Goodmans GDB300HD £149
27th May 2010 | 14:56
High design and Freeview HD, but this budget box still struggles
Goodmans GDB300HD: Overview and features
Goodmans has been a trusted budget British brand for yonks, so it was only a matter of time before it issued its first Freeview HD receiver. And for 'budget' read 'basic', although it's better specified than a number of Freeview HD boxes to hit the market of late.
The Goodmans GDB300HD is a nice looking unit – there's a central panel that features blue LEDs, and a fabulous-looking user interface carries on the neat design work.
Confusingly, although this Goodmans ships with a free HDMI cable, there are two Scarts on its rear – one for connecting it up to an VCR.
Connectivity is otherwise fair, with an all-important HDMI output joining a RF in and out, an Ethernet LAN for broadband TV in future, and a digital optical audio (SPDIF) output. The GDB300HD does boast Dolby Digital Plus compatibility, but for now that's simply a future-proofing feature.
Elsewhere there's also a USB slot, though sadly it's for software upgrades only and doesn't make any attempts with DivX, MP3 or JPEG files.
Also from Harvard International – owners of the Goodmans brand – is the near-identical Grundig GUD300HD. Similar in almost every regard, the Grundig has a slightly different look to both the front of the box and the user interface, though the chassis is exactly the same, with similar features to this Goodmans – an eight-day EPG and the same roster of ins and outs.
Goodmans GDB300HD: Performance
Picture quality is good, but not great; SD channels are upscaled slightly, but there's plenty of picture noise and some blocking. We also spotted a lot of jagged lines all over images, suggesting that the GDB300HD is not the '1080p upscaler' it's mooted to be.
There's no such problem with high definition channels though, with ITV 1 HD, BBC HD and 4HD swimming in an impressive amount of detail. As well as being studded with vibrant and well saturated blocks of colour, we noticed that pictures were a lot smoother with no jagged edges or picture noise, though close-ups don't seem to enjoy as much detail as they should.
However, in this regard it compares reasonably well to most other Freeview HD boxes on sale.
Goodmans GDB300HD: Value and ease of use
Controlled by the remote, the Goodmans' user interface is initially awesome; 'menu' sees a six-way grid of icons gradually appear in the centre of the screen that float over the current TV channel. Very classy.
Each one leads to bold red-on-black graphics and a logical – and high resolution – design that features the Freeview HD logo; it's seemingly the ideal way to get to grips with an all-new set-top box.
Or perhaps not. Entering some of the menus (such as 'settings') blocks-out and mutes whatever channels you're watching, while we had to use cumbersome 'back' and 'exit' buttons in a constant, seemingly illogical manner to even exit the on-screen menus – and that's despite the menus being designed in a supposedly simple 'tree-and-branch' fashion.
The initial setup, however, is very easy; as well as tuning-in all available Freeview and Freeview HD channels, the GDB300HD helpfully detects the resolution of your TV and automatically sets it to output in the correct, maximum quality.
The compact remote also provides one-touch access to mute, audio description, text, subtitles and to a 'wide' button that gives you a choice of 576i, 720p, 1080i or 1080p, if you need to change it after the initial setup.
The EPG shows schedules for eight channels over two hours, and also displays a window and some basic info on the programme. Pop-up reminders can be set simply by selecting any programme.
The interface is pretty, but flawed, and can be a touch slow and confusing. A channel list presents a roster of channels alongside indicators for signal strength and quality, as well as a window showing the current channel.
Oddly, it's not possible to choose a channel to tune into (it always stays on the default BBC 1), leaving the whole idea rather redundant. The only purpose it seems to serve is to let you assign channels to your favourites list using a shortcut button on the remote.
Exit that menu and the audio cracks while the box returns to your previous TV channel while, oddly, there's a 'home' button that takes you back to, err, BBC 1. Still, there are some nice touches that push the GDB300HD user-friendliness and tweakability, such as a useful on-screen lip-sync adjuster that's very rare to find on a budget box such as this.
Use the 'info' button on the EPG and a box appears with some basic information about the programme. Unfortunately that's where the test ended – the box froze and there seemed to be no way to get rid of that particular menu window aside from switching the box off at the mains.
Goodmans GDB300HD: Verdict
A slight case of Emperor's new clothes? The GDB300HD boasts a good-looking interface and delivers good clarity from the three hi-def channels, but its struggle with standard-def is a letdown – as is its predilection for making its on-screen menus tricky to wander through on first use.
It's great to see an Ethernet LAN on the GDB300HD's rear, which will extend the useful life of this well designed box, while a pleasing design to both the hardware and software make this an initially stunning attempt at Freeview HD.
We also liked the one-touch opportunity to swap between 720p, 1080i and 1080p. That's only really going to matter if you plan to move the GDB300HD between TVs, but it could be useful during the World Cup if you plan to use a projector for some games.
Standard definition channels aren't treated all that well, which puts a question mark over the GDB300HD's versatility – an impression that's boosted still further by its lack of Common Interface slots and digital media-savvy USB connectivity.
There's no getting away from the fact that the GDB300HD is yet another slightly overpriced Freeview HD set-top box. The glossy interface and oh-so-simple setup – as well as HD channels – may look the part, but there's enough oddities within to put serious question marks over its price.
A strong attempt that should sell well, though it's destined, we feel, to be a post-World Cup bargain.
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