After much hassle and waiting I finally got my hands on the new Freesat recorder from Humax. On first impressions it feels well built and fits nicely with the rest of my media equipment (PS3, Panasonic Surround Sound). After connecting it all together and plugging in both LNB's the Foxsat performed an update without any problems, apparently if you only have one LNB plugged in the update fails with an E0-S error. The setup wizard is easy and quick to use, you simply enter your postcode, select the HD resolution (if you have a HD TV), in my case 720p, and it picks up all the available channels. One quick note is that it takes roughly 5-8 seconds to boot, even from standby which is quite a long and hopefully will be shortened in future updates.
Audio + Image Quality
Once the setup is completed I went straight for BBC HD and the image quality was a vast improvement on the Vista Media Centre that I used as my Freesat recorder previously. SD channels are sharper in appearance than in Vista Media Centre, although I'm not sure how they compare to a standard Freesat receiver. Audio quality in HD is as good as Blu-ray movies, especially if connected to a surround sound system. You can notice the difference between SD and HD channels but it is still crisp and clear on SD.
Menu and Navigation
The menus are clean, simple and straight forward to use. For example, when viewing a channel, information can be displayed about the current program such as whether subtitles are available, what resolution it's in e.g. 1080i, or what age rating the program is aimed at. You can create your own favourites list which contains all the channels that you watch the most frequently and saves you trailing through all 140 channels when searching the TV guide. The TV guide is again clean and simple, from here you can create a reminder to tell you when your favourite TV show is on and browse the next 8 days worth of programs. On minor irritation is that every time you want to look at the TV guide you have to select a Genre first and then you can see the channels relating to that genre, this can be switched off in the settings menu.
This is obviously the main reason to buy the Foxsat-HDR and, as you would expect, it is painless to set programs to record. For example, simply open the TV guide by pressing Guide button on the remote, move to the program you wish to record and press the record button. A neat little feature that has been introduced by Humax is that if the program is available on another channel in HD it will ask if you want to record that one instead e.g. Heroes is one BBC Three and BBC HD on Wednesday at 10pm, so if you select the program on BBC Three it will ask you if you want to record the HD version on BBC HD instead. As you would expect you can record a single program or an entire series, Heroes in HD was the first program that I recorded and it all work beautifully.
The Humax Foxsat-HDR feels well built and has a host of connections to fit most televisions. The Foxsat boasts two scart sockets, HDMI, RCA, 2x LNB in, LNB out, 2x USB ports, SPDIF out and Ethernet port. The only disappointment with the build of the Foxsat is the extremely bright display on the front of the box, which can be a distraction when watching TV. Hopefully the next update will allow the ability to change the brightness of the display. The Foxsat also allows the use of a Common Interface (CI ) M odule which you can use to insert cards that allow decryption of other channels such as Setanta, similar to Top-Up-TV. The remote control feels robust and has a gloss black finish, one criticism with it though is that the numbers are a reasonable distance from the arrow buttons, but that is an extremely minor issue.
Currently the text services only work on BBC but in the future this will spread to other channels. A useful feature is the ability to record ITV-HD which officially is not a channel but an interactive service, mainly so that Sky cannot add it to its list of available channels. At the moment there are very few programs on ITV-HD but this will undoubtedly increase when Freesat becomes more popular. It has been rumoured that BBC iPlayer will come to the Foxsat in spring of 2009 but this is unconfirmed.
As you would expect the Foxsat is able to receive Digital radio via Satellite, the audio is crisp and clear and is very noticeably different to analogue radios.
Another great feature of the Foxsat is the ability to play MP3 files, you can copy files from a USB stick or hard drive and play them happily on the Foxsat. This is simply done by plugging in your USB drive, selecting the device on a menu that pops up and then within the ‘File Manager' pressing the Green button to copy the file(s). You can also create your own playlists.
What better than when you come home from a well earned holiday than to show your holiday snaps on your 37" LCD TV? That is exactly what the Foxsat can do. Again by using a USB stick you can view all your photos either by manually going through them all or using the slide show feature in the Photo Viewer.
Overall the Foxsat is an essential purchase for anyone who currently has Freesat or doesn't want to pay a monthly fee to Sky for HD and a recorder. Even though the price tag is a bit steep at £300, compared to Sky's packages it'll pay for itself in 6 months. With the added ability to play MP3's, view photos and in the future watch programs from BBC iPlayer, the Foxsat is an attractive product for anyone wanting to record and watch HD TV for free. The amount of interest at this early stage will undoubtedly make Sky a bit wary of Freesat; let's hope some more big channels make the move from Sky to Freesat i.e. Channel 4 HD.