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Anyone who has used 'SkyPlus' will realise that its innovative system (which allows users to pause and rewind live TV) has revolutionised what consumers expect from a set top box, and has set a high standard for other hard drive recorder manufacturers. Freeview were soon to jump on the SkyPlus bandwagon with 'Freeview+' which grants similar handy pause and rewind privileges. However, many of the Freeview+ compatible boxes are a mixed bag in terms of their features and reliability, and until recently, they were no match for SkyPlus. That all changed however, with the release of the 'Humax PVR-9300T' - a Freeview hard-disk recorder, which, in my opinion, is a true SkyPlus beater.
Available for £179.99 from Argos, or £163.99 from Amazon, the 9300 (as I shall refer to it from now on) is a Freeview receiver combined with a 320GB hard drive which allows you to record up to 160 hours of TV. Due to the fact that it has a twin digital tuner, you can watch two channels at once, and even record two channels whilst watching another - pretty cool eh!
Although quite a wide machine, the box itself looks pleasing, with a glossy black front with silver trim. The front left side hides a series of buttons under a drop-down flap, which allow you to control certain features like channels, record mode, and the basic standby on and off function. Similarly, the front right hand side features another flap which houses a CAM slot, giving you the option to add a viewing card for selected pay channels like 'TopUpTV'.
When turned on, the Humax shows a blue LED display at the front, broadcasting the current channel and the current time - the text here is bright and easy to view, and again pleasing to look at.
Set Me Up
I have set up a lot of AV equipment over the years, and I'm happy to report that the 9300 is one of the simplest and easiest machines to get going. Simply put the aerial in the aerial slot, the SCART or HDMI cable (both included) in the SCART or HDMI slot, and you're done - as soon as you swich on the power, the box will start scanning for available channels - very easy indeed.
What's on TV?
The 9300 has an eight day Electronic Programme Guide, or 'EPG', which is easy to navigate and is accessed by pressing the 'GUIDE' button on the remote. Unlike the guide on Sky+, here you get a small preview of the channel which the box is currently tuned to, ensuring that you're not going to miss any of your favourite programme whilst finding out what's on later. There is also a search facility which allows you to type in a programe name, or browse through programmes by genre - really useful for seeing when the next live sport is going to be shown on TV, or for viewing a list of this weeks movies.
If you want to record something, you just have to find it in the programme guide, and click the 'OK' button to 'make a reservation' as Humax call it - it's a really simple and pain free process! If the programme you have selected is part of a series, then you can choose to record every episode from now until eternity - the box will do all the hard work for you.
Made from black plastic, the remote control is a fairly chunky device which feels quite robust. All the buttons are found in intuitive locations, and are responsive when pressed. The bottom of the control features a slide-open section, revealing yet more buttons. If something is going to give, it's probably the slide mechanism which, with frequent opening and closing, may eventually break. The remote takes 2xAA batteries, which are included with a new machine.
The 9300 has a plethora of hi-tech and handy features, making it a fun and advanced machine to use. One such feature is the 'PiP' (Picture in Picture) viewing mode. Here, you can watch two channels at once - either side by side, or with one channel as the main screen, and another as a small box in the corner. This feature is really useful if you're watching a film, but want to keep up to date with the footie on another channel.
The box also offers four games for the user to play should you be completely disallusioned with what's on TV, and want to have a bit of leisure time. The games are all puzzle based, and generally fun to play - graphically, they aren't that great, but it's not a bad effort for a digi-box!
As I mentioned in my opening paragraphy, Freeview+ allows you to pause and rewind live TV, and on the Humax box, this system works beautifully - just as good as on SkyPlus in fact - so no problems there.
The picture quality via an RGB scart cable is very impressive indeed, with natural skin tones and sharp, non-ghosting edges - this of course depends on the quality of your TV, but compared to my old Netgem box, the Humax is the clear winner. You can also connect to your television via a HDMI cable, and although Freeview doesn't broadcast in high-definition, you can send an upscaled cleaner 720 or 576 progressive signal to your HD ready TV for improved picture quality.
Round the back of the box, there is a digital optical out socket, which would theoretically allow you to export Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound from the unit - although Freeview doesn't currently support that option.
I have conducted extensive research into the pros and cons of Freeview+ boxes, and it seems that many of the models available on the market are rushed and shoddy devices. In fact, the Humax 9300 itself has a couple of negative points, although these generally don't mar the overall quality of the product.
Firstly, if you've got a machine bought prior to December 2008, you may have a model with a noisy fan. This isn't a pressing issue however, as Humax have released an update (available over the air, or from the internet) which sorts out the problem.
Secondly the EPG (electronic programme guide) can take up to fifiteen minutes to fully load when the box is first switched on. Personally, I find this to be one of the characteristics of the machine, and to be honest, it doesn't bother me whatsoever.
Let's not beat around the bush, all Freeview+ machines are copies of the original SkyPlus model, trying to replicate its easy to use features, and general reliability. And the 9300 is no exception - however, the Humax model successfully takes all the bits which make SkyPlus great, and adds innovative new features of its own. The result is a powerful and easy to use machine which I would thoroughly recommend - go get one!
Full Technical Specifications
Size: 360 mm x 50 mm x 245 mm Weight: (Net) 2.9kg
Aspect Ratio: 4:3, 16:9 Video Resolution: 720 x 576 Audio Decoding: MPEG/MusiCam Layer I & II Audio Mode: Single /Dual mono/ Stereo /Joint stereo A/V & Data In/Out Video: RCA/TV SCART/VCR SCART Video Output (CVBS, S-Video, RGB) Audio L/R: RCA/TV SCART/VCR SCART Volume and Mute Control
Input Voltage: 90-250V a.c., 50/60Hz Power Consumption: Operation - Max 26W, Power Saving in Standby - 0.9W
*I've also published this review on dooyoo.co.uk under the username JJJJ*