Which Toppy is right for you?
Now that the 5810 is available, the question in the minds of many buyers must be “Which model is right for me?” To help you decide, we’ve put together this quick guide to the differences between the two models, in various key areas.
For a lot of people, of course, the key issue is simply money – and there’s little doubt that at launch, the TF5810 is only going to appeal to those with plenty of spare cash. The cheapest price so far – we’ll keep an eye out for others, and report in the forum thread linked at the right – is £329.99. It will undoubtedly fall over time, but if you shop around you can pick up a TF5800 for £199.99, which is certainly pretty good value.
The TF5810 has a new interface, which is more polished than that of the TF5800; it also includes Freeview Playback out of the box. The latest TF5800s will be shipping with Freeview Playback, however, and the new firmware that adds the functionality will be sent as an Over The Air (OTA) update to 5800 owners shortly. It will also improve some of the on-screen messages of the 5800.
Even so, the 5810 does look more slick, and the interface appears less dated. Set against that, it may take a little while for all TAPs to be made compatible with the new firmware, and with the 5800 you do have some tried and tested firmwares, plus a wealth of experience with them, that you can install – if you don’t mind forgoing the Freeview Playback features, or using TAPs to provide equivalents.
The TF5810 adds an HDMI output, but loses the UHF modulator. If you have a TV with no SCART connector and no HDMI, then you’ll have to choose the 5800. And you’ll also have to go for that model if you use the UHF output to pipe the signal from your PVR around the home.
Is the HDMI worth it? And can upscaling really make a decent picture out of Freeview. Our view is a qualified “Yes.” Firstly, using HDMI the picture remains in the digital domain all the way, which is a potential improvement; but, just like the component output found on both models, and used by quite a few TF5800 users, the technical superiority doesn’t necessarily translate into a better picture. Some flat panels provide a better image via Component than via RGB, and the same is true with HDMI. With the new connector, you have a choice of outputting a signal at 576i, 720p or 1080i – and some TF5810 users find 720p gives the best results, while others prefer 1080i. Ultimately, which gives the best picture will depend on your preference and the panel to which you’ve connected the PVR.
If you don’t have SCART or component inputs spare, you have an AV amplifier that can switch HDMI, or you simply want one other alternative so that you can try to get the best picture possible, then the TF5810’s HMDI output may clinch it for you. On the Toppy.org.uk test system, the picture from the 5810 via HDMI at 1080i looks better to us than from the TF5800 via Component, on the same screen – but you really do need to try it for yourself.
The TF5810 has a new remote, which is a different shape – rather more conventional than the TF5800 – and includes dedicated buttons for things like aspect ratio, video format (for the HDMI output), favourites and subtitles. You can see the two side by side at the left - the TF5810 is the left hand remote; click on the picture to enlarge it in a new window.
It’s been tested with the Harmony multifunction remotes too. An important consideration for some may be that it doesn’t use the same codes as the TF5800, so if you already have a 5800, you can run a 5810 alongside, without having to do any fancy work with TAPs and a programmable remote.
If you like a useful display, the front panel of the TF5810 shows channel names or the name of the recording you’re playing - it scrolls when the name is too long to fit in the space provided. It shows the channel number too, just beside the name, and there are icons to show when it’s recording, playing back, and a few other symbols, including a bar graph that gives you a rough idea of disk usage. The 5800, by comparison, is restricted to the basic four digit seven segment display, with messages like “PLAY”, “rEco” and so forth – not much information, unless you install a TAP to enhance it.
Those are the main differences – there are a few others, like the general appearance, which is largely a case of personal preference, though we think that the TF5810 looks a lot more modern and up to date than the TF5800. Both are presently only available in black.
In terms of disk space, both models now have Western Digital hard drives; in the case of the 5800, it’s 250Gb, which will give you around 125 hours of recording, maximum, while the 5810 has a 500Gb drive, giving double the time. In each case, that’s based on around 2Gb an hour, which is typical for BBC1 prime-time, though you’ll get more if you record from channels with lower bit rates. Those who tend to keep whole series, or a library of films to watch, will probably appreciate the extra space of the 5810, but if you usually watch and then delete, and don’t tend to go away for a long time, then the 5800 may well be sufficient.
One last consideration – the future. The good news is that there are no plans to discontinue the TF5800, or to stop supporting it. The recent release of the Freeview Playback firmware for it certainly won’t be the last - Topfield are still creating firmwares for much older models than the TF5800. So you can choose a TF5800 and not worry that it will be orphaned, or that you’ll be left with a system that no one is interested in fixing bugs for. However, having said that, the TF5810 is the newer machine, and will likely get more attention paid to it. It also boasts more flash memory, which means that in future, it will be possible for more new features to be added to it, whereas the TF5800 is reaching the limits of its capabilities, and there’s not much room for new functions now that Freeview Playback has been squeezed in there, so in that regard, the TF5810 is a little more futureproof - though of course neither box will receive High Definition broadcasts, if they ever start on Freeview.