With the digital Armageddon crossover almost upon us – or actually upon us in the case of anyone living in South Devon or the Borders – never has their been a better time to take a look at an affordable, easy-to-use, jack-of-all-trades Freeview tuner that even the most technophobic in society can get to grips with. That would be …
Digital Switch Over
Technically we still have analogue in South Devon for now, well until Wednesday this week. Finally I'm hoping I'll be able to pick up more than 10 channels on my DVB-T card in my PC (I can pick everything up on a Freeview box or our LCD TV with Freeview built in so I guess it's just the DVB-T card being picky).
I was going to say it's a bit expensive really for a Freeview box but I guess the fact it has an RF modulator built in has to be a good thing for those people with old Scartless (or even AV input-less) TVs, On the other hand you could probably get away with connecting a Freeview box to an old video recorder (maybe even an old Betamax) via scart or if there is a lack of scart connections, AV inputs.
I guess the on street price of something like this will be more like £25 to £30.
When you can get a freeview box for £20 in Tesco, this £40 box is not "budget" IMHO.
It's a reasonable box, your review concentrated on picture and EPG though and, while important, one element was really missing... MHEG performance.
These "press the red button" MHEG applications are becoming more and more prevalent. I tried one of the boxes in store and the performance on BBC News (Channel 80) was dire. Not much time for an extensive test, however, it could explain why the box does not also support picture in picture - they have scrimped on the electronics - the web site won't quote the processor, it just says "32 bit Fast responsive" !
Can El Reg carry out some further (i.e. comprehensive) tests or open up the box and reveal what processor and other components are used?
Well most freeview boxes I've bought in t he past have been sub £40 so I'm unsure why this is labelled "budget". I thought the price had dropped through the floor as they've worked out how to mass produce "cheap & nasty" versions these days.
I don't find separating radio and TV makes things easier, but much more difficult. The box I'm using now does that, and some joker has ensured that if I am listening to R7 and press 1 to go to BBC1 it hilariously retunes to R1 ! Ensuring I have to retune the radio bit back as it was, then remember to press the radio/TV button (an unnecessary extra thing to remember/press) and THEN I can go to BBC1. Oh they must have wet themselves thinking that one up.
All very nice...
... and with disgruntled Sony engineers behind the company it's probably perfectly decent, but why oh why would almost anyone in their right mind buy a non-recording set-top box? Is the average customer yet to "go digital" really such a masochist that they would spend £40 making life harder (indeed impossible, after analogue switch-off) for themselves in the event that just possibly they wanted to record something?
Nice on the surface
We bought my father-in-law one of these boxes directly from the manufacturer via their website. It is indeed a nice piece of kit which is solidly built, easy to use and gives great pictures.
However, we have had two of these boxes so far. Both have exhbited an odd fault whereby, after going automatically into standby during the night, the box gives a "no signal" error until it is powered down at the mains and then restarted. Not much of a problem, you might think, but for someone with limited mobility reaching for a plug, pulling it out and putting it back in can be difficult.
TVOnics have not been able to provide us with a resolution to this issue and their customer service has been so patchy (running the gamut from "nearly helpful" to "beligerent") that we've given up trying and resorted to a main extension cable with a handy socket switch.
If you want to try one of these boxes out then I suggest you purchase it from somewhere that will let you give it back for a full refund if you're not happy with it. There might be working ones out there - TVOnics claim to be unaware of the issue we're having - and if it worked it would be the best Freeview box for the price bar none.
Come on El-Reg 40 quid isn't budget, under 20 is budget.
Paris, she's probably got no idea of the value of money either.
"some things you don't get for forty quid"
"an RGB output signal from the second Scart slot" - apparently not, i've used about four different sub-£25 boxes that all provided this facility. this seems a bit gash to me, especially with the apparent MHEG problems and this "no signal" error which i've also never encountered on any of the cheaper ones.
The interactive / MHEG functions on the MDR-250 worked just fine for us. While not quite as quick as the Freeview tuner built into the Sony Bravia that was used for comparison we certainly had no cause for complaint.
If you'd do normal DVB-S...
...budget would be 10 pounds, like in the rest of the world. This whole "let's make our own little market with Freeview and Sky" really raises the prices.