* Prices may differ from that shown
Im writing much of this opinion in the past tense as I no longer own the equipment that that Im writing about, having owned it for 6 months before being bitten by the upgrade bug, although thats no reflection on the product at all. A friend has it now and is well pleased with it.
Id held off doing anything drastic about the recording of Freeview programmes with the exception of a Nebula PC card, which was occasionally pressed into service to record those rare moments that might need preserving on a DVD.
The main objection Id had up till then is that Digital Terrestrial TV (DTT), to give Freeview its more technical and generic title had had a very poor showing in the whats on this week department.
No longer able to use analogue VideoPlus codes to programme time-shifted digital programmes, most of the Freeview set-top box offerings had a puny now and next facility, which might have been some use if you were only popping down the road for a couple of hours, but compared to the 7-day Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) of a Sky box was inadequate to say the least.
Well, that all changed, as Freeview rolled out a full 8-day EPG to any set-top box or digital TV that was prepared to take it on board those with old On Digital boxes would, regrettably, NEVER be updated from the Now & Next facility, so you needed something new. On top of that, you needed something to record the pictures on, and this is where a machine like the Humax PVR 8000T came in.
Not only is it a Freeview set-top box tuner, but its also a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) - thats the posh new name for something that records TV to a PC-style hard disk, so not only does it upgrade an analogue telly to digital but it gives you an easy means of time-shifting the programmes in one fell swoop and one neat package.
It was all starting to look a little like a Sky+ box, with the one main exception, and its a big one, that you cant watch anything other than whats being recorded. This is a single tuner box, unlike Sky+, although Humax and others either have or are about to bring out twin tuner models to overcome this, the Pace Twin or Topfield being cases in point.
This didnt worry me for two reasons.
a) Theres not that many occasions when theres a clash Id also got a modest Sky package anyway (since got rid of), and
b) My TV is an integrated one with its own digital tuner, so I could overcome clashes in the same way that someone with an analogue VCR and an analogue TV can.
NITTY GRITTY OR HUMAX? WHO THE HELL ARE THEY?
OK, not a household name Ill grant you (yet), but Humax have been a major player in the field of non-Sky satellite tuners for some time, so their credentials for making set-top boxes are well documented. Anyway, What Video? magazine has heard of them, and has rated the Humax PVR 8000T a Best Buy. On top of that, theres always What Hi-Fi, who is July 2004 said of the Humax:-
"A fine product at what can only be described as a bargain price; fits into 'simple but brilliant' category".
The box cost me £129 plus carriage from 24-7 Electrical (when the 40-gbyte disk version was the only option). According to Pricerunner, this was the best deal, thereby netting myself some more TheMutual.net points too. Delivery was true to 24-7s quoted 48-hour turn-round. Not bad when you consider that a good quality set-top box alone could cost you say £50-£80.
It looks just like a typical slim-line silver VCR (17 wide) where someone has forgotten a slot for the tape although it has a semi-mirror-finished front panel, which makes it look a little less ordinary.
Just like a VCR, you plug your main aerial (antenna) input into it, and run a second lead out to your TV to maintain the aerial continuity. Unlike certain set-top boxes I could name, this one IS capable of outputting a video channel (or RF output) over the antenna for older TVs without a SCART socket. This can be adjusted to anywhere within the channels 21-69 frequency range to ensure it doesnt clash with any other bits of your kit, or Channel 5.
It has two SCART leads, one to route the playback picture (or live digital TV) out to your TV, and a second one marked VCR for the dumping of recordings that youd like to archive in my case, I routed this to my Panasonic DVD recorder instead to get the best possible quality for my archiving, such as it is.
Of course, all of this presupposes that you can find anything to preserve!
To get the best from playback, do try to establish the best setting for your SCART lead, as the box can accept Composite (the poorest two-wire connection), S-Video (better) and RGB (the best), so if your TV can accept a variety of input qualities, match the Humax to its best setting in the set-up menu.
The rear panel also carries phono-plug connections for the composite video (yellow), and analogue stereo sound (red and white). Purists will like the optical (S/PDIF) Dolby Digital sound link for connection to a home cinema amplifier, although since Freeview carries nothing in the 5.1 channel format yet, stereo is still all youll hear.
FIRST SECOND AND THIRD IMPRESSIONS
The whole idea of a PVR is to time-shift recordings and then get rid of them, once viewed I suspect that 95% of all VCR tape recordings fall into this category anyway so the fact that using a hard disk means that something has to give when its full is of very little consequence. The beauty of this system is that it doesnt have to be the oldest recording thats got rid of - any will do as long as it frees up disk space. I assume this could lead to a fragmented disk over a period of time, but the utilities menu allows for reformatting the disk drastic but effective!
This lowest-price version came with the smaller 40-gigabyte hard drive compared to the £150 80-gig version (now the standard), which limited the recordings to a total of around 20 hours before you had to start erasing something. Mind you, my Panasonic DVD recorder, which I used with my Sky set-up, only has maximum 6 hours and even thats yet to be a limitation!
Its only possible to give an rough idea of total recording capacity, since the big five mainstream channels use a greater bandwidth to give you a better picture than say, QVC shopping channel and the like. No doubt the latter could squeeze 40 hours on board, but the mind boggles as to why youd do this! Recordings of Freeviews radio stations are even more economical with disk space, although you need the very latest software upgrade to be able to record radio, but think, at last a radio recorder!
(Quick money saving tip persuade any shopping channel addicts in the house to use the time shift facility that should stop them buying anything, as they watch two hours behind only to find that the offer has closed!)
TV (and radio) recordings are indiscernible from the original off-air quality having been made to disk in the same digital format as they were broadcast.
The built-in tuner is very good, even better, dare I say than the integrated one in my Sony TV. When setting the box up, the emphasis is on plug and play rather than the Windows plug and pray. On first switch-on, it detects that its ignorant and goes off in search of channels and thats about all there is to it. You can dabble yourself with SCART leads output quality, add and delete favourite channels to make surfing quicker after all, theres no point in leaving all the shopping channels on the list. For some strange reason, the set-up default is to leave sub-titles switched on, which gave my wife and I a few fairly funny minutes finding out how to turn them off.
Any software/firmware upgrades are taken care of automatically through an over-the-air stream of data transmitted to a published schedule, although the rear panel does have a serial port for connection to a PC so that upgrades can be got on board all the quicker without waiting for the scheduled over-the-air version.
You can view this download schedule for that for any other Freeview set-top box at:-
Like any of the rash of machines that record to a random-access hard disk (or DVD-RAM), you can pause live TV as they are wont to call it. Effectively, it works like this someone trying to sell you a new electricity supply comes to the door, you swear a bit, then you set the machine going for anything up to 30 minutes by pressing the pause button, and when you get back, you resume watching a programme where you left off by pressing the play button, even though it may not yet even have finished.
Strangely enough, the instruction book doesnt make a big play of this feature youd have thought that PAUSE LIVE TV would have been writ large. It was all very instinctive though once you got the hang of it, and realised that they were calling it Time Shifted Recording, which ironically is what most people call all the OTHER recordings made with a VCR or PVR.
Now that the authorities are deigning to complete the 8-day EPG for most channels, a bit of kit like this starts to make sense. Programming is a doddle involving skimming through channel lists in the EPG and clicking on what you want with the remote control.
Unlike the normal Sky EPG, this one WILL allow itself to be doctored after the event. That is to say, if youre getting fed up with losing the last five minutes of a programme thanks to late-running news items, lets say, then the Humax programme schedule allows you to adjust finish times manually. You can even set up an entire programme manually, which is useful for those items you want to record into the second week of a two-week holiday since neither the Sky nor the Freeview EPG will be carrying this information as you depart. The schedule can hold up to 20 programmes, not including those that youve set to daily or weekly.
Just prior to buying the Humax, I joined a few relevant forums (Who me? A nerd, how dare you?) to dish the dirt on the subject. It seems some owners were getting hot under the collar about fan and hard disk noise. I can only assume that my version is a later build as there is no fan, and very little discernable disc noise on record (Im generally out then anyway) or playback, so, yes, you can hear it running, but only just.
Ah yes, and that other old chestnut YABRC, yet another bloody remote control, although I was actually mothballing the VCR, so there was a quid-quo-pro in my case.
This new one also acted as the remote for the Sony television, to be fair, but theres always some more obscure menu function that sends you scrambling for the real one. It can be altered to learn to be the remote control for a very wide range of sets.
There was initially a very occasional tendency to lose lip-sync on playback but this is easily remedied by pausing and pressing play again. On a commercial TV programme, you are less likely to let this build up because youd be zapping the ads every few minutes anyway.
Eventually, there was an over-the-air fix for this problem, and therein lies my final incy-wincy niggle. I did feel a little like an unpaid beta-test engineer, but this seems to be the name of the game for anything remotely like a PC just imagine how long wed wait if Microsoft insisted on getting it right first time - wed still be waiting for DOS 6.0 most likely. Having said that, technical support via the UK Humax web-site is excellent, as Ill show you later.
Its also easy and free to join up to the HCSA Humax Customer Support Area to be kept up to date on new software versions, from whence they can be downloaded, rather than wait for a lengthy TV schedule of downloads where the Humax offering has to wait its turn.
WHAT IT WONT DO
There is no provision for a subscription card, so those that want to subscribe to the TopUp TV add-on channels should hang fire and see what transpires.
With its single tuner, you cant watch something else whilst its recording (unless you fall back on your analogue channels, of course). It also wont allow recording to take place whilst a playback in is motion although this may be subject of a later software upgrade. However, if most of your time-shift recording is done because you are out at the time, this isnt much of a problem.
If this is a problem for you, have a look at the Pace Twin, the Topfield 5800T or the newer Humax 9200T as it comes out these have two tuners.
Unlike Tivo, it wont take an educated guess at what you like watching (thank goodness someone in the States was trying to sue because he felt his Tivo was implying he was gay when he wasnt).
It cant improve Big Brother, but then .
As an in to Freeview and a means to record it in superb quality, this represented great value at £129. The newer 80-gigabyte version at £20 more sounded even better, but at time of purchase this time last year, these were more an item of vapourware than a reality. Id decided initially that once my warranty had expired, Id upgrade it to an even bigger drive I reckoned theyd only cost tuppence by then anyway!
(I did upgrade it with a 120 gbyte drive of the same make as that fitted as standard, giving me 60 hours recording)
The two-years warranty was an extra spur to entrusting your hard-earned cash to a new product, and yes, they DID give you a SCART lead.
Service from Humaxs internet support has been first rate I only enquired after where I could find the non-standard lead needed to connect to a PC to upgrade the firmware, and theyre sending me one free of charge.
Equally important as why I bought is the reason why I moved on to a Topfield 5800. Well, I eventually ditched Sky I found that I was only really watching E4, and that seems a p***-poor reason for paying £19.50/month, especially as it became a free channel almost days later! This then left me with one means to watch and record live digital TV. The clincher was the fact that a good friend had said If youre thinking of selling it let me know after Id used it to demonstrate Freeview at her house.
How could an inveterate upgrader like me resist?
p.s. Its still doing sterling service and shes still thrilled with it. In fact, I saw it this morning and half regretted getting rid of it it really is very smart!
People who don't have Freeview at all yet, but would also like to record the odd programme.
People who already have an integrated digital TV (IDTV) who have thus far been unable to record from Freeview.
I wouldn't recommend it if you have a flat screen monitor with no tuner of its own - this would bring you back to only being able to record what you're watching.
As a digital set-top box, it can receive FTA broadcasts. Outstanding stability and comfort are its built in features. The simple installation and operation, user-friendly three-dimensional OSD, highest quality audio output with Dolby Digital Audio, and advanced video clarity made for TV and VCR are all designed to enrich the viewer experience. In addition to delivering more channels with its new highly sensitive tuner, PVR-8000T boasts the Electronic Program Guide (EPG), for even better program information on all channels, and information plate that enable subtitles and teletext for a bounty of useful information on programs and broadcast signals. As a PVR, PVR-8000T utilizes the preloaded software functions by incorporating the hard disk drive. This allows for assorted trick play, diverse formats of recording, and recordings playback, all through the time shift recording function. Software upgrade notices are posted periodically on the Internet homepage, and new versions can be updated through automatic software upgrade service (OAD) via BBC Engineering Channel or through software download service on HCSA (HUMAX Customer Service Area) via the built-in serial interface (RS-232C). With the latest software, viewers are always sure to enjoy endless hours of extraordinary digital broadcasts and an abundance of data.