Humax HD-FOX T2 £179
5th Feb 2010 | 09:00
First Freeview HD box brings free high definition TV to the masses
Humax HD-FOX T2: Overview
So, the first Freeview HD box is here in the form of the Humax HD-FOX T2.
It's hard to put a finger on why it's taken so long for Freeview to dip its toe in the sparkly, glistening waters of high definition.
After all, the BBC successfully trialled over-the-air digital HD broadcasts a couple of years ago.
But specification squabbles, bitrate and bandwidth issues, chipset shortages and, even, the de rigueur scapegoat in the form of the global recession, have all gotten in the way of the launch of Freeview HD.
Surely, though, with an exciting new technology, it's better to be late than never?
It could even be argued that, as the first to market, Humax, with its launch of the HD-Fox T2, isn't late at all.
The set-top-box specialist is, relatively-speaking, ground-breakingly early. It managed to rush its first DVB-T2 receiver onto the market a considerable while before the competition - a move that could see it gain a significant foothold in living rooms before the similarly spec'd hoards roll over the hills.
Admittedly, the manufacturer, like all others, missed the all important Christmas market, and that's a bone of contention for some.
But let's get things into perspective; there are three HD channels at the moment, BBC HD and simulcast versions of ITV HD and Channel 4 HD.
The compatible DVB-T2, MPEG-4 signal is currently being rolled out within the digital switchover plan, and by June about 50 per cent of us will be able to receive HD channels.
As of 8 April 2010, London Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Bradford, Birmingham, Manchester and the West (Mendip) are already able to receive the transmissions. Other regions are going HD all the time - check the Freeview website to see if and when HD is coming to your area.
IN THE BOX:You get the T2, user guide, remote control with batteries, Scart cable and an HDMI cable
Freeview HD may only be a mere acorn at the moment, but it is to grow into a massive, World Cup-shaped oak tree rapidly.
It will be the only way to enjoy England's stuttering progress in South Africa in full hi-def (well, er, 1080i) over a simple rooftop aerial and for absolutely free.
Humax HD-FOX T2: Features
And you could do worse than to receive those broadcasts on the HD-Fox T2. It may only be a receiver, with no hard drive and no recording talents (yet), but Humax has put a lot of care and attention into its feature list in order to offer future-proofing and value for money.
As a result, it certainly has enough extra talents that'll help the box stand out, even amongst a sizeable crowd of peers.
To begin with, it is a half-decent media streamer - capable of playing DivX, XviD, MP3 and JPEG files stored remotely.
The Ethernet port on the rear (which may have a further future use if Freeview MD Ilse Howling's 'Project Canvas' mutterings come to fruition) allows you to hook the box to your home network and subsequently access your media.
Sadly, there's no Wi-Fi - wired connection only - and its file-compatibility list could be written on the back of an ant, but for those only just getting into the world of DLNA, it's a doddle to set up and provides a happy, user-friendly experience.
You can also play the same file line-up via a USB memory stick thrust into the back of the unit.
Again, as with the Ethernet port, the USB 2.0 socket offers promise of further functionality at a later date, in the guise of adding PVR-abilities to the box (the possibility of recording video onto an external storage device).
However, this will only be enabled by a firmware update and there's no confirmation as to when this will happen.
The rest of the features are more befitting an existing Freeview set-top box (STB), but everything has been fine-tuned on the HD-Fox T2 to make it as pleasant an experience as possible.
Even the setup is as easy as can be. Unlike other HDMI-sporting SD boxes we've tried of late, it will recognise that you're feeding video via the port from initial boot-up. We've often had to put a Scart lead into an STB first to set up the HDMI connection, but not so here.
In addition, the Humax receiver whizzes its way through the channel-scanning process like a caffeinated cheetah.
Aesthetics also play a large part in its ease of use, and the box has the best-looking graphical user-interface that we've come across - Sky and Virgin Media included.
Its eight-day EPG pops up with absolutely no lag and is clean, clear and concise. Its scroll-time is better than most, and there's little delay in flicking from channel to channel.
Externally it's a looker, too. While diminutive, the fascia looks like a classy Samsung Blu-ray player, and sports a natty click pad for navigation should you mislay the remote.
Not that you would, the controller is about as big as the unit itself - albeit similarly tasty and expensive looking.
And, although not as pretty, the rear is a cornucopia of connectivity, with video-fetishists catered for by the inclusion of two Scarts and a composite to accompany the HDMI out. Audio fans needn't feel left out, analogue stereo outputs are on offer alongside an optical digital.
Humax HD-FOX T2: Performance
Down to the nitty gritty though, performance. As part of the set-up process, you get to choose the output picture resolution, and that means all video will be up- (or down-) scaled to your specification.
That's mostly of benefit to standard definition broadcasts, the mainstay of British TV at present. The SD images are therefore, once upconverted to 1080p, excellent on the HD-Fox T2.
They still exhibit signs of digital transmission artefacting - that's unavoidable as blocking and picture noise generally come from source and depend on the bitrates being used by the specific broadcaster - but are smoother and retain colour better than most general DVB-T tuners.
The upscaling also works on the 1080i broadcast images of the two HD channels currently available.
However, the leap from interlaced to progressive rendering is unnoticeable. What is noticeable, is that there is visibly a touch more noise in the hi-def images on BBC HD than on rival pay-TV services, such as Sky and Virgin Media.
ITV HD is presented as a simulcast channel here for the very first time - it's only a red-button service on Freesat.
HDMI connectivity has an extra benefit, other than for feeding HD pictures, the HD-Fox T2's audio is precise and warm. And, when utilised by the specific channels, it is capable of feeding an AV receiver Dolby Digital 5.1 sonics. That doesn't tend to happen too often, but it's very welcome when it does.
Humax HD-FOX T2: Verdict
So that's the first Freeview HD box in a nutshell, and it's a solid start for the format.
It's perhaps the feature list that is most attractive at present, at least until there's more HD content available, and the transmission is more widespread. Humax's experience with digital receivers seeps from every pore.
Aside from the excellent standard definition picture performance, it's nice to have network media streaming capabilities from the outset.
Although there's a wealth of dedicated DLNA streaming products on the market, it's a tidier solution to have it in a box you'll definitely put under the TV.
Video upscaling (to 1080p), the graphical user interface and general ease of operation are also a genuine highlights.
It's a real shame that recording (onto an external memory stick or HDD) isn't enabled for initial roll-out. Plus, the box is rather limited in what file types it will play over the network (no HD, for example).
BBC HD's pictures are also slightly disappointing, but that's no fault of the HD-Fox T2 - it's the variable bitrates offered by the Beeb.
We're definitely enamoured by the Humax, so much so that we doubt there will be many peers that offer as rich a picture experience with high - and standard definition any time soon - it's very nearly a five-star product.
However, without the PVR functionality already enabled, it is lacking that final ingredient that would elevate it to higher realms. Roll on the firmware update.