Remotely viewing the Echostar Freesat box

My review of Echostar’s Freesat recorder is over on RegHardware, but I thought I’d add a few more words and some extra screens here.

First, the connectivity side of this was very straightforward – I fully expected configuration problems with remote viewing, but there weren’t any. While I can’t promise it’ll work fine for everyone, I did access it in fairly challenging circumstances.

The box was connected to my Apple Airport Express powered network; that puts it on a private network, behind NAT, and I didn’t so any special configuration of the Airport. The Airport itself has a public IP address, but is behind a firewall in the router, which is set up to pass limited traffic to the Airport from outside – principally HTTP and some instant messaging. In didn’t add any extra rules for the Sling functionality.

Viewing remotely was done in the Computeractive office, where all the machines are also on a private network, and present a single outgoing IP address. So, effectively, there’s NAT at each end, plus two firewalls – and the streaming still worked without a hitch.

As to picture quality, well if you want to catch up on stuff when you’re away from home, I suppose it’s reasonable enough. The limiting quality is your broadband upload speed – mine is 0.6Mbps, which is reasonable (and faster than quite a lot of people).

So, what’s it like? Well, you can watch BBC One HD remotely, but it won’t look anything like HD; it’s blocky but sit a fair distance from the screen an it’s perfectly watchable. What was more interesting was the difference the quality settings had on the presentation of the on-screen menus, which will be necessary if you want to view recordings remotely. here’s the recording list, with the quality set to ‘Auto’

Menu quality on 'auto' isn't great; click to view full size

Change to ‘Best’ and now the menus are readable; the speed shown in the bottom bar changed from 504 to 536kbps when I did this – and the sound started to break up. But unless you only have a few recordings, you’ll probably need this better quality to be able to work out which file you want to play:

At 'Best' quality, you can read on screen displays, but the sound broke up

Finally, one last pic; I mentioned in the review how bright the front panel lights were, and the Sling indicator, which comes on during remote access is particularly bright, and annoying – that arch of LEDs cycles off and on. This is one you’ll probably want to disable via the menus, if you’re at home when someone else is accessing the box.

All the LEDs are bright, but especially the remote access indicator

4 Replies to “Remotely viewing the Echostar Freesat box”

  1. Ok, so this is a PVR that allows you to watch the contents remotely via a web browser. That’s probably a bit nice, for about the next 12 months.

    But it begs the question, why would I pay for a device to convert satellite broadcast into IP-streamable content when it means that:
    (a) I need to decide in advance which programmes I want to make available, i.e. by selecting them to record
    (b) the availability is subject to the powering on of my home devices (router,STB) as well as the broadband service to my home (all of which the consumer has to pay for!)
    (c) the quality gets reduced according to my home PC’s broadband upload speed rather than the consuming device’s download speed
    (d) it gets subjected to the whims of the broadcaster via its use of the copy-protect flag (to be honest I’m speculating on this one, but Nigel will be able to correct me if need be)

    It just feels so 90s. Like a sneakernet where people pass round floppies to distribute content. Why force the consumer to be responsible for this relaying/transcoding of content? It’s just unnecessary hassle and forces them to understand a level of indirection they don’t want or need to understand. And in the case of most consumers, they won’t be able to understand it and won’t use it.

    We’re now in 2011. You can stream virtually any TV show broadcast in the last 30 years to your PC/tablet/phone if you know the right websites to type into your browser. Granny knows how to do this. By 2013 it will be even easier.

    This is no criticism of the article. I welcome any education of users about these features. I’m just pointing out that the shelf life of the feature is limited.

    And to end on a constructive/positive, if I were an STB manufacturer, I’d concentrate on making the UI flawless in the way that Apple UIs are (virtually) flawless. That means instant channel switches (aided by multiple tuners), zero-lag on remote operations (if I press CH+ 10 times per second, it should keep up), and in the case of FreeSat, getting rid of that annoying category selection you’re forced to make before entering the Guide. Now that’s something I’d pay for.

    1. That’s a perfectly good point, and one I made to the PR chap for the Echostar myself. For many people, programmes can be watched remotely with a better quality picture, using catch up services like iPlayer, 4od or Demand 5.

      This is really a bit of a niche product, catering to those who really don’t want to miss something when they’re away from home, and can’t – perhaps because they’re abroad, or because the channel doesn’t have a catch up service they can access on their device – use a conventional web browser to view it.

      Like you, I’m not honestly convinced that’s enough of a niche – but saying that, I’ve known people who ask me how they can get a VPN sorted out to watch Corrie when they’re on holiday abroad.

      The saving grace of the Sling system is that it works easily, even though tricky network setups, and you don’t have to do much configuration. But set against that, you’re paying a £50 premium over the cost of the Humax 500GB Freesat recorder, and if you want the app for Android or iOS, another £20 for the client software too (which I think is really taking the mickey; a voucher for one copy at least should be in the box, if they’re insisting on charging).

  2. Rob says in his post that Freesat forces people to select a catagory before being able to view listings. On some Freesat equipment there is a menu setting where this can be disabled and it takes you straight to the guide.

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