Humax Foxsat HDR First Look

Originally published on the PCW blog

Humax Foxsat HDR – a first look

The Humax Foxsat HDR is one of the first Freesat+ devices, and we’ll be publishing a review in the March issue of PCW, when we’ve finished our testing. Meanwhile, we’re going to share some of the inside information, and our first impressions of the device.

First, if you’re not sure what Freesat’s all about, read this introduction. Freesat+ is the brand name that’s being used for PVRs on the platform, which allows you to record and play back, without a subscription, including the HD content that’s broadcast, though admittedly that’s fairly limited at the moment.

The Humax box is a sleek piece of kit, with a front panel that sports just a power switch and an LCD display; round the back you’ll find optical audio output, HDMI and SCART sockets, ethernet – for future use, including a version of the BBC iPlayer – and a USB port. The front panel drops down to reveal another USB port, and a few extra buttons to allow you to navigate the menus or change channel without the remote.

The remote itself is a fairly large affair, which can also control other devices; it works ok, though we’ve found it to be fairly directional – in our test rig, the HDR is at the side of the room, and we need to point the remote at it for reliable results.

Installation is pretty straightforward – like any twin tuner satellite box, you’ll usually need two connections from your dish; we’ll have more on that later. A wizard detects your satellite LNB, asks for your postcode, and sets the regional versions of some channels for you; if you’re in Scotland or Ireland, you might want to pick an English postcode so that you get ITV HD, though.

Picture quality looks pretty good, for both HD and SD channels, connected via HDMI to our display, though it’s worth noting that we didn’t get a picture when using our HDMI switch box, something we’ll investigate further.

Some interface issues
When you call up the EPG, the picture disappears briefly as the box fetches the data from the Freesat EPG transponder, but then it reappears behind the guide; there’s no annoying music, as found on Sky’s kit. Recording is a simple matter of highlighting a programme in the guide and pressing the Rec button on the remote – but if you do, you won’t be asked if you want to record a series. For that, you need to press OK, choose if you want to watch or record the program, then press OK, choose SD or HD if both are available, and then on the next press of OK you’ll be asked if you want to record the whole series. We’d like an option to do all that in one press, frankly.

Some other bits of the interface need a few too many presses, like deleting files, for example. And there’s still the bonkers Freesat genre screen that forces an extra press to get into the EPG, though Humax has wisely provided an option to turn that off.

Overall, our first impressions are of a pretty good box, good picture quality, and easy to get to grips with, though with some niggles; we’ll be doing more testing over the next week or so, before our full review.

Under the hood
Meanwhile, a little bit about the technical aspects; the HDR is powered by a Broadcom 7403 chip; it’s one of the first to use this brand new system-on-a-chip – the earlier Humax iCord uses the 7401. The use of such a new part helps explain the £300 price tag – but it should ensure it’s going to keep up with developments on Freesat.

It also supports Single Cable Distribution (SCD), otherwise known as Unicable. Right now, we’re testing with a Unicable LNB from Inverto. This allows up to four compatible receivers to be connected using a single cable, rather than requiring one cable per tuner. A normal LNB shifts the satellite signals to an intermediate frequency; with Unicable, there can be up to four of those intermediate frequencies, and each tuner is assigned one, which it uses to talk to the LNB, which contains four independent LNB units and the electronics to handle the signalling between them and the receivers. So if you don’t want to run extra cables Unicable could be a solution – as long as all your kit’s compatible, and you don’t mind paying around £70 for the LNB – we got ours from Germany, including shipping. Buy in the UK and pay around £80.

However, we’re still testing this aspect of the HDR, and we’ll report more on that via the blog; it’s also not a configuration that appears to be detected by the install wizard; instead you have to access a hidden menu to enable it, so probably not one for the casual user just yet.

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