Linsar FHD1 £149
26th May 2010 | 08:33
Cracking hi-def pictures, but lacks versatility or extra features
Linsar FHD1: Overview and Features
The UK TV industry has a habit of going its own way, and with the advent of Freeview HD – unique in Europe – there's once again a situation where it's not just the big Japanese companies that can supply the right products.
With around 18 million HD Ready flatscreen TVs sold in the UK, there's a potentially huge market, so we're expecting a wave of British-made Freeview HD boxes, of which Linsar – a company that until now has been producing simple Freeview receivers – is one of the first with its FHD1, recently launched at John Lewis.
Good value, though, is not high on the list of the FHD1's attributes. While the Humax HD Fox-T2 promises add-ons like BBC iPlayer and Sky Player, and the Icecrypt T2200 features DivX HD playback and a couple of Common Interface (CI) slots, Linsar's FHD1 is bereft of these digital distractions.
The latter means it can't be fitted with add-on subscription TV channel cards – such as Top-Up TV – which could be crucial since Sky Sports channels are likely to be accessible soon from any Freeview box with a CI slot.
At least the FHD1 has an Ethernet port, which means it should be compatible with on-demand TV services (such as iPlayer and ITV Player) slated for Freeview in 2011.
Connectivity is reasonably good, though the provision of a Scart socket is bound to confuse some users – why would you pay over-the-odds for a Freeview HD box if you're just interested in standard-def channels and plugging in to an old TV?
Elsewhere on the rear panel is a digital optical audio output, HDMI, an Ethernet LAN port (for iPlayer via a software upgrade next year), RF aerial input and an RF out (for loopthrough).
The FHD1's basic front panel includes controls for standby, and channel up/down beside a display that shows the channel number you're watching.
Linsar FHD1: Performance
Subscription-free access to BBC HD, ITV 1 HD and Channel 4 in England/S4C Clirlan in Wales – as well as the other 50 or so standard-def Freeview channels – is the primary aim, and skill, of the FHD1.
Programme information for ITV 1 HD reveals which programmes are in native HD and which are in upscaled SD, though the FHD1 is reasonably talented at upscaling – to 1080p, no less – all by itself.
If the interface is generally user-friendly, the pictures are something of a love-in. It's not just HD channels that impress – standard-def programmes are upscaled well, with little blocking or feathered edges. The BBC HD channel, meanwhile, is pin-sharp with enticing smooth motion and comfortable camera pans.
A run-through of Jools Holland on BBC HD shows-up some lusciously bright and bold colours with barely a flicker or smudge when the camera rushes across the stage. Spotlights, shadows and tiny details such as hair are superbly rendered. We spotted just a little picture noise in backgrounds.
Linsar FHD1: Value and ease of use
Switch-on the FHD1 and after choosing which resolution you want (720p for HD Ready TVs or 1080i for Full HD sets will suffice – no HD channel is broadcast in 1080p) the search is then conducted in a few minutes, with all channels tuning-in and being nicely laid-out in their correct order.
A 'menu' button on the FHD1's lightweight, though over-long remote control brings up a choice between a simple list of channels, or a seven-day EPG – though we'd rather there was a single button to call-up a list of channels.
The former is simple enough; it's possible to change the order of channels, rename them or delete them altogether from the list.
It's also a cinch to set-up a favourites list, lock the system using a password, or filter the channels.
That last feature is flawed since it's only possible to divide channels by A-Z, by number, between free and encrypted channels, and by HDTV/TV/radio channels – none of which seem necessary. A system that recognises genres of channels, such as sports, would be more useful.
Overall we liked the user interface; nicely coloured in shades of purple and red, the graphics are a touch too soft – we spotted some feathered edges and text that's not quite as sharp as it could be – but it's the EPG's responsiveness that's of most concern.
Some instructions from the remote take a few seconds to register on the on-screen menus, by which time we'd already pressed a few more buttons; cue overlapping commands and the occasional freeze-up.
With audio it's possible to set a delay (of as many seconds as you wish) on the FHD1's digital optical audio (SPDIF) output. That could be useful if you're planning to hook it up to a home cinema, though don't be persuaded by this receiver's skills with Dolby Digital Plus sound – it's not currently used on the Freeview HD platform.
You can also choose whether to send the audio from that SPDIF to an amp as a PCM or bitstream. Also in those settings are choices for parental settings, audio description, and auto sleep (from 10 minutes up to three hours – the latter is a default so must be switched-off in the menus).
Linsar FHD1: Verdict
The FHD1 is not a complicated product; this simple, low profile black box is a credible stab at making a low-cost set-top box to get hi-def pictures onto your TV. And it's not half bad.
OK, so 'low cost' might be pushing it for a £149 premium, but it's cheaper than the recommended prices for similar boxes from the likes of Humax, Philips and Icecrypt – although it's wise to check the pre-World Cup supermarket prices for what is most definitely the summer's hottest product genre so far.
With an HDMI cable in the box and a simple set-up, there's not much to dislike about the FHD1; it produces cracking HD pictures and darned good SD pictures, too – but only over HDMI. It's also good to see an Ethernet for future on-demand services over broadband.
The interface can be a little slow for certain commands, while the lack of any Common Interface slots puts the FHD1 at a disadvantage when compared to some of its competitors. We'd also like to see a USB slot that makes a stab at MP3, JPEG and DivX files.
A good, if not great, Freeview HD box that will bring you a basic Freeview HD upgrade – and in great quality – though little else. Considering the competition, we'd question whether the FHD1 currently justifies its £149 price tag.
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