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I have always been an advocate of the digital revolution which is currently taking over our screens, offering us a much wider selection of channels to watch, even if the quality of programme may not be so different. Right from the start I jumped on the bandwagon and purchased one of the original digital boxes, from the then main force behind digital, ITV. Sadly, last year my beloved digital box decided that it had had enough, and after a month of becoming exceedingly temperamental it gave up the ghost, pretty much like ITV Digital did a few years before. Left with the not so appetising choice of the main terrestrial channels I was soon on the search for a replacement Freeview box. With the impending domination of digital viewing, the selection of available Freeview boxes was wide and vary varied, both in price and functionality, but as I just required the simplest and cheapest of options I chose the Sagem ITD58G from Argos at the then very reasonable price of just £26.99.
►►► What do you get in the box
Before I get onto the contents, I have to say I am quite impressed with the amount of packaging, as although it comes in the usual cardboard box with polystyrene inserts and a plastic bag around the Sagem ITD58G, they have kept the size to a minimum, cutting down on the amount of wastage. Once you have unpacked the ITD58G, a first time user maybe a little disappointed as although you get the ITD58G, a remote control (with 2 batteries) and a user guide, you do not get any other cables, such as a Scart lead or standard RF lead. Fortunately, having already had a Freeview box, I had already got the necessary leads but sympathise with anyone who purchases the ITD58G and then has to go and buy the connections before being able to set up the box. Of course the lack of leads helps to keep the price of the box down and could be seen as an unnecessary add-in for those like myself who already had them.
►►► Build and Connectivity
The Sagem ITD58G is pretty small, much smaller than your standard DVD player, or video recorder (do you remember them). It measures approximately 22cm x 13xm x 4cm and no surprise it is remarkably light, weighing in at just 400 grams. Part of the reason behind its lightness is the fact it is made of light weight plastic, which unfortunately has the downside of not making it feel the most robust of units. I would imagine that this box would not take kindly to too many knocks or drops. The ITD58G is actually two-tone with the underside being a dark grey and the topside being a much lighter grey, with a transparent display panel on the front which houses two led lights, one green for when the machine is on, the other red for when it is off. One thing the ITD58G lacks is any buttons or switches, forcing you to control the ITD58G solely from the remote control and powering down by switching off at the mains.
The remote control itself feels much better made than the actual box, again being made of plastic but has a robust feel to it. Like the ITD58G box it is two-tone with the majority of it being dark grey, with a paler grey facia. You have the usual assortment of buttons which are made of rubber and is designed to fit in the curved part of your hand. One thing I did not like about the remote is that it is very smooth and at times feels a little bit greasy, especially if it gets warm.
The ITD58G is quite limited with connections, but as this is a Freeview system from the lower end of the market it is no surprise. You get the standard RF loop for connecting an aerial to the ITD58G and then onto your television, plus you get just one Scart socket. Although this may seem quite limited, I have had no issues with setting mine up to run into a video recorder via Scart and then back out to the TV, but I can see this causing frustration for anyone with limited connections. The ITD58G comes with a power adapter which has the standard length lead of being about 1 metre long, which again has not caused me any issues but could cause problems where the box would be situated too far away from a mains supply.
An important factor when it comes to the build of the ITD58G is that even though I leave this machine on for hours, sometimes days, at a time it never gets too hot.
►►► Setting up
As already mentioned, I have been using digital for quite a while and so connecting up the ITD58G was second nature, but having studied the user guide I can foresee problems for anyone who is new to it. The main problem is that the user guide is in fact a large sheet of paper which when unfolded is not logically laid out. In fact you have to search quite hard to find the actual set up instructions and when you do find them they seem to jump around the page quite a bit. They do give you a diagram to follow but again this is not overly clear.
Once you have figured out how to connect the ITD58G up and switched it on, you are presented with a start up screen which gives you the choice of language that you want to use, there are 6 of them. Thankfully the default language is English, so a tap on the 'OK' button on the remote and the machine starts searching for available channels. For anyone who has never set up a Freeview box before, this can be a bit nerve racking as it is at this point you can find out that your aerial is not powerful enough and you may only get a handful of channels.
Again, due to the cheapness of this system, the ITD58G is quite limited with its features. The most important one is the fact that there is no slot for a Top Up Card which allows you to subscribe to the extra channels which do not come under the basic Freeview banner. Personally this was not an issue as I had no desire to pay extra for channels that I probably would not watch, but this may cause annoyance for someone who is new to Freeview and realises after their purchase that this feature is not available.
Another annoyance is the fact that the Sagem ITD58G does not have a digital display which shows you what channel you are watching or what the time is. All information is available by onscreen menus, where you can see what channel you are watching, how long there is left and what the next program is. Unlike some of the more advanced models where you can see a whole days schedule of programs, on this model you are limited to purely now and next. This onscreen guide can be slightly customised so that it can appear with a range of backgrounds from solid through to transparent so that it does not ruin your viewing pleasure.
You also have a selection of technical features which can be accessed through the main menu which includes choosing your screen format (4:3 / 16:9) and also you can change the language setting as well as rescanning for new channels amongst other things. All of these functions are password protected and this is where I had my only major problem with the ITD58G, as the password was on the user guide but you really had to search hard to find it. You also get the 'Red Button' this allows you to become interactive with some shows and is particularly useful when big sporting events are on, such as the Olympics, as you get a choice of what sport you wish to watch.
Another annoyance of the ITD58G is that you can not amend the list of channels into a desired order and you are set with how they come. Not a major issue but a functionality which I really missed to start with from my old digital box.
Although I do have what could be termed as annoyances with the lack of features, the ones you do have are very good and the onscreen menu system is very easy to follow. A very nice feature is the ability to switch between normal TV stations and the radio stations, which are available via Freeview, by a single touch of a button. It is also nice that the ITD58G has its own volume control, which means you can effectively watch TV using just the Sagem remote rather than needing to use the TV one to adjust the volume.
►►► Picture and Sound Quality
Now this was a surprise to me, as I thought the picture quality between units would have been a much of a muchness, but in fact the ITD58G delivered a much superior picture than my previous Freeview box. The sharpness of the picture was pretty much the same as my original box, and a vast improvement on standard terrestrial TV. But where I had got use to the occasional flicker and picture break up on my original system, this little Sagem ITD58G delivered near perfect quality, with no flicker and a barely noticeable break up in the picture. Break up in the picture is where it sort of becomes pixelated for a second and then returns to normal, usually caused by interference with the reception.
To be honest the sound quality was okay, and having connected the ITD58G through both a TV and also a stereo system, I can honestly say that it is more than adequate for anyone who is only willing to spend a few quid on their Freeview box.
►►► Ease of Use
Personally I found the Sagem ITD58G exceptionally easy to use, with clearly laid out on screen menus and a simply designed remote control, I had very few problems. All the features our extremely quick to access and after a day or two's use they become second nature. The only annoyance when it comes to ease of use is the rather poorly designed user guide which could cause issues for any first time users.
►►► Pros and Cons
The old saying goes "You get what you pay for" and that is so true of the Sagem ITD58G. Although reasonably cheap you are limited with the functionality of the box and its somewhat cheap feel. The biggest pro for me is the fact that only wanting a basic model it does what it sets out to do. Whilst the biggest con comes from the fact you cannot amend your list of channels into a list of favourites, a con which I have now got used to, but one which would have been of great use.
►►► Price and availability
The Sagem ITD58G has now been superseded by the Sagem ITD62 which has more functions and two Scart connections. The original ITD58G can still be purchased through some retailers for around £24, but you will get better offers by searching online auction sites, such as Ebay where I have spotted them for as little as £10.
Despite my few annoyances with the limited features and pretty poor instructions, I would definitely recommend the Sagem ITD58G, especially as it is so cheap. It would be perfect as a second machine for a bedroom, especially for anyone who does not need to rely on the instructions for setting the machine up. But I would warn any first time digital buyers to be wary as the user guide is pretty poor.