Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Talk about niche publishing - the following post will only be relevant to the tiny percentage of my already tiny readership who own a Topfield 5800 Personal Video Recorder and are having problems with it.

I bought it from a small company (3wisemonkeys.co.uk) through Amazon earlier on in the year. Worked fine for a while but then we noticed that after a few hours the quality of the TV signal would fall away to 0%, even though the strength of the signal from Winter Hill was still coming through good and strong.

I engaged in a long-running set of emails with all three of the monkeys, during which we ruled out all the standard user-related ID10T errors e.g "Are you sure it's plugged in ? Have you tried switching it off and back on again ?" Speak to any techie - the worst thing you can do for their blood pressure is to treat them like just another user. 3monkeys were polite and thorough and eventually agreed to take the machine back to have a look - if they could replicate the error then they would send a replacement.

Guess which machine ran without error for days of stress-testing at 3monkeys HQ ?

I ended up taking the "defective" machine back - this was causing me some stress at a time I didn't need stress over a mere appliance. It then became something of a hobby for me to find out what was wrong with the thing. I had many theories and all of them were falsified by experiment over a period of months, during which time I learned a lot about digital TV broadcast, reception and storage.

Then at Christmas, when I had some spare time and was rested, I read a report of overheating in a different brand of recorder in Australia. They had cured the problem there by standing the unit up on its edge, with the power unit at the top so that heat would rise away from the sensitive electronics inside the box.

Bingo - works like a dream, but does look a little odd at that angle.

It seems that the current state of the art in these digital recorders is such that you have two choices

(a) A big fan, which cools but makes a racket
(b) A little or no fan, which is quiet but which can fry

Early adopters of this technology should beware. The Topfield is otherwise an excellent product and 3monkeys are the nicest, most patient people in electrical retailing - but even so this wasn't a pleasant experience.

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