Product Type: Humax set top boxes
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Humax HDR-FOX T2 - Not Perfect But Probably Best In Field.
Humax Fox Sat HDR Fox T2 HD
Member Name: Nibelung
Humax Fox Sat HDR Fox T2 HD
Date: 11/03/11, updated on 09/09/11 (463 review reads)
Advantages: Well made, excellent picture quality and versatile
Disadvantages: Some lost opportunities now that it has web access
NEVER SAY 'NEVER AGAIN'
It's official. I am indeed a Freeview+ set-top box fetishist.
I'm now losing count of how many I've written about in the past, although I doubt whether it could rival Nar2's vacuum cleaners!
Having bought a '3View' HD TV Personal Video Recorder (PVR) a few months back, I thought my days of buying these things were over (well for the time being that is). However, my wife and I now watch practically NOTHING live except maybe the news, and now that BBC1 is HD, not just the composite BBC HD, we're finding that 'only' having two tuners is a limitation, or more to the point, when push comes to shove, whatever it is that I want recorded is never quite as important as her preference. Funny that......
Besides, since when did I need an excuse to justify another gadget?
Buying another 3View box was out of the question, if only for the fact that the remote controls would clash, there being no way to change the codes used to allow for dual working, besides which, that wouldn't give me anything new to write about! Thus after a lot of reading round on the subject, and insinuating myself into relevant forums I plumped for the Humax HDR-FOX T2 with its 500 gigabyte disk drive - rated by 'Which?' Magazine as 'Best Buy'.
Various options present themselves, but all well over £240. Even a re-worked showroom return direct from Humax will set you back £249 and then only with one year's warranty, not two.
Humaxdirect.co.uk will sell you a fresh one for £299, with very rapid delivery, complete with 2-year warranty, whereas, in fact Peter Tyson of Carlisle will send you one post-free for £289 and throw in a 3rd year's warrant, so it was option three that attracted me. Delivery was actually in less than 24 hours, and there's me in London with them in Carlisle.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS AFTER UNWRAPPING
I can't believe that people actually film un-boxing this stuff for later use on YouTube, but suffice it to say that they do - the good news is that I don't!
Anyway, the packaging now uses the bare minimum of plastics, and shock proofing is now provided by glorified egg-cartons.
Along with the machine itself, you get a classy-looking remote control complete with batteries, a SCART lead, an HDMI lead, a quick-start manual, and......steps back in amazement ...... a proper manual, not a bloody CD-ROM leaving you to print it out at your own expense, and most likely never will.
Compared to the 3View box I wrote about late last year, the build quality feels a wrung further up the ladder, although to be fair, a lot of its apparent weight is down to the inbuilt power supply, whereas the 3View goes down the 'outboard AC/DC adapter' route.
The facia is now the half-expected gloss-black favoured by some many TV makers.
When running, the Humax gives you a full pale-orange LED readout of the channel being watched, e.g. CHANNEL 4 HD, or its current status like 'GUIDE' when the electronic programme guide is being perused. These might seem like small things, but some makers only use an 'eight bar' LED, making it necessary to introduce a curious mix of upper and lower case letter, also making 'M' impossible - however, 'hu=aH' isn't one of them!
There is also a sequence of touch-sensitive chrome studs for changing channels and raising and lowering the in-built volume placed on the front panel. The central stand-by switch is only touch-sensitive, which explains why it wouldn't switch off when I tried pressing it hard for several seconds! I really should read the instructions.
On the video side, we've got the usual Antenna In/Antenna Out for onward connection to a TV,
although the latter is only useful if your TV has a Freeview tuner (Integrated Digital TV). With the analogue switch-off well under way this will become of little use to some with non-IDTVs.
Interestingly, if you don't have anywhere to pass the Antenna Out connection onto, you can put the box in a very low power-saving mode when on stand-by using only 1 watt. The normal setting keeps the little 'pass-through amplifier' for aerial continuity running, and you can even opt to supply 5 volts down the aerial cable for those with a 'masthead amplifier'.
We've got a SCART socket capable of being output at the higher RGB standard.
No digital box these days would be without its HDMI connector. Both this lead and the SCART output simultaneously, thereby making possible the archiving of programmes to a DVD recorder via an analogue connection whilst watching the results digitally on TV. .
Audio is represented by twin RCA 'phono' plugs, and an optical (SPDIF) digital link, capable of transmitting Dolby Digital 5.1 sound to a suitable amplifier. Most of the time, this is stereo, as it depends on the media being watched.
Data inputs are also in evidence, as there's both a front and a rear USB 2.0 socket, coupled with an Ethernet port. The box is wi-fi enabled so given the right 'dongle' (there goes that word again!) from a limited list, home networking is possible without making your lounge look like the IT Crowd just came round for a party. You do need a good constant wi-fi signal though, if the streaming of iPlayer is going to be jerk-free - well until Jimmy Carr appears let's say.
Users of Humax machines have been caught like this before - first you see something useful like a USB port and then you consult the manual to find it's for 'further use' - a future which seemingly never comes any closer.
Not so this time. The USB ports can be used for the addition of media drives; anything from a memory stick to a 2-terrabyte external hard drive and containing a mix of photos, movie files, and mp3 music files. I have to say that the list of compatible files is less than stunning. For example, whilst MP3 music files are recognised, Microsoft's WMA format isn't and it's also quite fussy over video files.
The Ethernet port works 'straight from the box' after the initial start up wizard has done its stuff.
But why does it need internet access?
The Humax now has something called a TV Portal, which for the time being is limited to BBC iPlayer, YouTube Flickr (but not your own account, just a search facility to stream slideshows), Wikipedia access and Internet Radio - the latter being useful enough if, when in London, you want to find out what the M6 in Cumbria is like before setting out for The Lakes!
You can also use your home network for the streaming of media from your PCs to your TV screen, assuming a compatibility of file types.
The USB ports are also useful for keeping the Humax's software up to date. My box, as delivered had obviously been in stock a few weeks, during which time, the TV Portal had become a reality (but only after adding the latest software). I'd also missed the over-the-air update, so my first port of call was the Humax site to get the latest version. It's a very easy matter to download the file from Humax, 'unzip' it to a memory stick and take it to the machine. Turn the machine off, plug the stick into a USB port and turn on again. The update is detected and installed automatically.
Set-up is what it is - a necessary evil, but thanks to their start-up wizard, the process goes really smoothly. During this process, it finds channels, but beware if you live in fringe areas where tuners find two of everything from different transmitters - you'll end up deleting the weaker duplicate channels manually. If you know the 'multiplex' i.e channel numbers from your nearest transmitter, you can also perform a manual tune if duplicates are evident. Usuall, the duplicates show up in the 800+ numbering range but they can completely cock-up setting timers so get shot toute-de-suite. You'll be asked what picture definition you want to be output. As it happens, a small minority of Freeview HD programmes are now put out in 'full HD' - i.e. 1080p so it's worth leaving your link set to the maximum.
Now for the acid test.
Firstly the picture quality from a real HD broadcast is stunning, and some have even opined that it exceeds that experienced on a Sky Plus HD box. The SD pictures aren't too shabby either, especially on my Panasonic plasma set.
As Inspector Clouseau said, "Wax is not just wax" and the same goes for HD channels.
For example, BBC 1 HD, ITV 1 HD and C4 HD all transmit in HD, but whether the programme was shot in HD is entirely another matter. It seems that only the composite BBC HD 'showcase' channel can be depended on to come up with the goods here - after all if it isn't shot on HD, what's it doing there? Current affairs studio work, like The One Show gives you the best idea of how good HD can be.
Choosing what to record couldn't be easier. Using the very clear Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) to peruse the current schedule, up to 8 days hence, you click on what you want to record, and if it's a part of a series, you get asked whether you want a single episode or the series. It's got enough intelligence to spot movies that straddle a news bulletin. It's even clever enough to spot clashes in the recording schedule, for example when it will already involve using both tuners and will suggest alternatives, perhaps moving one of the recordings to a 'plus 1' channel. BBC HD programmes are frequently not at the same time as BBC 1 HD programmes.
Of course, if you miss it, there's always, in the BBC's case, iPlayer to fall back on, and it does work extremely well, with more of less broadcast quality playback. My home network will just about handle the needs of the Hi-Def version of the programme, but for SD 'catch-up' it's 100% perfect.
Rather than rely on the EPG entirely for your tracking of timers, you can also add some 'padding' to either end of the timer to allow for alterations at short notice. The box does activate itself briefly at 4.30 am - useful when it hasn't been used lately, e.g., when you're on holiday, so that any known alterations to the EPG can be allowed for, but every time the men's final at Wimbledon drags on, it all goes pear-shaped anyway!
The remote controller can be set up to control TVs, DVD players and Audio amplifiers. Mine now controls my Panasonic TV and DVD player, as well as my Yamaha amplifier, which to be honest, I'd forgotten was remote control! 30-odd pages of the daunting manual are actually set aside for lists of control codes used by the other makers for setting the remote control so it's not so daunting after all.
Rather cleverly, the Humax only alerts you to the fact that the programme is HD when it really is, thus it's a good idea when setting up timers to make the standard definition channel your first port of call e.g. BBC 1, only changing to HD when the box prompts you. That way you don't waste precious recording space on HD when the actual content has only 576 lines (the 'real' 625), not 1080. The 500 gigabyte disk drive gives you about 250 hours of SD recording or half that in HD. As for radio recordings (yes, you can), presumably you measure the disk capacity in months, not hours!
A feature that's new to me at least, is 'trailer booking' - You know the kind of thing I mean - you get one of those brief 'teasers' - yes even on the BBC, proclaiming the virtue of some new series, always seemingly starting 'next week'. Now you get a 'Book Me' prompt to press the green button, which in turn sets up a timer based on the hidden data within the 'ad'. Useful, and it works.
Well, as you'd expect, it hasn't been perfect.
Funny that, how I've come not to expect this kind of box to be perfect, whereas if a digital camera was launched that wasn't near-as-damn-it perfect, the maker's would soon be hearing about it in no uncertain terms. This is the second advanced set-top box I've bought in recent months, and neither has been perfect.
In the case of the 3View, I feel like I've been an un-paid 'beta-tester', and in the case of the Humax, having hung on long enough for all its wrinkles to be ironed out (or so I figured), I still found myself having to reboot it and let it go through the set-up routine all over again............
............and it still doesn't do everything the 3View can do; for example, using the proprietary software build, you can't 'see' its files easily from your PC whereas on the 3View you can view its recordings on Windows Media Player or a free utility like 'Boxee' or 'XBMC' and play them, although I'd venture to say that what the Humax CAN do it does better.
Whilst talking of networking, from the Humax end, you can only 'see' the conventional media structure within a Windows PC, i.e My Documents/My Music, or /My Pictures or /My Video. Any other drives you've earmarked for file-sharing don't show. You can however take a USB drive laden with media files to it, and plug it in.
Also drawing on my experience of the 3View, it seems a nonsense that Humax, having given the box web access, have not seen fit to even hint that web browsing might be a later possibility, and there's no mention of the USB ports being keyboard/mouse compatible, all of which seems a wasted opportunity. Here we have a machine capable of doing most of the jobs of a Media Centre PC, hobbled by a lack of vision. Maybe Humax have become wary of boasting what they've got planned based on all those 'for future use' hints that never came to anything, but it does seem rather ironic that they should build what is in effect a highly specialised PC, running a variant of Linux and then go on to deny it its full potential.
Warning - if you're tempted to run a complete re-tune for whatever reason, a search for new channels, what-have-you, you will lose all your timers, but thankfully not your recordings. A quick way to get timers back is to set up a Keyword Search for each before you do the re-tune using a characteristic word from the title, e.g. 'BOAT' will find The Boat That Guy Built pretty damned quickly. This gives you a rapid means of finding the scheduled programmes on the EPG again. You CAN back up your timers to a USB stick, but only via a hidden menu that Humax don't tell you about.
'Early adopters' always seem to get the rough end of the stick. However, before those that hang back till this kind of stuff is nearing obsoletion, (i.e. just when they've got it working properly) get too smug, at least we've been 'doing it for ages' when someone tries to tell you about some wonderful new HD box he's just found and all for 85 quid off e-bay.
The Humax, despite its few faults feels well-built, is smart to look at and its User Interface is a model of clarity.
The remote control gives you the impression that this is a piece of kit worth hanging on to and you'd be well advised not to throw it at anything or anyone!
MISCELLANY AND ALL THAT B****X
Generic Freeview + HD features, which are not unlike those of a Sky+ box can be explained as follows:-
Accurate recording - This allows for adjustments to be made to timers according to data supplied by the channels. Therefore, if a programme changes, this will be picked up by the daily switch-on of the recorder and adjusted accordingly.
Series Link - Programmes with more than one episode can be set as one timer, taking advantage of the above should the schedule change. After the last episode, the timer is held for a while before deletion.
Alternate Instances - In the event of clashes between timers, e.g. too many tuners needed , suggestions for alternatives will be made where possible. This may involve use of the 'plus 1' channels or alternative dates, times and channels.
Split Recordings - If a programme is in two parts, and the channel supplier has marked it thus, the timer will include the second half of the programme too.
Incidentally, this machine is not to be confused with the Humax HDR-FOXSAT* version, which as its name implies, uses the same twin-LNB dish as a Sky+ box.
Neither is it the Humax FOX-HD T2, which is a single tuner set-top box with no recording facility straight from the box. If you think you've found my machine for £120 less it'll be one of these! The clue is in the 'R'.
(* Prince Charles was opening a new Day Centre in Barnoldswick, surprisingly wearing a reddish Davy Crockett hat to top out his more usual grey lounge suit. When asked why, he replied - Well I don't care for it much myself, but I always defer to Mummy when it comes to sartorial matters, and when I told her I was coming here, she said 'Barnoldswick.....wear the fox hat?')
After months of conventional use, giving good service, I have tweaked the Humax using unofficial modified software availible via a forum called www.hummy.tv and other places. This overcomes most of the streaming-to-a-PC problems that people were having, and even, if you're handy with router settings, allows a smart phone or an PC anywhere in the world to access the box, set timers, check on recordings etc. This does indeed work and I can see it being useful when away for more than 8 days (i.e. the length of the EPG listing). You can even get it to e-mail you when a future programme name has been discovered.
Summary: Twin Tuner 500gb disk PVR for use with Freeview Hi-Definition
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