Not to be outdone by its terrestrial cousin Freeview, Freesat has launched a service that lets you watch broadcast TV and free on-demand content from a simple, unified programme guide. It’s called Free Time, and like YouView it’s making its debut inside a Humax PVR, the HDR-1000S.
This recorder comes equipped with a 500GB hard disk and twin Freesat tuners, but its main claim to fame is that you can skip back up to a week in the EPG and watch any programmes available on catch-up TV services like BBC iPlayer or ITV Player.
Design and features
The box itself is surprisingly attractive by usual PVR standards. It’s styled in gloss black with curvy edges and a glitzy silver trim. There are a few buttons on the front for up-close control, as well as an LED panel that spells out channel names and other info in full. There’s a USB port on the front, which we’ll come to later.
On the back are twin LNB inputs for the satellite tuners, HDMI output, optical digital audio output, an Ethernet port and a second USB port. You can also feed signals to external recorders using the SCART, composite and analogue stereo outputs. A Common Interface slot is located on the side.
The 500GB hard disk holds 125 hours of hi-def or 300 hours of standard definition. If that’s not enough there’s a 1TB version that sells for £30 more. The twin Freesat tuners let you record two channels at once, and even watch a third channel while you’re doing so.
The HDR-1000S is equipped with a network connection, which makes it possible to stream on-demand programmes from BBC iPlayer and ITV Player. 4OD and Demand 5 will be available later this year.
The network connection also makes it possible to stream music, video and photos from servers on your network, and access Internet content though Humax’s TV Portal. On offer is Wiki@TV, Flickr, Picasa, Teletext Holidays and Humax Support, which will soon be joined by YouTube. However, to access these features you have to connect to your router via Ethernet, or invest in Humax’s £29 USB Wi-Fi dongle if you prefer a wireless connection.
The USB port on the front panel provides another means of playing media. Format support is superb – video-wise, it’ll play AVCHD, XviD, DivX, hi-def AVI, MKV, MP4, and WMV HD, but music playback is limited to MP3.
Setup and operation
You’ll need a satellite dish installed to receive Freesat, but you can use an existing Sky dish if you have one. Once the cables are plumbed in, a simple Setup Navigator guides you through the key settings using a series of attractive, intelligible menus. This includes a signal test and channel search.
The HDR-1000S’ onscreen design is consistently excellent, particularly the EPG. When you first enter, it displays two columns with now and next programme info.
But select the 'Earlier option on the left and it moves to a list of programmes that have been shown earlier that day, which are available to stream.
Keep going left and you can browse on-demand content from earlier in the week. They’re listed day by day, with recommended programmes highlighted in a box on the left. You can also select a specific channel in the list on the right. It’s a brilliant concept, skilfully executed.
Skip forward in time and you can browse future programmes in the traditional way, using the timeline-style programme grid. It shows seven channels at once and covers a two-hour period, with a whole host of options to aid navigation at the bottom and live TV in a box at the top. From here you can schedule recordings and reminders, using comprehensible menus.
If you don’t want to visit the full EPG, an info banner can be called up while you watch TV. This display, which appears when you turn to a new channel, uses jazzy fonts and channel logos.
Elsewhere, the Home menu continues the excellent onscreen design. Live TV plays in a large box, with the list of options on the left and a preview of what you’ve chosen below the box. Among the options are Showcase, which offers Freesat’s recommended programmes both live and on-demand, as well as a dedicated On-Demand area where you can search for programmes.
The Humax section is where you’ll find DLNA and USB media playback, broken down into video, music and photo sections, plus the TV Portal. The Settings menu is comprehensive yet friendly, while the Recordings menu makes it easy to watch and manage your programmes, allowing you to filter the list in various ways. Elsewhere in the Home menu, a handy Search tool lets you look for programmes in the EPG by keyword.
Overall the HDR-1000S’ simple yet sophisticated operating system makes it an absolute pleasure to use. This is helped by an intuitive, attractive remote that sports with a curvy shape that nestles comfortably in the palmlarge rubber buttons in all the right places. Labelling is clear and all the important functions get their own button. Record is clearly marked in red.
The HDR-1000S is fast in operation. Digital text, interactive content, online streaming, menu navigation – the Humax handles it all quickly and smoothly. Channels take a fraction too long to appear when flicking through them, but it’s not a major annoyance.
Picture quality is outstanding. Freesat’s high-definition channels (BBC One HD, BBC HD, ITV1 HD, Channel 4 HD, NHK World HD) look sharp and lucid, with no noise to cloud the clarity. Textures and patterns appear steady and focused even when the camera moves, while news caption boxes and graphics have cleanly defined edges.
I also love the richness of the Humax’s colour palette. There’s a depth and vibrancy to the colours of daytime TV studios that’s a pleasure to behold, but it doesn’t overcook skin tones.
Even better news is that the HDR-1000S captures these images on the hard disk without any degradation. Recordings look identical to the live broadcast, imbued with all the detail and strongly saturated colours of the source.
With standard definition you lose that 'through a window' clarity but the picture still looks terrific. The real revelation though is how good online content looks. I streamed a variety of programmes from BBC iPlayer and ITV Player and the images are sharp and solid, with a little mosquito noise the only reminder of their online origins.
I also like the way BBC iPlayer lets you resume where you left off, although it’s a tad annoying that you can only skip through the videos in chunks and not search through them like regular recordings.
With its user-friendly operating system, generous feature list and slick performance, the HDR-1000S is one of the best Freesat receivers around.
The sophisticated-yet-simple Free Time EPG brilliantly combines on-demand and broadcast TV, and when 4OD and Demand 5 appear it’ll get even better. And the inclusion of DLNA media streaming, USB playback and Internet content makes it more of an all-round entertainment hub than a mere PVR.
But it’s no slouch in the recording department either, with a capacious hard disk, dual-channel recording (while watching a third) and plenty of timeshifting tricks. The lack of built-in Wi-Fi is the only let-down, but that’s easily rectified with an affordable dongle.
Manufacturer and model
2 x Freesat HD
Max. recording time (HD/SD, hours)
Component video output
Composite video output
Digital audio outputs
SD card slot
No (requires USB adapter)
DLNA media streaming
BBC iPlayer, ITV Player