Freeview to DVD with the Topfield TF5800

After owning the Topfield TF5800 freeview PVR for about 15 months I’m still bowled over by the functionality it offers. The latest features I’ve just found useful are to move series linked programs into a specific folder, plus a setting that allows you to only keep the last X number of episodes.. deleting the oldest.

Another feature I never thought I’d use was the ability to copy off the recorded files to a PC. It’s allowed me to take some episodes and (with the help of a script) burn them off onto a DVD.

At first I thought the process for putting the .rec files onto DVD was going to be a case of using Super(c) to convert them into something that DVDFlick could deal with. However, there’s a fantastic script called rec2dvd which deals with multiple files & requires no transcoding (so therefore doesn’t take long to create the DVD).

Before I let rec2dvd do it’s magic, I used MPEG Streamclip to clip any unwanted video from the file. Perfect!

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Harmony 555 – a hacker’s remote :)

To go with my purchase of a new Topfield 5800 Freeview PVR in February I replaced the mess of remote controls with a single universal remote from Logitech. As usual I did some exhaustive research so that I knew exactly what I was getting, and that it’d do everything I wanted. The remote I chose was the Harmony 555; now available for about £50.

The main thing with the Harmony remote controls is that they’re very customisable, however you’ll need patience to set it up if you’re a perfectionist. All in all it took me around 3 hours (on and off) to get it just right. Programming it requires you use some software on a PC & upload the settings to the remote via a USB cable. This worked pretty well and I couldn’t imagine trying to configure it without a PC. An added bonus is that even if you break the remote all your settings are kept with Logitech and can be synchronised back down.

Batteries (4xAAA) lasted around 4-5 months. Some of the more expensive Harmony remotes have colour screens and recharge an internal battery.. I’m really not that bothered about seeing the screen in colour and having to dock the thing to recharge it seems like a hassle & is another charger to add to the drawer.

After 6 months of use I’m still happy with it, and I’d recommend the Harmony 555 to anyone who wants a completely customisable universal remote.

Topfield TF5800 – a hacker’s PVR :)

The Netgem iPlayer I’ve had for watching Freeview doesn’t provide any PVR functionality, so I’ve been looking for a replacement that does everything I want. It was between the Humax 9600 and the Topfield TF5800. After a lot of research I went for the Topfield.

The thing that swung it for is that the Toppy is extremely configurable due to 1) the custom firmwares 2) the user-built applications (TAPs) that are available.

Between the firmwares and the TAPs you can customise almost anything! For example, on the standard box the display on the front will show the time when in standby, and the channel number when it’s switched on. That’s not something I care for.. I can see the channel I’m watching and the time is more useful to me. Someone else obviously thought the same, and they’ve created a TAP (TF5000Display) to completely customise the display to your needs, doing way more than what I needed.

First Things First

Setting the box up wasn’t as arduous as I thought it was going to be. After rigging it up to the TV and making sure everything worked, I fired up my laptop and installed the Topfield Tools suite, together with the USB Driver for Windows XP. Easy so far.

Firmware

Next I downloaded the firmware I wanted to install. This was from Toppy.org.uk and required me to sign up for their forums, and that gave me a login for the main site that brings up a new menu where you can download new (and beta) firmwares. I chose the 5.13.65 release which was recommended by the site.

The firmware can then be (optionally) patched with extra fixes which have been community-written. To work out which ones I wanted to integrate into the firmware I read this topic and downloaded FWPatcher & PatchPackV2 which contained everything I needed.

The patches I chose were:

  • [C0] NoCYR
  • [Cy] NotCYR_02
  • [H] HDDPatch_03
  • [I] PBSiS
  • [P] PowerRestore_05
  • [R] RecRoundel
  • [S] StartupPatch_03
  • [T2] TimerPatchT2b
  • [Ts] TimerSetting_02
  • [T] TimerPatch_04b
  • [Wf] WindFaster_02
  • [Xp] PlayNoCYR_04
  • [Xw] WatchNoCYR_03
  • [Z] Disable0AspectSwitching

After integrating the patches the next step was to blow it onto the Toppy using the firmware utility in Topfield Tools.

The process was surprisingly easy and the online documentation is good if you get lost.

TAPs

There’s only so much you can stuff into 1.5mb of firmware, and Topfield were considerate enough to allow people to program applications, a bit like plug-ins, which have access to an API provided by the company. That allows these programs to access things like EPG data or write out to the screen.

The standard EPG that ships with the box isn’t great.. but add the MyStuff TAP and the unit is completely transformed with a highly customisable, and skinnable EPG. There’s even a 71-page PDF manual for MyStuff! Here are 3 things you can customise (out of a list of maybe a hundred):

  • Show/hide channel logos
  • Choose how many hours to display in the EPG window (3hrs seems sensible)
  • How many channels to display per EPG page (8 suits me!)

The TAPs I added on day 1 were:

  • MyStuff (which adds a few of it’s own, including one that scrapes EPG data)
  • Display
  • PowerDown
  • TAPCommander

Conclusion

The standard Topfield box is okay. And it’ll probably be a lot better with the new firmware that will be released shortly that features in the new TF5810 and conforms to the Freeplay standard. However, with the custom firmware and TAPs (especially MyStuff) the box is awesome and I’m having a great time configuring it to be exactly what I want from a Freeview PVR box. Kudos to the user-community who put so much time into developing the patches and TAPs!! And thanks to Topfield for being forward-thinking enough to open it up enough to allow these mods to be written.. if only more manufacturers did this!!!

Quick Video Demo

This is a demo showing what the Topfield PVR looks like once the MyStuff application has replaced the standard UI.

At the start of the video you’ll see the default Toppy UI, then I fire up MyStuff where you’ll see the difference straight away.

After viewing the EPG I navigate around a bit, then show a MyStuff settings page to give you an idea of how many things you can configure.

I go on to show a few more things including setting series link (via a Search), and a some of the standard Topfield things like pausing live TV, PiP, etc.

Near the end I dip into TAPCommander which helps you configure any user-written apps you’ve got loaded into memory.

This covers only a small portion of what the box is capable of and is only meant as a taster :)