AS A TECH WRITER in Hong Kong I am constantly finding out about really cool bits of kit only to discover they are not available here. One type of personal video recorder (PVR) is perhaps top of my list of great gadgets not available in Hong Kong. PVRs appeal not only to alpha geeks such as myself, but also to technophobes - the sort of stuck-in-yesteryear Luddites whose VCR clocks are forever flashing 12:00. One type of PVR is available here, but not the one with the potential to create a couch-potato revolution. PVRs such as TiVo and Replay TV consist of a box about the size of a VCR that uses a hard drive to record programmes. There's nothing remarkable about that, but these magical little machines also use an internet connection at the back to tap into a listings service that covers all the TV programmes in your area. If you want to record Friends, you click on that programme's title so you don't need to worry about typing in channels, dates or times. The PVR will record every episode until the series ends and even repro-gramme itself should an episode be rescheduled or if there is a longer than normal show. These PVRs also automatic-ally skip advertisements, can programme themselves automatically to record the sort of shows you enjoy, and it will even continue to record live programmes if you press pause, then play the recorded section back when you press the pause button again. How's that for slick my little sofa spuds! Unfortunately, these boxes are worthless without the listings service, which is only available in the United States and Britain and not destined for Hong Kong because the market here is too small. The alternative is the computer-based PVR. PC PVR does not mean that you have to start watching TV on your computer because some have video out ports that allow you to connect your computer to the TV. Even if the PVR does not have a video out port you can add this feature with an expansion card. Most can use the same sort of listings services as stand alone PVRs, but as I mentioned earlier, there is no such service for Hong Kong. So why bother with such a device? Well, with the PC PVR you can forget about the storage problems you encounter with bulky VHS tapes, and, most importantly, with the right equipment, you can transfer your recordings onto a DVD or VCD. You could, for example, record an entire season of your favourite programme on one DVD, add navigation menus and edit out all the advertisements. You can also use your PVR as a capture card to edit your home videos or old VHS tapes. I found three PVRs in Hong Kong. The first was the Hauppauge-made WinTV 250, which is available for $1,650 at e-Shop, Shop 105, 1/F Wan Chai Computer Centre, 130 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai. This shop also sells a similar device: V-Gear's My VCD TV Plus. At $480 it's much less expensive, but has no hardware MPEG compression, so the quality of the recording will depend on the speed of your machine. There is also a FireWire-based Mac device from Formac called the Studio DV/TV ($3,500) that has hardware encoding and decoding. This can be ordered through Mad Macs (tel: 2375-3888). I was able to obtain a WinTV 250 card a few weeks ago and was very impressed. The card installs internally in your PC and includes antenna and S-Video inputs as well as a remote-control unit. Unfortunately, it has no video out ports, so unless you add another card to your machine, you must watch recorded programmes on your computer. It also has provision for recording CDs and DVDs and some basic editing functions, but there are two down sides to the WinTV 250. First, the card uses a hardware encoder, which means you should make a good quality recording even if you have an older computer, but there is no hardware decoder, which means an older machine may have trouble playing back the recorded video. Second, it didn't work! But to be fair to Hauppauge, my Windows machine is old and I rarely use it, although I read similar complaints from other users on forum web sites. Everything seemed to work: the driver installed, the software installed, the application launched, the tuner found channels ... but the picture was black. If you are interested, by all means take the plunge. But have the shop install the card for you. If it can't make it to work, it will be much easier to get your money back.