What is wrong with Topfield

In sort - a lot.

For some background, I was playing around with Linux VDR stuff for few years but I got tired of patching, chasing plugins and overall hacking with it. So I thought that buying a real product I'll just switch it on, lean back and enjoy. And to be on the safe side I bought a top model, but...

Toppy might be the best digital tv receiver and recorder on earth, but it does not mean it is a good one. I simply can't understand how it has won several reviews (in magazines I have learned to trust).

Here is a small list of issues I have had with it, and this list just seem to grow every day I use the box

  • It is full of bugs, power off/on cycle is your friend here. Keep it on for few hours and (escpecially) crypted channels start to break down, better power cycle the thingy (unless you happen to record something at the same time).
  • User interface and overall user interaction logic changes in each firmware version, naturally nothing is explained in release notes or like, you just have to try and see what and how things happen to work now.
  • The user interface is weird, unintuitive and plain clumsy, some very common features are hidden in to deep menus (like add 5 mins to the end of program to be recorded).
  • Some of the dialog boxes are just hilarious and sad. For example when you press the delete key (a gray key without any sensible markings on it) for stored recordings, you'll get a confirmation dialog asking "Are you sure?". Sure about what? The answer options are yes and no (sort of makes sense) but you simply can not tell which one of the buttons is active. So were you sure or not of something you can not pick the suitable answer to it.
  • Even if you have set subtitling language as Finnish (and English as a secondary option), you get to see Swedish subtitles on channels that provide no Finnish subtitles at all. You must switch subtitles off, which apparently looks like per channel setting but has global effect anyway. So you have to reset them back once you go to an other channel.
  • There is no way of assigning channels to specific numbers, whatever number is picked by the box when it scanned the channels sticks for good.
  • Naturally, those fixed channel numbers do not work when EPG is on, you just need to keep on pressing channel up or down to get to a specific point in the channel list.
  • You can create favorites lists, so channel up and down traverse the selected list smoothly. Except when EPG display is on you are on the mercy of the unmodifiable channel numbering. Why would I want to see what is on in the next or previous channel based on the active favorite list.
  • The EPG sucks big time, for example you can not peek what is going on other channels without also begin switched to those channels as well.
  • Dual recording almost works but not when you need it (in a box where dual recording is the biggest selling point). Quite often encrypted channels are just a big mess of pixels when recording other channel.
  • USB 2.0 file transfer speed is whopping 2 MB/sec in a mode where the box does not respond to a remote controller anymore.
  • My cable provider recently re-arranged few channels around, now I have for example two channels on channel number 100, one at 314 MHz and another at 340 MHz. Still to figure out how to remove one channel that is no longer active.
  • And last but not least, even the mechanical structure of the box leaves something to desire. Every now and then it starts to keep a rattling noise and you must to and squeeze it to make it quiet again.

TAP programming

One of the "great" features of Topfield is that you can write your own applications for it. TAP programs sound like a good backup plan if you would want to add some extra features to your box. But as it seems, you must go for TAPs for even the most basic use cases, like decent and usable EPG, ability to add few extra minutes at the of program you want to record, etc.

When you take a closer look at the TAP environment you'll find out that the API provided for the applications allows only very limited set of stuff written. For anything really useful you must do all sorts of horrible hacks, like directly reading and writing raw memory. And hoping that you have guessed right the device type and version, if not then the devices experiences a horrible death.

I just refuse to go along on that route, I would expect the box I paid some serious Euros to handle the most simple things for me.