Foxtel IQ isn't the only digital recorder in town. Hard drive PVRs for the digital community are getting increasingly more sophisticated.
Although Humax recently branched out into LCD TVs and beat many bigger-brand competitors to the punch by including a PVR in an HD-ready screen, it's the pure PVR field that the brand is probably better known for - especially in the United Kingdom where it sells over 10 000 units per month.
The box is neither ugly nor a wonder of modern design. It certainly won't stand out when racked with other equipment, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Rear connectivity is spartan. A pair of Scarts (one RGB-enabled) for TV and external VHS or DVD recorder loop-through are joined by composite video, and two analogue stereo and optical digital audio outs. The front boasts a USB 2.0 port, and a CAM slot. Interestingly, there is only one set of RF loop-through connectors. Curious because this 'Duovisio' machine has twin tuners, both of which are fed from the one aerial lead. Why has nobody else has done this before?
The presence of the two digital tuners means that you can watch one channel while recording another or record from two separate channels at the same time. While doing the latter, you can watch either of the two recording channels with no ugly graphics spoiling the view (unlike a lot of DVD/HDD recorders we could mention) or a completely separate channel if it's in the same digital multiplex as either of the recorded ones.
The HDD has a 160GB capacity, enough for up to 100 hours of recorded footage. There's currently no 'chasing playback' feature, meaning you can't watch a recording from the beginning until it's completely finished (though Humax expects to redress with with a firmware upgrade in the future). A time-shift function is included, allowing you to pause live TV and watch up to two hours worth of shifted footage. Even better is the ability to connect the PVR-Smart to a PC via USB and transfer files back and forth - software is supplied to handle this. MP3s and JPEGs can be played through a user-friendly interface on the PVR, and captured video footage can be dragged to your PC, stored, edited or burned onto DVD.
The main difference between this new Humax PVR and previous models (in fact, rivals' machines too) is the astonishing speed at which it operates. The seven-day EPG flashes up almost instantly when the button is pressed and menus are smooth with no lag. Channel hopping is more akin to analogue tuners on TVs and Teletext pops up with delightful speed; it's easily as quick as the original text services on CRTs.
Setting recordings is a doddle, too. One press of a button will record what you're currently viewing or you can select any programme on the EPG, which also has a categorised search function. Also, recordings retain the format of the original broadcast, for example, if the show is in widescreen, it'll record in widescreen.
Picture quality is variable depending on the source. While the PVR-Smart adds no obvious picture caveats, broadcasts can range from extremely sharp, to fuzzy images that resemble an advert for building blocks. At least you can be sure of one thing, this PVR presents exactly what it's given. It also has the best amplified signal-boosting technologies we've come across. Not once did it lose picture on any station, and that's in a poor signal area with a small indoor aerial.
Recordings are very close to broadcast quality, although we did notice some minor blocking around edges that weren't there originally, especially on fast motion. However, this is only apparent if you're really looking for it. Colours, we're happy to note, are vibrant and brilliant throughout. And sound is adequate from every TV channel, through analogue or digital connections.
It's the simple things that Humax's PVR-Smart does right. The speed at which it performs functions is highly admirable, the twin tuners being fed from one source cuts down on extraneous cabling, while the PC connectivity allows for relatively easy archiving. Even the remote control is intuitive and cleverly arranged. The only thing missing from this package are component or digital video outputs but, even so, this PVR comes highly recommended.
Humax PVR-Smart | $699 | www.humaxaustralia.com |
For: Twin digital TV tuners; speed of operation; PC connectivity
Against: No component or digital video connections; no chasing playback mode
Verdict: A clever and versatile PVR that comes highly recommended