Sharp TU-T2 £159
1st Jun 2010 | 09:12
Fast and furious Freeview HD, but lacks the versatility other boxes offer
Sharp TU-T2: Overview and features
With a list price of £189, Sharp's first stab at a Freeview HD set-top box seems vastly over-priced, but look online and the TU-T2 is already discounted – and a good job, too.
A basic, very small and easy to house black box is what you get, but its glossy fascia is interrupted by a rather brave lightbox studded with eight blue LEDs that twinkle and refresh every time a command is issued from the remote control.
There's also a large standby button on the front, which is good (and rather rare) news for those who hate the energy-guzzling 'always on' nature of set-top boxes.
Elsewhere the TU-T2 has all it needs to provide Freeview HD pictures – a single DVB-T2 tuner and a HDMI output. A brace of Scarts adorn the back (one to connect a VCR) alongside an Ethernet LAN port for future iPlayer-type upgrades, an optical digital audio out to hook-up to an amplifier (in Dolby Digital Plus once it comes to Freeview), a software upgrade-only USB slot and the all-important RF (and RF loopthrough) input for the aerial.
If you fancy something a little more comprehensive, Sharp has an identical-looking step-up called the TU-T2HR32, a £299 Freeview+ HD recorder that boasts a 360GB hard disk and a couple of DVB-T2 tuners, slated for mid-June.
Sharp TU-T2: Performance
The BBC HD channel looks simply awesome through the TU-T2, with loads of close-up detail and some stunning, pristine colours. Motion is handled immaculately and fast-moving objects and camera pans don't interrupt a permanently crisp image.
There's little more to say than that; the TU-T2 puts in a faultless performance with high definition. A blast of ITV reveals that the TU-T2 doesn't have quality 1080p upscaling in its arsenal.
It's not bad – there are few jagged edges and there's little picture noise, so it must be up-rezzing to some degree – but we've seen much better. Pictures do feature blocking, while moving objects can present some problems – we spotted some mosquito noise around people, particularly during close-ups.
The TU-T2 also struggles to resolve finely detailed objects; in this case, David Dickinson's pin stripe black suit seems to have a life of its own.There's also a fine sheen over some of the lower-resolution channels that rounds-off a very average performance with standard definition fare.
This low point doesn't necessarily need to be a deal-breaker. The TU-T2 will work fine with a relatively small (sub-32-inch) LCD TV. And without wishing to be controversial, the SD pictures look a lot tighter and cleaner when sent into a plasma TV (and a 37-inch one, at that). But it's worth knowing that there are better upscalers at work in other Freeview HD boxes.
Sharp TU-T2: Value and ease of use
Installation is simple and quick, with all available channels tuning in within four minutes in our test, and the TU-T2 had no trouble holding those frequencies.
The TU-T2's interface is well laid out, though ease of use is promoted over good looks. The remote's menu button brings up a window that plays the current TV channel alongside a simple list of options, which include settings, the EPG, and a channel list.
Delve into the settings and you can choose between 576p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p resolutions over HDMI, output Dolby Digital sound via HDMI, set an audio delay to avoid lip-sync issues (up to 250ms), and set the transparency of the on-screen menus.
That latter feature is important because it lends the interface a more involving feel; the EPG then floats over whatever channel you're watching. It's actually quite a basic EPG – information is shown for eight channels, but only across two hours – however, it works really well.
Fastext buttons then help push you through the schedules in two, or 24-hour, chunks. Around a third of the EPG's real estate is used up by a programme synopsis, which is perhaps too much, but it does lend the EPG an airy feel.
It also takes the guesswork out of high definition; synopsis' for all programmes on the HD channels let you know whether the broadcast is in HD (everything on BBC HD channel) or upscaled HD (most programmes on ITV 1 HD).
A similar approach is in use on the EPG, which displays a 'HD' logo next to anything that's broadcast in hi-def... again, there's alarmingly few in the ITV 1 HD schedules. A genre (sports, movie, entertainment) is rather pointlessly provided for anything you choose on the EPG, though it also indicates if subtitles are provided.
That EPG, which is lightning quick and downloads programme information instantly for the whole eight days ahead, can also dish out reminders at the touch of a button.
Meanwhile, a dedicated channel list, which can't be set to be transparent (instead a small window plays the current TV channel – a floating list over a full-screen picture would have been better), is where channels can be locked, deleted, or added to favourites. It's necessary to first call-up the channel list using a dedicated button before it's possible to browse favourites, killing any convenience such a list is supposed to create.
Overall though, Sharp's EPG and user interface are joined-up, good looking, fast and easy to use – the perfect combination. They're helped by a responsive remote control, and though it's comfortable to hold, it's too small and is marred by tiny buttons – even the all-important volume and channel changers are fiddly.
Sharp TU-T2: Verdict
With its less than ambitious spec, the TU-T2 was never going to blow us away, but in use it proves one of the most comfortable T2 set-top boxes around. It's proof that trying out a product is so much more important than the spec sheet; having been impressed by its easy-to-use and speedy interface and EPG, we'd happily overlook some of the TU-T2's shortcomings.
The TU-T2 is easy to get on with; its colourful and well designed hi-res EPG has few flaws and, best of all, works very quickly while never interrupting the TV programme you're watching.
That T2 tuner is excellent while hi-def TV channels are delivered in a spotless and fluid fashion.
Although it delivers on its core aims, the TU-T2 is expensive for what it is; a Freeview HD box that doesn't upscale SD with any aplomb is a bit of a letdown.
We'll forgive its average remote, but the lack of any CI slots for subscription TV add-on channels is a shame.
There's also that rather odd design flourish that sees several blue LED lights flashing on and off.
A joy to use, there's few Freeview HD set-top boxes better suited to sorting out the HD from the SD, but here's the rub; the TU-T2 is a one-trick pony, struggling with regular TV channels.
A breeze to operate, the TU-T2 could be the ideal product if you plan to pair it with a 32-inch-or-under telly – but think very carefully before marrying it to a big-screen LCD TV.
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