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How Topfield lost the plot

There was a time, a few years ago, when the accepted wisdom was pretty much that, if you wanted a Freeview hard disk recorder, there were two leading models. One was the Humax 9200, and the other was the Topfield TF5800, or ‘Toppy.’

There were two things that made many people consider the Toppy the leading Freeview PVR. One was the ability (shared with the Humax, but a little more reliably) to transfer recordings from the hard drive via the USB port. The other was the presence of an open API, and a freely available set of development tools that allowed users to create ‘TAPs’ or Topfield applications. When the box launched, back in 2005, this was somewhat unprecedented for a piece of domestic AV gear, but it allowed all sorts of things, from simple tweaks like making it easier to jump around a recording, to an almost complete replacement of the user interface.

In short, the TF5800 was a tinkerer’s paradise. Thanks in part to the community that built up on the Toppy forums, and great work done before that by the Australian users (where a version had been on sale for a while), plenty of TAPs appeared, making it one of the most flexible PVRs out there. And, in some ways, it still is – want a box that can automatically record any programme that mentions the word ‘Almodovar’ ? Or that you can set up so that when a radio show has been recorded, it’s transferred to your PC and turned into an MP3 for your iPod? Or that you can set recordings on via the web, or text message? All those things, and more, are possible with the Toppy.

It’s no surprise, then, that many users have been eagerly waiting for a similarly-specced High Definition box to come out.

What is a surprise, though, is how completely and comprehensively Topfield has dropped the ball. They started out as an unknown name in the UK. They gained prominence with a good – if at times quirky – PVR. And they then proceeded to ignore the market to the extent that they’ll have to try very hard to win the trust of users back, even if they do launch a Freeview HD product.

The rest of this article is published on my GoneDigital blog.