Although we were highly impressed by the Humax Foxsat-HDR Freesat receiver when it launched last year, we felt that a vital part of the puzzle was missing, namely the ability to record programs. The only way of doing it is to hook the box up to a DVD recorder or VCR, which feels somewhat antiquated in the days of Sky+.
But now the company has launched this PVR version which makes it a lot more convenient to record your favorite programs and could pose a serious threat to Sky’s dominance of the digital PVR market.
Unless you’ve been living on Mars for the last year, you’ll know that Freesat is a subscription-free service that provides the ideal solution for people who can’t get Freeview or don’t want to pay Sky’s monthly fees.
You get a wide range of free-to-air TV and radio channels, as well as high-definition channels from the BBC and ITV.
The Foxsat-HDR features a 320GB hard disk, which dwarfs the 160GB hard disk inside the Sky+ HD box and allows you to record up to 80 hours of hi-def programmes or 200 hours of standard-definition programmes.
It also boasts twin satellite tuners, enabling you to record one channel while watching another or record two channels while watching a third.
Humax Foxsat-HDR Design
In photos, the Foxsat-HDR looks very blue, which might put some people off.
Take it from us, though, that the Foxsat-HDR is actually a very slick and well-designed machine. The front panel does have a blue finish, but it’s much more subdued that it appears in most photos.
On the front of the machine is a display that tells you what channel you’re watching, or, for recorded shows, the name of the program.
Beneath this display is a two-colour LED, which glows blue when the Foxsat-HDR is on and red when it’s on standby.
The front panel also hides some controls, a USB socket and a slot for a conditional access module.
We didn’t really need to use the controls on the front of the machine, but, if your remote gets swallowed by a goat, you might find yourself grateful for them.
The CAM socket is, sadly, useless in this country, because Sky flatly refuses to allow anyone to access its services via third-party hardware.
At the back of the machine, you’ll find a pair of Scart outputs, an HDMI socket and composite video out.
There is also an optical audio jack, to connect the Humax Foxsat-HDR to your AV receiver.
You’ll also find a second USB socket and an Ethernet jack. We always get quite excited about network connectivity on Freesat, because, in theory, it could be used to access TV shows via BBC iPlayer.
Fingers crossed the BBC gets around to doing something like that soon.
The supplied remote control is decent enough. It’s quite light, but it’s a much more appealing style than the one that comes with Humax’s Freeview recorders.
The buttons are, for the most part, well labelled. There were times when we found ourselves slightly confused by the controls, but that was just teething trouble as we got to know the machine.
Just like the non-PVR version of this box, installation is a breeze.
Booting up time is painfully slow but the attractively-designed menu system guides you through the step-by-step process (TV aspect ratio, postcode, output resolution, etc) and had us up and running within minutes.
It tuned in the 140-odd TV and radio channels very quickly and the channels were all in the right order.
The menu system shows how outdated Sky’s system is now.
The EPG is a revelation with high-resolution graphics and icons and as it’s overlaid you can carry on watching a show whilst navigating the EPG.
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Sound and Video Quality
In operation the Humax is a real trouper, delivering consistently clean, solid picture and sound quality, and playing back video with pleasing smoothness and stability.
Many people will also be concerned about fan noise, but we’re happy to say that the unit runs as quiet as a mouse.
The quality of standard-definition pictures on this box compares very well with those of Sky and Freeview, but as with any digital TV platform the quality varies wildly depending on the broadcast quality – ITV channels, for example, look awful but the BBC’s roster looks a lot sharper and cleaner.
HD material looks fantastic too. BBC HD’s mixture of costume dramas, wildlife shows, and sitcoms are delivered with the sort of mesmerizing sharpness that we’ve come to expect from this channel, and there’s no doubt that hi-def makes the Humax Foxsat-HDR a much more compelling proposition than any Freeview box – although the limited HD content is still one of the main downsides of the Freesat platform.
Humax Foxsat-HDR Features
The most important feature of the Humax Foxsat-HDR is its built-in storage.
It comes with a decent 320GB hard drive, which should see you set for 200 hours of standard-definition or 80 hours of high-definition recordings.
We’re pretty happy to say that, unlike Sky+, which drinks up to 18W when it’s on standby, the Foxsat-HDR uses less than 1W, which means you’ll save both money and the environment.
The Humax Foxsat-HDR is also able to switch itself into standby mode when it isn’t used for a long period, another power saver.
If you can get over Freesat’s limited hi-def content and the lack of support for non-Freesat channels, the Foxsat-HDR makes a fantastic digital TV proposition.
There’s a capacious hard-disk on board, its faultless operating system makes it easy to use and picture quality is as good as it gets.
It’s also stylish, operates with no fan noise and is packed with more features than you’d expect for the money.
In fact, the Humax is so good it might even tempt Sky customers to make the switch just for the hell of it.
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