Icecrypt T2200 £169
20th May 2010 | 15:33
There's more to this Freeview HD box than hi-def TV
Icecrypt T2200: Overview
With around 18 million hi-def TVs in the UK still showing only standard-def channels, the market for next-gen Freeview HD receivers such as the Icecrypt T2200 is potentially huge – especially with the World Cup around the corner.
And while demand may be dampened for now by the slow spread of Freeview HD broadcasts around the UK – and by initially high prices – Icecrypt's maker Turbosat has gone out of its way to give its diminutive, yet powerful, digital box some tempting attributes to extend its appeal.
Forget high definition – this is one of the fastest and finest Freeview set-top boxes we've seen.
The T2200 is Icecrypt's only Freeview HD receiver. Elsewhere in its range of Freeview set-top boxes is its similarly designed T5000, a simple Freeview receiver that doesn't handle high definition. The T5000 sells for just £49 – evidence that Freeview HD commands a considerable premium, at least for now.
The Freeview HD experience extends to just three channels – BBC HD, ITV 1 HD, and 4HD. The first two are likely to feature simulcast hi-def versions of live World Cup matches (from BBC and ITV channels, respectively) this summer, while a fourth HD channel could be added by the end of 2010.
Boasting DivX and even DivX HD playback from its USB slot, the T2200 will, we're promised, soon be able to record programmes to an external hard drive, and stream BBC iPlayer services next year, though this latter future-ready feature is common to almost all Freeview HD set-top boxes.
Icecrypt T2200: Features
The T2200 isn't a Freeview HD recorder, but it will be soon. Look carefully at the matt black remote control and you'll find a small record button.
For the moment it's redundant – and potentially confusing – but the T2200's maker Turbosat tells us that a software upgrade later this year (first on its website, then over-the-air) will breathe new life into the box's front-mounted USB slot and make it possible to record Freeview programmes – SD and HD – straight to a USB pen drive, or external hard drive.
We've not got confirmation of exactly when and how this will work, but we expect it to act in a similar way to the MPEG recorder on Cello's C3298FR LCD TV.
Turbosat tells us that although the T2200 will read both an NTFS drive and a FAT32 formatted drive, it recommends using the former – there's a maximum size file for video on FAT32 formatted drives, and HD recordings are around four times the size of SD content.
For now, there's plenty of life in that USB port. Hidden behind a door next to the T2200's digital display, channel up/down buttons and a standby control, its duties for now are solely with memory sticks.
The usual JPEG slideshows and MP3 files can be played – and are dealt with in a rather rudimentary manner – though it's a different story with digital video files. Not only able to play DivX and XviD files, the T2200 extends its reputation as a HD machine by playing both MKV (DivX HD) and M2TS (AVC HD camcorder) files.
One concern we do have about the prospect of USB recording is the slot's placement. At the moment its position on the front of the machine beside the digital display is convenient, but the idea of trailing a cable to an external hard drive doesn't appeal.
Perhaps the T2200 should have a second USB slot on the rear panel, because it would be a shame to interrupt this unit's otherwise impressive design.
Another future-proof feature is the T2200's Ethernet port. Housed in its rear panel, its sits alongside a couple of Scarts (which support both RGB and composite video qualities – though with HD on the menu these are best ignored completely), a HDMI output and an optical audio output.
That Ethernet port could spring into life when Freeview HD starts to host services such as the BBC iPlayer, expected to happen in 2011 (probably via an OTA upgrade). Software could also let the T2200 dabble in DLNA home networking, arguably something this machine should already be capable of, given its DivX capabilities.
Another boon is dual common interface slots on the machine's front panel – especially useful since Top Up TV is set to offer Sky's sports channels. To find one CI slot is pleasing; to find two is almost unheard of.
Icecrypt T2200: Performance
Maybe it's sheer processing power, or perhaps it's because the digital signal in our test area has strengthened since the analogue switch-off, but the T2200 finds – and holds – a lot more Freeview channels than we'd experienced before.
Its Freeview HD/DVB-T2 tuner is highly sensitive, and its search for both standard definition and HD channels takes just a couple of minutes. In our test, all Freeview HD channels available were tuned-in, and presented in the correct order.
The efficiency of its DVB-T2 tuner proves typical of the way the T2200 behaves; kudos goes to Icecrypt not just for its impressive haul of features and future-proof possibilities, but also for the way they're delivered. It's largely down to an excellent user interface, a 32-bit high resolution on-screen display befitting a receiver with hi-def status.
Turn to channel 50 – BBC HD – and it's obvious why the devices like the T2200 are in high demand.
We watched the BBC's Life output in 1080p resolution to a Full HD plasma telly; even though the programme itself is broadcast in 1080i (you won't find 1080p transmissions on any HD broadcast platform for a very long time), the picture does look better if you let the T2200 output in its maximum resolution.
As a polar bear and its cubs trudge across the ice, the T2200 brings out some good levels of close-up detail and, most impressively, contrast between peak bright whites of the snow and the darker shades of the sky and mountains. A cinematic picture is the result, while a blast of Champions League footie from ITV 1 HD impresses, particularly with its detail and brightness.
The T2200 also does a decent job of upscaling the rest of the standard definition channels, and though a bright and clean picture is always present, they necessarily don't sparkle anywhere near as much as pictures from BBC HD and ITV 1 HD.
ITV is dotted with MPEG blocking, but how much you notice that depends on how big your TV is; if anything, it lends weight to the argument that Freeview HD is essential if you've a big-screen TV (Freeview currently recommends a 28-inch screen or higher for HD, though we're not sure why; we've not seen a 28-inch TV since the days of cathode ray tube TVs).
Meanwhile, a selection of movie trailers downloaded in DivX HD format (MKV files) are played from a USB stick in spectacular fashion. Detail levels are high and images are clean, and while there's very little motion blur, slow camera pans do involve a modicum of stepping.
Icecrypt T2200: Sound, value and ease of use
The T2200's build quality is better than the average Freeview box, and that extends to the way it works, too.
However, sound is an area where Freeview HD boxes in general can disappoint so it's by no means just an Icecrypt issue.
You'll also see a Dolby Digital Plus logo on the front of the T2200, which means the box can decode 7.1-channel soundtracks that could eventually be broadcast on Freeview HD channels. Sadly, this is merely a future-proofing footnote for now, because although it's technically possible to broadcast Dolby Digital Plus across the new Freeview HD framework, it's not actually being used by any TV channels yet.
Dolby Digital Plus is basically a compressed version of Dolby Digital, which is supported on other hi-def platforms such as Sky, Virgin and Freesat.
Freeview HD currently uses a brand new audio format called HE-AAC, which can only provide stereo. Turbosat tells us that although the T2200 can't transcode HE-AAC to Dolby Digital, this is being looked at as a feature for a future software update.
The T2200 doesn't even sport a simple phono option for analogue fans, and in place of analogue outputs you'll find an S/PDIF output to attach the box to a home cinema amplifier. That S/PDIF output is complemented in the settings menu by an option to set an audio delay of up to 250ms; useful if you want to route the T2200's audio to a home cinema amplifier, though simple stereo will be the result.
If you're insistent on 5.1, our advice is to pipe pictures and audio to an amplifier with HDMI inputs, then use Dolby Pro Logic II to 'create' surround sound.
Ease of use
No such imaginative thinking is needed for the rest of the T2200's operation. Fast to switch on and quick to operate, it's in part down to a remote control that's very responsive. Exhaustive in terms of controls, the remote does feel lightweight and it's saddled with small buttons that can be uncomfortable to use.
During operation of the Freeview HD tuner, a simple list of channels can be inspected, and a list of favourites compiled (and easily edited). Decorated with a Freeview HD logo, the seven-day EPG, which in two modes covers either three hours on seven channels, or five hours on five channels, is graphically impressive and very responsive.
But it's digital video files that are handled best of all; it's possible to fast forward and rewind through such files at speeds ranging from 2x to 64x, and skip back to file lists while a video continues to play underneath the text.
There's also a two-way relationship between a memory stick and the T2200; files can be rearranged and added to new folders. MP3 files are not as slickly handled, with music playback graphics fuzzy and, in our test, the T2200 didn't pick-up song/artist/album details.
Though Freeview HD channels are likely to be the main reason to buy the T2200, there's a lot more here to seal the deal. It's never frustrating to use, and this attractively designed, versatile, sensitive and powerful DVB-T2 receiver has enough up its sleeve to make it well positioned to deal with the digital revolution in the years to come – with recording to portable USB devices particularly mouth watering.
Icecrypt T2200: Verdict
The T2200 is future-proofing defined. While most manufacturers are planning to follow-up their initial Freeview HD receivers with all-singing Freeview HD+ recorders, in the T2200's case, there's no need; the USB slot on its front fascia will, we're promised, soon be able to record programmes from the TV tuner to memory stick or external hard drive.
Better still, the box is fitted with an Ethernet LAN port, so could indulge in on-demand services – such as BBC iPlayer – when Freeview gets the go-ahead to carry such services, probably in 2011.
These will all require software upgrades, unlike the USB port's current ability to play DivX and even DivX HD files – a rare skill indeed for a set-top box.
Although the EPG is an acquired taste, it's well-presented, colourful and quick to use – there's no annoying stalling or freezing common to some Freeview decoders.
Well made and sporting excellent picture quality – especially from the HD channels – the T2200 promises much for the future, but also delivers in the here and now. DivX playback on a digital TV receiver is almost unheard of, and the T2200's ability to play DivX HD files is going to win it a lot of fans sick of using their games consoles or media streamers to watch MKV and other digital files.
The remote is basic and not very imaginatively designed, though it's as functional as it needs to be. We'd like to see a second USB on the rear panel for use with an external hard drive – it would make for a far tidier setup. Our only other minor complaint is about the promised Freeview HD recording software update … we want it now! That would truly give the T2200 the leg-up on its rivals.
A powerful and future-proof Freeview HD receiver that handles hi-def from both DVB-T2 broadcasts and DivX HD files could be hard to resist for many after pin-sharp World Cup action, but the T2200 will keep on giving.
As if the promise of iPlayer and USB recording was not enough, the appearance of two CI slots for pay TV viewing cards make this the ideal Freeview HD box considering the likely appearance of Sky Sports channels on the Top-Up TV service.
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