Technomate TM-800 HD £199
1st Sep 2011 | 08:30
This budget HD-capable Linux box has some interesting features
The TM-800 HD is Technomate's most affordable Linux-based receiver and our review unit came pre-installed with a variant ('IQ') of the Enigma 2 firmware 'image' that you'll find on many competing Linux-based products like the Dreambox.
At least four other 800 HD-compatible images are also available. Dealers can usually install the one of your choice.
The hardware it runs on, which is based on an NXP 'jungle chip', is well specified. It's HD-capable, the single Sharp tuner supporting DVB-S2 channels. A card slot (capable of emulating various CAMs, with the appropriate Enigma plug-in) is present, although there's no conditional access slot.
Among a healthy sprinkling of connectivity are HDMI, USB and, of course, Ethernet – an internal Wi-Fi upgrade is available as an option. Also optional is PVR functionality. The 800 HD will record onto USB media if you're not prepared to install an internal 2.5-inch drive.
The 800 HD has been available for over a year now, and during that time was plagued by problems (at one point there was a product recall). Although now stable enough to be given the Wotsat treatment, it's still not perfect, although Technomate assures us that a major new firmware revision is in the wings.
Build and connectivity
Other than a huge blue-backlit joypad, the most prominent feature of this pleasantly styled midi-sized receiver's front panel is an informative alphanumeric display. Channel names or status information scroll along merrily, and the display also acts a clock when in standby. Under this are a series of basic controls.
A pull-down flap, meanwhile, conceals a USB port, a card reader and blanked-off CI slot. The remote control has plenty of useful 'shortcut' buttons – available functions include satellite selection, recordings, timer, video modes, multimedia and positioner – but its feel leaves much to be desired.
The buttons have a rather lumpy feel to them and sometimes catch on the casework. Some of the smaller ones are awkward to operate, too.
On the rear panel is a healthy sprinkling of connectivity. Underneath its LNB input you'll find a loopthrough output. Next to these are an aerial input and output for the onboard UHF modulator, which can be surprisingly useful for simple multi-room reception.
The 800 HD is well prepared for better-quality options, though. A pair of Scarts and a HDMI port are complemented by component and composite outputs. Audio outputs are optical digital and stereo analogue phonos. A couple of bungs cover the holes into which sockets for the aerials associated with an optional Wi-Fi adapter (£50 though some dealers are currently bundling it with the receiver) would be mounted. A second USB port, RS232 port and a modem jack round off the data socketry.
Talking of which, there's a catch if self-contained PVR operation is needed. To accommodate an internal HDD, which screws into a bracket located just behind the front panel, you'll require a SATA-to-USB converter. This is wired internally to the main board instead of the front-panel USB socket, which is as a consequence no longer available. It is disappointing that no SATA interface is built in.
The irony is that the beefy internal power supply – designed with DiSEqC mounts in mind – has a SATA power cable trailing from it.
A dedicated system menu is provided for basic receiver configuration. In AV settings the output mode (PAL/50 or NTSC/60) and resolution can be specified. For HDMI, all modes from 480p/576p to 1080p are available.
Another menu configures networking – separate categories cover Wi-Fi (if fitted) and Ethernet. If you're using Wi-Fi, WEP, WPA or WPA2 encryption can be specified. To ease network configuration, DHCP is supported. There's also a network wizard, but attempting to use this always caused the receiver to crash.
Alternative skins, which customise the appearance of the user interface, can be chosen. Other menus look after parental controls and languages and video fine-tuning (aka a test-pattern generator).
Two basic setup modes – simple and advanced – are available. The first is ideal for basic systems – notably those using a single dish/LNB or a DiSEqC 1.0 setup. For the latter, each of the four positions can be assigned to a specific satellite.
In the 'advanced' menu, far more parameters (notably relating to LNB type and DiSEqC) are available. In addition to 1.0, this receiver supports 1.2 and USALS – all of the usual controls for dish movement are supported via the handset's coloured buttons. Hardware blind search is missing, although we might eventually see it in software 'plug-in' form.
Searching can be taking place on single transponders or complete satellites – all channels, or just free ones, can be found and stored. FEC and symbol rate can be specified for manual searches, but you can't enter PIDs.
One of the plug-ins present on the review sample was a satfinder, which displays larger-than-usual strength/quality bar graphs for a user-specified satellite/transponder. It's a shame that signal level isn't represented by an audible tone which could aid dish installation.
The channel list – accessed with the 'OK' button in the middle of the joypad – arranges the database into four categories, which are selected with the coloured buttons. You can sort the list by 'all' (everything, sorted alphabetically), satellite, provider or 25 categorised 'favourites'. It's easy to add channels to, or delete them from, these lists as taste dictates. Adding or removing lists can be conducted with similar ease.
Pressing the 'info' button brings up now-and-next data. Running time and icons depicting audio and aspect ratio are also displayed. Press it again and more detailed information is available – the red, green and yellow buttons list service information, PIDs and transponder details respectively.
With the 800 HD, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to EPGs. The standard one has two modes. One focuses on one channel's schedule, and has a search facility. However, the virtual keyboard into which you enter your search terms is slow to respond, and as a consequence it's easy to overshoot the desired character.
The other one allows you to see what multiple channels are broadcasting within a given timeslot, complete with elapsed-time bar graphs – 'now', 'next' and 'more' tabs allow you to work through the schedules.
From either mode, you can zap to the highlighted channel or set the timer. Seven-day data is supported where available.
Courtesy of an EPG Import plug-in, the 800 HD automatically downloads schedules in XML format – these can be manually updated if need be. Two more types of EPG are available as input expansions (press the yellow button in normal TV mode). 'Cool Multi Guide' tables the offerings of up to six channels of the current list on a three-hour time frame, and a 'graphical multi-EPG' does the same for a particular favourites list. Here, the timeline is two hours and seven channels can be accommodated.
PVR and multimedia
With a hard drive – internal or external – present, the 800 HD becomes a single-tuner PVR. However, it's currently very limited compared with what's offered by other PVRs.
Most obviously, there's no timeshift functionality. If the phone starts ringing you'll have to start recording the programme that was hitherto absorbing your attention. But you cannot, alas, start playing the recording until it has completed. Nor can you access an existing recording (or anything else) while another one is in progress.
More positively, you can watch another channel carried via the same transponder as another that's recording. Available channels are highlighted in the channel list – others are 'greyed out'. You can't record two such channels simultaneously.
The remote dedicates a button to the recordings list. Icons inform you what's been watched, and what hasn't. From here recordings can be selected for viewing, deleted or moved to an alternative storage device.
Uniquely, recordings can be filtered by 'tags' contained within the EPG-derived recording name. The ability to enter your own search term hasn't been included, though.
Trick playback is available, but this isn't perfect. The display is not refreshed at higher than 2x speed (you can go all the way to 128x) and so you're effectively working blind.
There's no such problem, mercifully, with SD channels. Time-seek is also available. Pressing 'bookmark' only brings up transport controls.
You're given the impression that the coloured buttons are used for playback functions – this isn't so. Instead, a set of dedicated transport buttons is provided.
An annoying bug we encountered with our sample was that recording wouldn't start on occasions. Under these circumstances it randomly flashed 'a record has been started' messages onscreen, and although a corresponding entry was present in the recording database there was nothing that could be played. Tellingly, the animated recording icon on the fluorescent display was inactive. A restart was the only cure.
The 800 HD will play multimedia content from USB but not (yet) networked devices. A wide range of codecs and formats are supported, including MKV and MP3.
The media player has two sections – a media list, and a playlist to which one or more items are added. A menu function switches between the two. Annoyingly, 'wrap-around' access to list of media isn't allowed; there are other bugs too. Deleting playlists doesn't always do so, and you can't just select files for playback. A 'picture player' plug-in is needed for still images. It's very clumsy and needs work.
Networking features are excellent, as you'd expect from a Linux box. Among other things, a web interface allows you to change channels from a browser running on a computer connected to your network. Streaming TV from the receiver to a computer is supported, as is FTP; use this, and recordings (in the .ts format) can be transferred.
Although sensitivity was good, searches were slower than we've come to expect from newer receivers. Even switching between channels on the same transponder can take three seconds.
Overall, the TM-800 HD was very stable – our experience compared favourably with that of early adopters. During the review period, it crashed signifi cantly only once. A 'Digital Worldz' message flashed onscreen ad infinitum, and a hard reset was required.
Picture and sound quality are excellent, especially via HDMI and the analogue outputs, including RGB Scart, were much better than expected too.
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