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back to article Humax Foxsat-HDR Freesat HD digital video recorder

We’ve been looking forward to getting our hands on the Foxsat-HDR for quite a while now. In fact, we’d been hoping to review it early in the new year – until some uncouth louts decided to hijack an entire shipment of the devices as they came into the country, including, needless to say, one unit that had been earmarked for El …

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Have had one for a few months now

And it's superb, really pleased with it. Added extra LNBs to an existing Sky dish and installed it ourselves.

I let the TV (Panasonic Viera) upscale the SD stuff by leaving the Foxsat on 'Original' but to be honest there isn't a huge amount in it, the scaling is fairly good on the Foxsat considering it's working with such highly compressed signals.

Two notable omissions from your review; firstly comparing it to Freeview and Virgin cable services is somewhat misleading as a large part of the purpose of Freesat is to offer digital TV to those areas not covered by any other service. Where I live we can't receive Freeview or cable and likely won't be able to do so for quite some time, so it's either Freesat or further enrich Rupert Murdoch, and I know which I'd rather choose.

Secondly you failed to point out that the USB ports can be used to archive recordings to external storage media such as memory sticks and hard drives - a useful features albeit a slightly limited one as you can't record directly onto an external drive.

And the killer feature, after being used to Sky - when scrolling through the small EPG whilst watching a program, pressing information fetches info for the program you're looking at on the EPG, not the one you're currently watching!

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Worth having

In the UK I think this struggles to make a case for itself with all the various available offerings. However, I live in Ireland, and over here it really does make sense; Sky+ is eye-wateringly expensive, there's no DTT service (yet), and cable is patchy (although there is an enormous market in dodgy cable boxes over here). Add in the weakness of the pound and it was a no-brainer to pick up one of these on a trip home.

In general terms I'd agree with the review, but there are a couple of annoyances; a tendency to freeze up if you don't use the auto-standby mode, and a very slow boot time (about 30 seconds) if you do. Other than that its all good and you really do notice the difference in quality; flicking back and forth from a Champion's League game on ITV HD really highlights the improvement HD gives that I've struggled to appreciate before now.

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SD mediocrity

The comments about standard definition are slightly unfair. SD is rubbish on a big telly, but it is even worse if you don't have access to the set top box through HDMI. You will get better SD through this box than you would with a standard definition Sky + box using scart or S-VHS. Also satellite based digital SD signals are much better than Freeview.

PS. You could have got one at Argos before Christmas.

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Anonymous Coward

correction

"However, it is possible to connect the Foxsat-HDR to an existing Sky satellite dish and receive the various Freesat channels through the Sky dish as both services are broadcast from the same Astra satellite up there in the great blue yonder."

You may still have to upgrade the LNB on your dish (or possibly just attach an extra cable) in order to use the box fully as it has twin tuners and therefore needs two inputs from the dish.

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Stop

Not worth it

I Got mine a few days after they were released and despite being initialy impressed with its features and the quality of the HD broadcasts you can watch theres quite a few annoyances that still need ironing out.

The box crashes a lot at leats twice a week we have to reboot it and invariably it happens in the middle of recording something.

When the disk fills up (it doesnt take long when your recording HD) it just stops recording until you clear space. This might sound desireable but if you on holiday for a week or two and you miss all your series linked recordings you wont think so. It would be much better if it functioned like BT Vision where it auto deletes old recordings (unless you flagged them to keep of course).

If your recording a series but just happen to be in to watching it anyway then dont think about using the time shifting functions. It will let you pause or even rewind but once the recording finishes your timeshifted session ends so you have to then go bach to the recorded version and fast forward to catch up to where you were up to.

Dont think about adding any of the non-freesat channels to your box either. Oh you can add any of the free to air channels that you can pick up but only if you take your box out of freesat mode and that means no guide of any sort even for the freesat channels. Not only that all your scheduled recordings get wiped too!

Dont get me wrong when your watching a HD movie on BBC HD it looks great but all these annoyances are like a mdge flying round your head they may be small but they eventually start to infuriate you!

I am seriously considering ebaying mine and getting SKYHD at the current prices I could have a box and a years worth of subscription for the price of a Foxsat HDR and get far more HD programming.

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@ Liam Thom

How is SD better through a HDMI cable than through another cable if it's exactly the same signal and the same scaling algorithm on the TV? I haven't A/B'd between the two but might try it out. I can't see how there'd be any difference though, unless your TV has a really crappy scaler and using the one in the Foxsat is better.

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Comparison with Freeview

Of course 10% to 15% maybe don't have good freeview signal. And maybe 90% in Ireland :-)

I think it's worth it for SD recording. A sky+ or SkyHD box won't record or playback at all if the subscription is cancelled.

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Ethanet

The Beeb hope to use the ethanet port to stream the iPlayer to the box (same for all Freesat boxes). Fingers crossed we will see this feature before the end of the year.

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Nice

I have had one for 3 weeks (Belgium), only running it on a single feed at the moment but still very impressed with BBC HD and the whole device is a clear cut above the normal. Really quiet, really good wizard to set up, really good pictures and easy to use as well. Also completely cool when running which makes a change from some of the other heaters I have.

As you say expensive but if you want freesat this is pretty much the best at the moment. The only down side is it takes a while to boot but 30 seconds is not that big a deal to me. You can run it on a single feed but you do need a loop cable (short male to male) which is not included in the box.

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MJI
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Good piece of kit - for BBC-HD and ITV-HD

I bought one from Argos last year, after buying a dish and Quad LNB at Maplins.

BBC-HD is fantastic, nearly up to BluRay standard, SD however is not as good as either of my Freeview PVRs.

I have a Sony KDL46W4500 which does decent upscaling, and I am sure the main channels are better quality using my Pace Twin.

However I can record news and local programmes from more interesting parts of the country.

As to cost, how much does a Sky rental cost over a year?

However users of both do think that the HDR is a better Satellite PVR than the Sky box.

I would recommend one, better looking and cheaper to run than a Murdoch box!

And yes the HDR is almost permanently on channel 108.

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They've got SKY running

Sky have recently dropped the price of their HD box by 75%, so Freesat must be doing something right.

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Another useful feature....

Is that it also controls the Xbox360 on the 'dvd' button on the remote :)

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The Best Feature Is......

The ability to set up fast forward times anyway you want, for example, most channels have exactly 4 minutes of adverts, so I set the FF to 60 seconds and REWIND at 10 Seconds.

So when there is an advert, in around 2 second’s I’m watching my program again. If I miss the first few seconds, hit the RW button so not to miss anything.

Is so simple my whole family loves this feature most.

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@ Liam Thom

Looks like you've demonstrated the limits of your knowledge, and therefore what bull you're talking - S-VHS to connect a Sky box to a telly? Super VHS is an enhanced version of the VHS standard for video cassette recorders, not a method for carrying video signals from one device to another. Yes it's pedantic, but you mean S-Video.

Another point is the fact that HDMI is little better than S-Video or even RGB SCART, for SD stuff on the Foxsat. Yes, HDMI will give a perfect (all digital) signal to the TV, compared to the already very good S-Video and RGB SCART options, but the difference is so minuscule that you would not notice it. The other issue of course is that the upscaler in the Foxsat box will never be as good as the dedicated upscaler in your telly, so if you get the Foxsat to upscale SD to HD resolution for your HD TV panel, you won't get as good a picture as if you just let your TV do it - which of course you would be doing if you fed it S-Video or SCART.

Finally, the idea that satellite digital TV channels are superior to Freeview channels simply isn't true anymore. Despite all the bandwidth available on satellite, Sky (or rather, anyone who puts stuff on satellite) still have to pay for that space on the transponders, so in recent years have crammed more and more channels onto the same amount of transponders, which results in lower bandwidth for individual channels, to the point that some actually have less available than their counterpart on Freeview. Talking specifics, ITV1 actually operates at a lower resolution on satellite compared to ITV1 on Freeview (on Freeview it uses 704x576 resolution and on satellite it uses 544x576), and the main BBC channels (1 and 2) have a higher bandwidth available on Freeview than on satellite.

Don't get me wrong, I really really want a Foxsat-HD, because I hate Sky (not satellite) and want something more comprehensive than Freeview. I just don't like seeing false information thrown around.

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@Liam Thom

"Also satellite based digital SD signals are much better than Freeview."

This depends on the channel but for the main terrestrial channels freeview bitrates are actually higher by around 10%. So SD quality should be better over freeview than freesat in most cases but this, of course, depends on the quality of the decoder hardware.

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@Liam

Actually, some of the Freesat SD channels use a lower resolution compared with Freeview (ITV, mostly, IIRC), so that is not always true. I would say that with the combination of differing bitrates and resolutions, Freeview just has the edge, but it's so close it's a pointless discussion.

However, the point of Freesat, is for people who can't get Freeview, with the added bonus of BBCHD and a small amount of ITV-HD (I think the FTA HD was an afterthought).

The other thing often not mentioned in these reviews is how the picture of both HD, and particularly, SD, of the Humax vs. the Sky HD box, is much better, which to some people, is important.

With regards to the network port, it's part of the Freesat spec (Freesat, after all, is just an EPG, and a hardware spec, all the channels were already up there being broadcast anyway FTA), and rumours are of integrating the BBC iPlayer into the platform at some point, which would be handy, if true. It would be handy if it would be possible to ship recordings on and off the box via the network in the future also, rather than via USB, as at the moment.

The unit is a bit buggy at the moment, but most owners seem overall, very pleased with them:

http://www.hummy.org.uk/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=74

I don't have one of these boxes (yet), but am considering as an augmentation to TiVo, but am currently enjoying Freesat HD content via a Panasonic TV with built in decoder.

Matt :)

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Anonymous Coward

Standby consumption?

It's only 1W for the unit itself, but does it power down the LNB in standby? I understand these can consume several watts, and I've heard they need to be left powered up because they take a long time to warm up (stabilise frequency) - is this true?

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Stop

£100 for an SD box?

They're more like £50 - if you can find one, that is...

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Anonymous Coward

@SD mediocrity

Liam, I haven't tried the Humax recorder but I have their HD STB. Most SD channels look MUCH worse than on Freeview (particularly ITV).

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Alert

Dual LNB Required...

Been very tempted by this box but would love them to do a version with Freesat AND Freeview Tuners! especially now freeview will be going HD...

I cant believe it only rated 80%! In my book not paying the murdoch tax would score it 99% immediatly, the fact its a Full HD recorder makes it just perfect!

Minor Correction:

If you want to experience – and record - HD television without committing yourself to a monthly subscription then the Foxsat-HDR is the only way!

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Single cable and LNB to record 1 / view another at same time is posible

For those of us who don't want to loop and new 2nd cable around the house and drill new holes, plus add to the spaghetti in general, this Foxsat enables a new standard of LNB to be used, that allows all channels to be received using both tuners simultaneously, on ONE cable and ONE LNB. This LNB is pricey at say £80 but may come down with time. This is also designed as the solution for using existing single Sky type single cabling to distribute Freesat within apartments.

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Black Helicopters

Caveat Emptor

Anyone owning an older HD ready TV with just component inputs should be aware that this machine, and all other similar machines will not output HD over component outputs if the broadcaster enables the broadcast flag. Signal path must be HDCP-compliant. Search the Digital Spy site for corroborating evidence. Wonderful thing, HD...

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A really good bit of kit and it's CHEAP

I have had one for over a month now after dumping sky I can honestly say I've not really missed any of the channels, your comparison with sky is misleading as currently (or at least it was last I checked) you pay £10 for having sky+ functionality then an additional £10 for HD, this is on top of any channels (per month).

So work it out .... £49 for new SKY HD box, £240 per year (for sky+/HD) and around lets say £20 for the channels is another £240. That makes £489 per year (going down by £49 after the first year) on sky, and my freesat after a discount (shop around) was £280 once (I had a sky+ dish/box before, so didn't need a new dish or LNB) for until it breaks.

I think it's also worth mentioning that if you cancel sky+ you lose access to the pvr functions on the box and also if you cancel movies, then you won't be able to watch your recorded movies on the box, so really you actual renting the equipment from SKY and you also rent the ability to watch HD and use the PVR functions, at least with the HUMAX box it won't turn stop being a PVR/HD box.

Oh I'll also plug lovefilm rentals, pay £15 a month to access as much DVD,HD and GAMES (2 at a time) as you want, combine that with freesat and you have a great replacement for SKY.

I will admit their broadband was good, and I do miss that, so it's not all waste of money from SKY, I can say the broadband was a good at the price!

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@SD mediocrity

actually, SD on freeview is better than SD on freesat. the bitrate on matching channels between thet wo platforms is hgiher, and a visual comparison between freeview and freesat shows that freeview pictures are better. which is highly annoying as one of the big reasons to get freesat is access to the HD stuff, but the flipside is that the SD stuff is worse?!

My dad has the this box installed, and while it's good, and it does the job, it is also somewhat buggy and crashes from time to time. It could do with a firmware update and I'd love to see the channels up their bitrate to improve quality.

dave

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So, cannot be used for non-Freesat FTA channels that exist on the Sky EPG?

The killer app for me is to be able to do series recording, or at least EPG based recording, of PCNE on Sky 785, but WITHOUT paying Murdoch £10 per month for the privilege. Other features are a bonus. From what another poster above says, this means switching out of EPG mode and losing half your recoding schedule. Pity if true, some time to go before hand goes into wallet here then.

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Anonymous Coward

Sky isn't all-caps

It doesn't stand for anything, being itself part of "British Sky Broadcasting".

And as for naive comparisons about bit-rate, look up statmux - you'll see you can't compare them directly.

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Anonymous Coward

When HD comes on terestrial...

... then I'll be interested. I removed the previous house owners sat dish from the front of the house. I'm just sitting and waiting for HD to be broadcast over terestrial; then I'll upgrade things. A nice sales person at my most-like-to-hate high street shop confirmed that if I bought a TV now, I wouldn't be able to upgrade it to the next digital terestrial signal version ... so I walked out empty handed.

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Re A really good bit of kit and it's CHEAP

It's certainly cheap compared to the £1000 Freesat HD/Blu-Ray recorder that Panasonic are bringing out in May.

http://tinyurl.com/dnal5q

And you can stick a 1TB hard disk in the Humax.

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Go

@AC 11:53

Erm, you don't pay for Sky+ if you've got any subscription.

And a point for all those pointing out how much higher the bitrates on Freeview are: higher bitrate does not necessarily equate to higher quality. The encoder is far more important than your decoder....

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@Liam Thom

"Also satellite based digital SD signals are much better than Freeview."

Freesat SD broadcasts are of poorer quality to Freeview. Anyone can tell this by merely using their eyes. However, if your various decoder boxes output the bitrates of each channel, you will see that on average Freeview has a slightly higher bitrate.

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MJI
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LNB Power up

Yes the LNB is powered down while in standby hence the 30 second boot time.

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Joke

Foxsat?

As in "What the Foxsat?"?

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good.

It's a good box this. The interface is not Tivo but it's usable enough and series links seem to work well.

it does still have a few bugs - I'm getting a few HDCP problems that have required a reboot - but hopefully they'll be sorted in time.

Remotes are a matter of opinion but I think the Humax's is and ergonomic nightmare- rows of identical buttons and about half a dozen buttons that could have been eliminated with better interface design. I've got my Harmony working with it and it's instantly more usable.

One thing that isn't mentioned so far is that disc upgrades are really easy - apparently slot in a new disc and 'ok' to format. Then put the original in a USB caddy, connect it, and copy recorded programmes to your new big disc.

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N

Does a good job

Cant compare to Sky + as I diddnt have it, but Im very pleased with mine, does everything I want recording is a doddle & you can also opt to record a whole series, if desired.

Ideally I would upgrade my LNB to quad but theres an LNB1 out socket so you can loop this to LNB2 in & watch a different channel so long as its on the same polarity.

Im hoping there will be a software update soon so I can gain access to iPlayer via the Humax

In my opinion, its well worth it and you dont have Sky sucking money off you, despite the limited HD now I suspect there will be more in time.

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Unhappy

Re: Freesat in Ireland

Presumably it's the Republic you are talking about (as you mention there is no Freeview service, which Northern Ireland does have).

Anyway, Freesat *would* be a nice option for ROI residents, except that you can't legally sell a Freesat box there (or anywhere else outside the UK). That's not actually Freesat's fault, it's a broadcast rights issue. Same reason why you can't legally buy Sky boxes in Spain, for example (although many do).

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You do realize

You do realize that you can get the same from just about any Linux-based DVB-S reciever if you install propper software. Freeview is nothing more than DVB-S with it's own form of EPG and channel numbering. With such a solution you are easily able to use a comfortable web interface for scheduling your recordings. Further more you can record directly to NFS shares where you can encode them automatically.

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Happy

Works well

Remote handset aside, this does a good job. SD pics are so much clearer than my sky freesat box. But I did have a problem with the dual tuner. If you add the second cable after first installation you have to reboot from scratch and re-enter your settings otherwise the second LNB is never powered. The manual never mentions this, but Humax were quick to respond by email.

BTW - HD on Freeview will only be on areas that switchover next year and beyond (using DVB-T2 & AVC). Areas switched in 2009 and earlier will have to wait until after UK switchover is complete (i.e. 2013 or later) before upgrading.

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Linux

Power consumpton

> Power consumption rises to a peak of 50W when recording programmes onto the hard disk, but drops to just 1W in standby mode.

Mine has a measured consumption of 20W (but not a nice load: 36VA), including powering the LNB (single in my case) , rising perhaps to 21 W when both playing and recording. Standby is less than a watt.

This is a wonderful device but with some oddities. For example, you cannot delete a file when recording: the options just disappear from the menu. The file system got screwed up once and I had to delete files to clear it. Otherwise it has been stable.

The documentation is poor. For example the manual describes a physical loop through for the second tuner when using a single LNB, but the setup put it in some sort of internal loop though (I think) which is not described in the manual.

It appears to be a Linux device, but there is no software declaration, unlike my new (Sony) TV.

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No Mention of some killer functions...

...like the fact you can use just the one LNB and get a decent service, you can record a channel and watch another, but you're limited by the MUX that the other channel is on... still decent foresight by them.

If you schedule a recording and it clashes it will let you know alternative times that the show you want to record is on and offer to record that instead - very smart!

Archive recordings to USB - was mentioned above...

A great system, just needs more HD content and then i'll buy my own rather than setting them up for friends!!!

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Anonymous Coward

Hope it's better than other models

Well, I hope they can develop a decent remote control and design the PVR so that it actually responds to the Infra Red signal! because some of Humax's conventional SD PVR models are absolutely diabolical.

As an electronics engineer, I have serious questions as to whether Humax really know how to design electronics!! As far as I can tell, the IR receiver appears to be software polled and there's no hardware buffer to receive and decode the IR signal and hold the character code received until it's read out by the processor. Absolutely s**te.

Not to mention there doesn't even appear to be a watchdog timer to reset the unit when one of the execution threads locks up. I have to pull the power plug!

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Anonymous Coward

@ Sam York, SD over HDMI

SD can be better over HDMI than any other connection standard. Why?

In most connection formats the signal is analogue and the different connection standards differ in how they transmit the signal, combining, separating luminance, chrominance information, whether it's modulated on to an RF carrier or not.

There are various methods employed which give different levels of image quality.

However for digital television systems, the image is represented as digital data ( typically MPEG2 data stream as the source material), and that digital stream has to be converted into an analogue signal to be transmitted down the cable to the television set, and there are losses and imperfections in this process.

For HDMI connectors, the video signal is represented as a digital data stream, which happens - and not by coincidence! - the same format as the source material - digital data.

So if an SD signal from freeview/digital satellite is sent down an HDMI cable there is no digital to analogue conversion taking place and no losses. There's no imperfections caused by combining, separating colour signals. Everything is received, processed, transmitted entirely in the digital domain.

So, yes, SD signals sent over HDMI can be higher quality than SD signals transmitted down any other connection type.

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Anonymous Coward

@Michelle Knight, HD over terrestrial

The BBC have conducted trials of HD over terrestrial. I know someone that recorded the programmes, using a Freeview card and software decoder incorporated into his PC.

However, it looks as if Ofcom, doesn't want the UK to have HD over Freeview(terrestrial). It's technically possible, it's proven to work.

From what I have heard, Ofcom would prefer the available frequency spectrum be occupied with many more SD channels than HD channels. They have decided for us, what the nation wants.

So I wouldn't hold your breath on waiting on HD over terrestrial. It may not happen.

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Single LNB

RE: Single cable and LNB to record 1 / view another at same time is posible

By Nigel R

Care to elaborate? I can't find details of this new LNB anywhere... Got a link?

I know you can use the "loop through" on the back but that restricts you to watching/recording on the same band/polarity as the 1st tuner (1 of 4 possible band/polarity combinations)

Then there are the "stacker-destacker" devices that "stack" the bands on top of one another for transmission down a single cable, but AFAIK this can't be fed straight into the Foxsat, it still needs the destacker to separate them...

My folks managed to bag the last HDR in the local independant shop just after new year - fantastic bit of kit, my only gripe lies with ITV (put something in HD apart from football) and C4 (work out the contractual obligations with $ky and get your HD content on Freesat)

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