happy, or have experienced problems, with their PVRs and set-top boxes, in our reliability survey.

Our survey data takes into account the reported fault rates, how severe those faults are and how quickly into the devices’ lifespan they occurred. In our latest analysis we've looked at the performance of the biggest PVR and set-top box manufacturers – including Humax, Manhattan, Panasonic, Samsung, Sky and Virgin Media – and have calculated a reliability rating for each one, so you know which brands to choose and which to avoid.   

Difference between the best and worst PVR and set-top box brands

As you can see, there's a big difference between the most and least reliable PVR and set-top box brands, and the satisfaction scores reported by customers.

The most reliable PVR and set-top box brands

The table below summarises this year’s reliability results. Brands are ranked by their customer score, which relates to whether their customers would recommend them. The more stars for reliability, the fewer problems reported.

Only logged-in Which? members can view which brands achieved the ratings and verdicts in the table below. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.

PVR and set-top box brand
Reliability rating
Reliability score
Customer satisfaction score
86%
72%
83%
73%
79%
73%
70%
73%
69%
65%
69%
59%

Table notes: The above data is based on a survey conducted on 2,506 Which? members June-July 2019.

Common PVR and set-top box problems

Whether you’re planning on buying a set-top box or a PVR, the most common issue is the same. Both devices have a tendency to freeze up and lock on a certain screen. Sometimes a full reset of the device will fix the issue, but in some cases the machine can be beyond repair. This problem accounted for 30% of all the problems affecting these devices.

The recording and playback of shows was a common issue for PVRs - 12% of the faults affected these most vital functions. Issues connecting to the internet was the next most common, accounting for 7% of problems.

As you can see from the tables above, there’s a chasm between the most and least reliable brands. When one brand stays 90% healthy after just one year, while for another the figure is just 74%, the disparity is obvious. Similarly, at the five-year mark you could be lumped with a brand with a pathetic 62% no-fault rate versus one with 83%.

Which PVR and set-top box brand stays fault-free for longest?

The graph above shows how the brand that stays fault-free for the longest compares with the worst brand and the overall average. Which? members can see how brands compare for faults over a five-year period in the table below. The first table shows PVR brands and the second shows set-top box brands.

Only logged-in Which? members can view which brands achieved the ratings and verdicts in the table below. If you're not yet a member, join Which? to get instant access.  

PVR and set-top box brand
% fault-free after one year
% fault-free after three years
% fault-free after five years
90%
84%
83%
85%
81%
80%
85%
77%
74%
74%
68%
66%
77%
66%
64%
79%
65%
62%

Table notes: Results based on feedback from more than 2,506 PVR and set-top box owners, surveyed in June/July 2019.

How we measure faults and reliability in PVRs and set-top boxes

We ask our survey respondents to describe their devices’ faults as minor, major or catastrophic, based on the following guidelines:

  • Minor - A fault that doesn’t affect the product’s performance significantly, or a fault that only occurs occasionally with minimal impact. This issue may be irritating or annoying, but it isn’t frequently problematic, and you can easily work around it. For example, if a few buttons on the remote control become unresponsive.
  • Major - A fault that has a noticeable effect on the product’s performance. This fault affects how you use the product and can be problematic. For example, if sound intermittently drops out at random when you're watching a recording.
  • Catastrophic - A fault that renders the product unusable, with the fault needing to be repaired or parts replaced before it can be used again. For example, the electronic programme guide failing to pick up any channels, thus rendering the product useless.

PVR and set-top box brands rated

Choose a brand from the list below to find out more detail about its performance in our survey.

Head straight to our PVR and set-top box reviews

Already know which PVR and set-top box brand you want? Use the links to go straight to our reviews and find your ideal model:

How we calculate the best and worst brands

Which? has a wealth of information on Britain's favourite brands. Every year we ask Which? members to tell us about the technology products they own - from how likely they would be to recommend a brand, to how reliable the products are once they get them home. This year, nearly 10,000 Which? members told us about more than 40,000 devices. We calculate a brand's reliability and its customer score based on the results of our annual survey.

Our reliability surveys, combined with our extensive lab tests, mean we can recommend the best PVRs and set-top boxes you should buy.

This data is crucial for our testing, too. If a brand falls far below the category average, we take away the manufacturer’s Best Buy awards and won’t recommend any of its products unless a marked improvement in reliability is shown.