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Free Time from Freesat Humax HDR-1000S: Review

Free Time from Freesat is the next generation of subscription-free satellite TV.

As well as letting you record programmes in SD and HD, series link and access catch-up services on-demand, Free Time from Freesat also lets you pick up on programmes you’ve missed.

Instead of having to catch-up online or via a mobile app, you can do it from the comfort of your living room, on the big screen.

So, what does the first Humax-made Free Time from Freesat box have in store? What exactly do you get for your £279? We took the Humax HDR-1000S for a spin.

Free Time from Freesat Humax HDR-1000S: Design

The Humax HDR-1000S is all sleek curves and rounded corners with a shiny black plastic coat and a faux-silver trim. It’s more PlayStation 3 than Sky+HD looks-wise. Like all Humax products it’s got a dash of style about it.

Measuring 352 x 55 x 238 mm the Humax HDR-1000S is no space hog. Weighing in at 1.7kg means that setting it up is easy – you can effortlessly hold it in one hand while you connect all the wires with the other.

The remote control is virtually identical to the one Humax bundled with its YouView box, the DTR-T1000. The flared shape of the remote makes for a comfortable fit for basic channel hopping, but makes the numerical keys hard to reach without adjusting your grip.

Pause, Play and Skip controls sit at the top of the remote, keeping you forever in mind of the potential for on-demand fun.

Free Time from Freesat Humax HDR-1000S: Set up

Setting up Humax’s first Free Time box took us about ten minutes in total – five for us to plug everything in, five for the box to tune in and do its thing.

Connecting satellite cables is a little tricky. There’s a thin copper wire that runs through the centre which you should take care not to kink or bend. Once firmly in place, you then screw the connection on.

It’s not rocket science but it is easy to mess up – if you’re unsure about doing it then it might be worth seeing if you can get an engineer to install it for you.

After that it’s a simple case of connecting the HDR-1000S to your TV with an HDMI cable (supplied) and then connecting to your home broadband router with an Ethernet cable (also supplied).

The Ethernet cable that came with our model was a metre long, so if this won’t be long enough to reach your router you’ll need to invest in a longer lead.

Once you’re all plugged in the HDR-1000S scans for channels based on your postcode and fires up the on-demand features for the first time. As we said this take around five minutes but the step-by-step guide requires your input, so you’re not sitting around watching a status bar crawling from left to right. We were impressed by how quickly we were able to get things going and the overall presentation.

Free Time from Freesat Humax HDR-1000S: Performance

The menus of the new-look Freesat are brightly coloured and richly animated and look a treat.

Finding your favourite programme is easy thanks to a dynamic search tool that starts combing for content as you start typing. Simply entering ‘GOO’ gave us Russell Howard’s Good News, Renault at Goodwood 2012 and repeats of The Goon Show on BBC Radio 4.

There’s no Virgin Media TiVo-style recommendations engine here but you should be able to find your favourites with little effort.

We love the ‘Now & Next’ layout which lets you see what’s on, what’s coming up and what you’ve just missed at a glance. Setting recordings for single programmes or series link is a doddle thanks to the prominently positioned red ‘R’ button on the remote.

Under the ‘My Recordings’ menu you can access everything you’ve series linked and easily delete stuff if you need to make room. A percentage bar on the right keeps you informed of how much space you’ve got and recorded programmes get scrubbed from the hard drive pretty darn quickly.

Our review model came with a 500GB hard drive. A 1TB version is launching imminently, which will have the exact same features as this HDR-1000S but with twice the storage.

When setting recordings, you’ve got the option to choose whether or not you want it recorded in SD or HD. The HDR-1000S outputs in standard definition (SD) at 576i and 576p and high definition HD at 720p, 1080i and 1080p.

For an idea of how Free Time from Freesat works, have a watch of this hands-on video which we shot at the launch event on September 4.

 

Free Time from Freesat Humax HDR-1000S: On Demand or on remand?

So far so good – we love how easy the HDR-1000S is to use and the Free Time from Freesat service in general. That said, we found that the quality of the on-demand aspect of Free Time to be not that great.

Part of the blame could be apportioned to our not-brilliant broadband connection – we’re getting on average 2-3Mbps.

That said, 3Mbps is the minimum speed required to access the on-demand programmes on Free Time. We found that even when streaming programmes in SD, shows especially on BBC iPlayer, would often pause and judder.

The problem would occasionally be solved by pausing a show and letting it buffer for 30 seconds (on SD streams) and a minute (on HD streams). While this helped in most cases, it detracted from the instantaneousness we associate with ‘on-demand’.

We’re told that there are fixes in the pipeline and over the coming weeks, the quality should improve.

On that note, we now come to the fact that right now you can only catch up on programmes available on BBC iPlayer and ITV Player. So people will be happy with Strictly Come Dancing and Downton Abbey but anyone who wants a fix of 4oD or Demand 5 will have to wait – those services are in the 2012 pipeline but they’re not live yet.

Compared to YouView, which also comes with the option of Now TV, Free Time from Freesat isn’t bringing much to the party, at least not today.

But it’s early days yet. This is the first batch of the very first Free Time box, so we can’t expect everything to be perfect.

We’ll concede that there could be a fault with our particular review unit. A Freesat engineer who was sent out to look at our HDR-1000S noted that our streaming problems were an anomaly.

Given the overall quality, smoothness and finesse elsewhere we’re convinced that Humax and Freesat won’t take long in ironing it out.

Note: This section was updated on October 24 to include new information from Humax.

Free Time from Freesat Humax HDR-1000S: Cost

The Humax HDR-1000S costs £279 for the 500GB version and £299 for the 1TB edition and is available from high-street retailers including John Lewis, Currys and Argos.

Given the differnce in price, we’d say go for the 1TB version. A £20 difference for double the storage isn’t to be sniffed at. Can you say bargain?

There’s also the cost of installation which is £100 for a Freesat engineer to visit, fit a dish and run two cables down into your living room. 

In order to watch one programme while recording another, you’ll need two satellite cables – same as you would with Sky+HD.

Aside from this there’s no additional costs and no monthly payments. Part of the appeal of Freesat is that there’s just a one-off payment for the equipment and installation and that’s it.

The launch of Free Time from Freesat and the HDR-1000S goes to show that you don’t have to pay a premium each month to get well presented, interactive digital TV ands will likely appeal to those not fussed about getting Sky or Virgin Media.

 

Recombu Verdict: Should I buy the Humax HDR-1000S?

There’s lots to like about the Humax HDR-1000S. For a product ostensibly aimed at those who don’t want subscription TV due to cost, it’s a product that not only looks great but delivers a polished and high-end looking service.

The fact that we struggled so much with the on-demand aspect of Free Time and that from launch you can’t get 4oD or Demand 5 can’t be overlooked. That said we’d chalk these up to teething problems and it being early days.

If you’re curious about Free Time from Freesat then it might be worth waiting a while for more services to become available, if you’re mainly sold on the idea of being able to catch up on missed programmes easily.

If not then in theory you could just look at the HDR-1000S as a solid Freesat offering with a fresh and easy to navigate programme guide.

We’re giving the Humax HDR-1000S a cautious thumbs up. We’d recommend that you definitely try before you buy and test your home broadband connection before shelling out.

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