Humax HDR-FOX T2 £329
9th Aug 2010 | 09:05
The Freeview+ HD PVR that everyone's been waiting for
Humax HDR-FOX T2: Overview
Freeview HD receivers such as Humax's own HD-FOX T2 are great for watching subscription-free high definition TV but are no use when it comes to time shifting, as the copy protection police won't allow you to make HD recordings on to external devices such as a DVD recorder or PVR.
Hence the significance of Freeview+ HD, where several players are eager to cash in on a potentially lucrative market.
The HD-FOX T2 was the first ever Freeview HD receiver, but Humax sensibly avoided trying to cash in on the World Cup with a prematurely early release of its debut PVR – a lesson that Sagemcom will have learnt with its RT190-320 T2 HD, which was poorly received, and is only now properly ready for sale, having received numerous software updates.
Humax has a very good reputation in the Freeview PVR market, and the HDR-FOX T2 is expected to do a similar job for the company in the fledgling HD sector. The box certainly has its work cut out, with rival models appearing left, right and centre on an almost weekly basis.
The HDR-FOX T2 joins the likes of the Samsung BD-C8500M, Digitalstream DHR8205U, Triax T2-HD 217 PVR, Philips HDT 8520, 3view 3VHD, Sharp TU-T2HR32 and the aforementioned Sagemcom among the Freeview+ HD fraternity, alongside as models including the Panasonic DMR-BW880, which brings a Blu-ray burner to the party, allowing you to copy HD shows in high definition on to Blu-ray.
The mega-bucks Panasonic aside, most Freeview+ HD boxes are priced at around £300 for a 500GB model, with one or two 320GB variants available for just £50 less.
The 3View model is easily the best value uniquely offering BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Facebook and Google online browsing, plus multi-media networking, with the promise of Sky Player to come.
As it stands, Humax's HDR-FOX T2 is geared up to enjoy VoD later in the year, with Sky Player and possibly BBC iPlayer joining the PVR party, courtesy of a software update.
For now, the box's non-Freeview talents are restricted to multimedia file playback from USB or DLNA compliant devices connected over a wired network.
Humax HDR-FOX T2: Features
Despite the (temporary) absence of VoD functionality the HDR-FOX T2 offers more features than most Freeview+ HD PVRs including a CI slot that will provide a means of watching ESPN for £9.99 a month with Top Up TV.
The whole issue of pay TV on Freeview is a bit of a minefield for although Sky Sports 1 and 2 appear in the Freeview channel list they can only be watched by subscribing with BT Vision or with Top Up TV and the latter only works on Top Up TV's non-HD Freeview+ box plus Sagem's IDT68 and IDT72 boxes.
COMPARED: The Humax HDR-FOX T2 dwarfs the more compact Humax HD-FOX T2
Back to the Humax HDR and it's a joy to find a digital optical audio output that is actually capable of outputting multichannel Dolby Digital sound.
All other boxes have Dolby Digital decoders but most can't transcode from AAC which is used to carry vital audio description metadata.
But Humax has implemented the latest Dolby Digital Pulse technology to make sure that by adding an amp and speakers you can actually enjoy 5.1 surround sound where it's broadcast (which actually isn't very often).
You can choose to output digitally in stereo if you prefer or use the analogue stereo phonos. The HDMI socket will output upscaled standard definition and HD shows in 1080i or can be set to upscale to 1080p.
There are composite video and Scart outputs too but we won't dwell on them. An RF loop-through ensures your TV's tuner will still function whilst the box is connected to your aerial.
Other handy extras include the convenient on/off switch at the back and front-mounted USB port that's discretely hidden behind a black flap. Media playback extends to JPEGs, MP3s and most movie codecs except MKV.
The HDR-FOX T2 can also be hooked up over the ethernet to a DLNA compliant server and you can copy files to the box's own hard disk.
The fascia's LED display is one of the better ones, clearly spelling channel names and functions in a legible font. The box in general is nicely designed with a top quality plastic fascia, basic volume/channel controls and a central power button that faintly glows blue round its circumference when in standby and brightly when switched on.
The light changes to red when a recording is taking place.
Humax HDR-FOX T2: Performance
Installation is a breeze if you leave out the networking. First, choose your language from English, Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Welsh. Next, set the display (screen ratio, format and resolution).
Do a channel scan, which is quicker than most, and you're off and running. The excellent fonts, graphics, icons and menus combine beautifully and navigation is so fast that set-up and use is a cinch. The only real downer is that the HDR-FOX T2 takes around 15 seconds to power up.
The menu system lets you alter settings such as the transparency level of the menu screens, parental controls and the video output, which is scaleable to 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576p or 576i.
The HDR-FOX T2's remote control is superior to most other Freeview+ HD handsets.
It's really well made and is a decent size so that the majority of buttons aren't cramped. It sits nicely in the hand and it doesn't take long to familiarise yourself with although some of the more oft-used buttons such as Menu and Guide could be a bit larger or colour-coded to stand out more.
Several menu functions also have dedicated buttons on the remote. For example, the Opt+ button lets you select five channels as Favourites.
EPG and channel navigation
The 8-day EPG, as first seen on the HD-FOX T2 receiver, has the good grace to keep the live channel showing in a small window.
Seven channels are displayed in grid form with two hours worth of programmes. You can search by genre or keyword (eg title) or you can choose to filter the EPG to show just TV, radio, HD-only or recent channels.
Pressing OK lets you record the show (or an entire series) or set a reminder. Manual padding (up to 10 minutes at the start and end) can be done from the set-up menu.
The EPG tells you if a show on a standard definition channel is also showing in HD but the box can't tell you if HD content is native 1080i or upscaled from standard definition, like say the Triax box can.
The info banner, or i-plate as it's known, does at least scroll through the entire EPG rather than the usual Now and Next limit. A real rarity.
Tuner and recordings
The HDR-FOX T2's standard definition and HD tuners are both industry-leading.
Now the World Cup is over, ITV's native HD output is rather meagre but the onset of the new football season will add to the occasional movie. There's a huge gulf in quality between the low bit-rate used for a lot of standard definition broadcasts and HD ones.
At least standard def Freeview looks as good as you can get.
Recordings are pixel-perfect replicas of the original broadcasts. You can pause and rewind live broadcasts or view scheduled recordings by pressing the Media button. A nice feature is the ability to add bookmarks on the fly.
Once or twice the sound dropped out on playback but was restored by restarting the box.
Insert a USB stick and a menu conveniently appears asking you if you want to copy any or all of the music, video or photo files on to the hard disk. Media navigation in general is well executed but we did experience that annoying dropped audio problem a few times.
The box is not DLNA certified, but we got it streaming videos from a Windows 7 box with no trouble at all. It also handled perfectly a broad range of multi-media files copied over from USB including DivX HD and MP4.
Humax HDR-FOX T2: Verdict
Expectations were high for the HDR-FOX T2 and after feeling frustrated and let down by most other Freeview+ HD boxes it comes as something of a relief to be able to say that Humax has come up with the goods.
It feels like the company has taken many of the best bits of the other Freeview+ HD PVRs on the market and melded them into the HDR-FOX T2. By and large, this is a really nice box to use.
The overall user experience is unmatched by any other Freeview+ HD recorder. The sensibly-designed remote control, attractive menu system, fascia information and slickness of navigation are major positives.
Freeview HD and standard def images and sound are as good as we've seen (apart from the issue of sound drop-out on recordings on our review sample). Multi-media functionality is certainly a nice bonus, especially the ease with which files can be copied on to the hard disk from USB.
The EPG does falter by not indicating which shows are in native HD or upscaled standard definition and the (albeit temporary) lack of BBC iPlayer is irritating.
Assuming the audio playback niggle is an isolated case then there is very little about the HDR-FOX T2 to seriously damage Humax's reputation as a maker of better quality digital TV boxes.
Our other complaints about the HDR-FOX T2 are not terribly serious and although it's not perfect, the positives far outweigh the negatives.