* Prices may differ from that shown
Ive owned this freeview box now for over 2 years. Whilst not the smallest freeview box its 48mmx215mmx240mm, and comes with a stand to allow you to place in a vertical position, but looks fine sat ontop of the DVD player. Allow a good couple of inch's at the back for the scart sockets.
It has 2 scart sockets on the back (TV & VCR/DVD) and an tv ariel socket, a power on/off button and channnel +/- button on the front.
The remote control (same colour as the box) has the usual buttons, including a back button for easy switch to the previous viewed channel, favorites button if you want to save a list of the channels you most watch. a tv/radio button, guide and information button. It also has a button to sitch back to analogue for those who dont always get the best signal - although this feature will become redundant once the full switch over happens. It does however let you move between the channels on your tv - I have a phillips Tv and have had no problems marrying up the control to control the Tv as well.
With regards to the features, the huge plus for me is the speed of the box, unlike some freeview boxes in which you hit the guide button and then have to wait several minutes to bring up the full guide, this sony box is instant, and not only that but when fast scanning through the week it loads up the programs almost instantly. The program guide is very easy to useand not over complicated like sum it shows the hours/time across the top and down the left the channels and then in the middle just the program name. You can highlight over the program you want to watch and click on the info button and this brings up a summary of what its about - again this is instant 98% of the time. You can set reminder times on programs which shows up on the screen just before th program is due to start.
Pressing the info button whilst watching the Tv brings up the summary but you can then scroll through the channels and times whislt still viewing the channel.
Signal is great, Im not in the best digital area and get quite a lot of channels, although when the weather is bad I do loose some reception - which is no different than any other digi box. I have got more channels on this than I did my old Pace box.
One point to note is you need to use the manual to link the control with your TV to allow you to control the TV's volume from the digibox remote - very easy to do. The box does not have a card slot for the pay extra channels.
Without a doubt, the most reliable freeview box I have owned!
This was the first freeview box I ever purchased and paid £92 for it, which was a couple of years ago so I assume pfar cheaper now.
The box itself is a great design, it can be stood upright or it can be led sideways (the stand at the bottom can be removed). It's very simplistic with only 3 buttons on the front, channel up/down and the on/off at the bottom. There is a green/red LED to display whether on or standby. The casing is plastic, though it feels very solid. It's very modern looking with a slight curve which makes it a little different to the other freeview boxes
The TV guide is great, about a weeks worth of viewings available, a schedule can be set up to interact with your sony dvd recorder, otherwise this function is pretty pointless.
The freeview text is great, responsive and fast, very easy to use.
Other channels listings can be viewed whilst remaining on the same channel (like sky).
It can pick up signals from the remote from quite some distance,
Easy to use, pretty bulky but still a good, solid remote
Never had an issue with this box and always stays tuned!
Overall: A grea freeview box, we've owned a couple of others for various rooms, but this remained our no1 choice until we got one with a harddrive!
WHAT IS IT?
Digital terrestrial receiver (also known as a freeview or set top box) for picking up digital TV programmes and signals from outer space (only joking).
WHAT TWISTED MY ARM TO BUY THIS?
Whether we like it or not, in several years' time we're all going to have to switch over to digital broadcasting to watch any TV programme. Rather than be forced later on, I decided to take the plunge now. After updating my aerial to the tune of around £100 I searched high and low for the right set top box for me.
First decision: the brand. I have to admit I'd got sucked into a 'Phillips or nothing' mentality. Already owning a Philips television and video, I was ready to go for the hat trick with a Phillips set top box. But then decided, like the wised up buyer I am, to weigh up each brand's offering.
Online reviews I read from customers kept going on about Phillips freeview boxes' irritating habit of freezing. This surprised me as I find Phillips products to be reliable. My television (circa 1990) displays a clear sharp life-like picture that I'm still pleased with. And while I had seen other people's videos heading for the knacker's yard, mine has been happily playing.
This put some doubt in my mind about the build quality of today's electronic products. I found myself horrifyingly metamorphosising into a grumpy old man as the words: 'they don't make 'em like they used to' came effortlessly from my lips.
Best I swerved my trolley around the plethora of set top boxes piled high on supermarkets for around £40 made by brands I've never heard of. What good is something cheap if a few years from now it could be all but useless?
Let's go top of the range, premium quality. Sony seems to be a good make. But what are they really like? Trawling through online reviews I found Sony not to be lambasted like other brands and this model, the cheapest in its range, had a lot of praise lavished upon it from owners.
To me all set top boxes look virtually the same and have similar features. All I wanted was the power (like a crazed despot) of hitting the red button and seeing what happened. And yes, the joy of hopping through countless channels.
A quick search on Kelkoo and up came Amazon. The price tag for the Sony set top box was £78.98 (gulp). Still you get what you pay for, I suppose. The store is recognisable and from my previous experiences, reliable. Plus they were offering free delivery (like they do on all orders over £19). In less than a week it arrived.
WHAT YA LOOKIN' AT?
No surprise it's silver like all the rest. Not particularly slender. A bit short and stubby. Strange though it can be stood upright (if you so desire) with the supplied plastic stand for support or horizontal like any other set top box.
It looks well made. There is a plastic panel on the front but the casing is metallic. Just a few buttons on the front of box - Standby, Programme Up/Down, and a light signalling green for when it's on and red for when it's in standby mode.
I removed the box of the rest of its contents:
· Scart lead
· RF Loopthrough cable
· Batteries for remote control
· Remote control
· Instruction book
The remote is grey, plastic, light and fairly large. A bit clumsy looking but it does the job and is sturdy enough. Many of the buttons have symbols rather than words to tell you what they do. For instance, an open book for the Electronic Programme Guide, ' ' for subtitles, three horizontal lines for Text, an 'i+' for Programme Information, rotational arrows for jumping back to a previously watched channel etc.
All a bit confusing if you don't think about what each one represents. I would have preferred words but I think I'll get used to it.
IT'S A SET UP!
Standby for set up. An episode I awaited with mixed emotions. The excitement of a playing with a new gadget tinged with a niggling doubt that some big technical problem was coming my way.
Reassuringly though, the 23-page operating guide is clear and informative enough, written in plain user-friendly English without any pictorial symbols to confuse me. I plugged in the Scart lead and the RF cable as directed and switched the box on.
Up popped the Start-up menu. I highlighted my country and language. Clicked OK. Then onto 'Start Tuning'
After what was no longer than a couple of minutes the display told me how many channels I have picked up - (around 80) and a breakdown of how many were TV and radio.
During that time I had the option to read a few on-screen pages about the box's key features.
And that was that. Finished. Time to get hopping through the channels.
Err Sony, we have a problem. The picture was dark, barely visible and the somehow the sound coming out of the speakers of my hi-fi didn't match the pictures of the screen. Checking the Troubleshooting page of the manual didn't help. It had problems that could only vex a Big Brother contestant like this:
Problem: The indicating light on the front panel is not illuminated
Possible cause: Mains cable is not connected
Solution: Plug mains cable into power socket
Only one thing for it in a situation like this Commence random button pressing mode. After going to the Settings menu, and some frantic finger action I happened to change the TV Output and Display Format settings. Pheww! Everything was now running as Sony intended.
PLAYING WITH THE CONTROLS
Lots of controls at my fingertips. Oh what joy!
You can access the box's features by pressing the buttons on the remote control. Up comes an on-screen menu which you can navigate around using the arrows on the control pad and clicking the OK button. All of which I found to be very straightforward. Here's a rundown
Sony lets you create four TV or four Radio lists. You access them simply by pressing the heart symbol button and then scrolling through the list. I haven't felt the need to use this much. To be honest there are only about three channels I tend to watch regularly. I access these just by typing in the numbers.
I can see this being more useful for radio stations however as I can't easily recall their channel numbers.
Click a button - labelled i+ and you can see a bit of blurb about the programme being broadcast now and the next one to come up, e.g.,
A line up of celebrities from TV and music drop in to chat to annoying mouthy has-been Davina. (Yes I made that description up!)
Quite a neat idea, I think. Saves scrambling for the TV listings guide. You can also scroll through the channels to read about what's on those.
Electronic Programme Guide (EPG)>>
This is a list of programmes being broadcast on all of your available channels - now and in the next two hours. By highlighting each one you get a brief description of the programme. You can also check the schedule for the next day and the previous day and set a programme to be recorded.
Alternatively you can view a list of all available channels organised by categories - Films, News, Entertainment, Sports, Kids and Music.
Recording a programme is just a case of highlighting a programme, pressing OK and then the red button and it will start recording when the programme starts. If your VCR doesn't have SMARTLINK or synchro record facility (and mine incidentally doesn't being old) you can't do this. You can, however, resort to recording a programme using the manual timer - selecting dates and times using the arrow keys.
This allows you to change the order of the channels in the on-screen programme list and skip certain ones (perhaps that you don't watch) all together. This is a simple method of highlighting channels on the list using the arrows and pressing OK to the commands.
Editing the list was useful for me, as several of the channels my box picks up are not accessible to Freeview and are scrambled.
Digital text - the red button>>
Certain channels, and some TV adverts, currently the one for Teletext, entice viewers to press the red or text button on their remote to find out more. It's all part of interactive television.
BBC1, the news in particular, is the main one. Through BBCi - you can get to read short articles on Sports events, all the Main Headlines, (UK and World), Politics, In-depth articles, UK regions, Sci-tech, Health and Community.
During the Winter Olympics I was pressing the red button quite a lot. I was able to select a sporting event- e.g. men's snowboarding and get live coverage via the BBCi and checking out things like the medals table.
Multi-screen news on the BBC News 24 channel is another nifty idea, I think, allowing you to watch brief excerpts from the news reports and select in-depth coverage on a particular one.
By setting a PIN you have the power to lock channels you don't want your kids to watch. Without any sprogs in tow, I haven't had the need to use this. You also have the option to unlock them - the channels that is! Setting an age limit (between 4 and 17) is another method you can use at your disposal. Sony point out, however, that to operate correctly this feature relies in the broadcaster sending out the correct age classification for each programme. They recommend if in doubt, to lock each channel individually.
The main settings you can fiddle with (aside from language and subtitles) relates to the picture. You can change the format of the picture between normal and letterbox format and16:9 or 4:3 display. Also choose the output your box receives - Auto (if Smartlink is available on your VCR), RGB, PAL or Y/C. Unfortunately, Sony have not been very helpful here in failing to explain at all about what RGB, PAL, or Y/C mean.
From the main menu you can get to all the boring technical information you and I will probably never need unless things go wrong - like the serial number, software version and loader version. Testing the signal strength and signal quality of the programmes being broadcast on a bar going up to 'good' is handy though. Another impressive feature is the automatic installation of Software Upgrades that will be sent to your box now and again. The manual doesn't tell you what the nature of these is likely to be but it seems like a good way of making my box future-proof.
Sony cleverly allow us to use the remote control from the set top box to operate the TV as well. It supports 43 brands which can be selected by entering the relevant brand code in the manual. Easy. Unfortunately though for me the Sony remote doesn't have a button for removing the channel number displayed on my Phillips TV.
WHAT TO WATCH
In my opinion there are lots of channels of dubious quality many showing a mixture of TV repeats and US imports. Friends repeats, Inspector Morse repeats Shopping channels like Price Drop TV (where supposedly high quality goods drop unexpectedly to a pound) Most Haunted (for laughable footage of paranormal activity) and many more. Luckily though they are free to watch. I still tend to view the terrestrial ones nearly all of the time.
My personal favourites on digital, and this is stretching it, are: BBC3 (to see the latest Apprentice-evictee being mauled by the deceptively amiable Adrian Chiles), BBC News 24 (for news headlines in a hurry), Teletext (quicker than analogue version - for checking share prices and horoscopes when bored) and ITV2 (American Idol - amusing for its cultural differences and differences of judges' opinions).
Overall a highly recommended buy. Set up was fast and accessing the features is quick and simple with clearly designed menus. The Favourites menu, I think, is not particularly indispensable but there should you need it. Automatic upgrading is a welcome feature for anyone worried that the box will be soon surpassed by new whizz bang technology.
I haven't encountered any problems so far in the three months I have owned it - no freezing, interference etc. Still early days but something to be thankful for when you hear about how unreliable set top boxes can be.
The only downside is a minor one: should anyone stumble upon a technical problem there needs to be more helpful troubleshooting info in the operating guide along with clearer and more in-depth explanation about the picture settings.
* Previously published by myself, aka simoncjones, at Ciao