- Record up to four shows at once
- Every PSB catch-up service
- Live TV app remote viewing
- Limited on-demand offering
- Slow interface
We’ve finally got our hands on the first Freeview Play set-top box to hit the market, the Humax FVP-4000T.
Despite the less than snappy name, Humax has decided to buck the usual boring set-top box trend of shiny black plastic by sheathing it’s first-gen Freeview Play boxes in brown (or ‘mocha’) and beige (or ‘cappuccino’) with a faux-leather effect.
But let’s be honest, what you really want to know is how Freeview Play looks and whether or not the FVP-4000T is worth dropping a couple of hundred quid on.
Humax FVP-4000T and Freeview Play: What is it and what's the fuss?
Freeview Play is the much-talked about upgrade of Freeview HD; it promises to bring mass market free-to-air TV up to date for the current era of ubiquitous catch-up and on-demand services.
Humax was one of the first manufacturers to report for duty along with Panasonic, whose 2015 range of 4K Ultra HD TVs will ship with Freeview Play running under the hood. The FVP-4000T is the first Freeview Play set-top box to hit the shelves, meaning this little box occupies a small corner of British TV history.
The Humax FVP-4000T is available to buy now and will initially be available in two versions, one with a 500GB hard drive and another with a 1TB disc.
Humax FVP-4000T: Design and remote control
The FVP-4000T is a dinky little thing, measuring 280x48x200mm. It’s a far cry from the bulky set-top boxes of old and takes up much less shelf space than the first-gen YouView box from Humax, the DTR-T1000 (380x55x252mm).
We like the gold and brown colour scheme and brushed metal-style plastic accents. This vaguely ‘80s-ish bling style is complemented by the boxy layout of the remote, which, despite ditching the concave stylings of Humax’s YouView and Freesat remotes is comfortable to hold.
It's lightweight, there's a groove for your index finger and thanks to the intelligent layout of the buttons - you’ll want to press Home, Guide, Back and the D-pad the most and it just so happens that they’re all neighbours - it’s not a faff to use and it’s easy to get acquainted with.
One exception to this rule is the shortcut button to the On Demand menu, which is situated all up in the top left. Given that the Freeview Play's main selling point is easy access to catch-up content, you'd have thought such a button would be in a more prominent position.
Humax FVP-4000T: Set-up
It took us about 45 minutes in total to get set up, although that’s largely due to the large firmware update that hit the device moments after us getting set up the first time round, after which we were forced to do a full restart (which meant we had to input our SSID, password and scan for channels twice). Scanning for Freeview channels took just under 15 minutes.
While that was longer than we’d have liked, the set-up process is very straightforward and foolproof. Step-by-step instructions guide you through the entire process. The first thing you’re asked is whether you want the box to display menu text in English, Gaelic, Irish or Welsh, which is a nicetouch and something that’ll be no doubt appreciated by Celtic language speakers of the British Isles with the obvious exceptions of Manx and Cornish folk.
You’re then asked to connect to your home network which you can do via Ethernet or WiFi. After that you’re taken through to the channel scanning process and then you’re good to go.
Humax FVP-4000T: Freeview Play user interface
Along with the 160-plus digital TV channels, streamlined access to BBC iPlayer, ITV Player (soon to be relaunched as ITV Hub), All 4 and Demand 5 is baked in to the Freeview Play experience. On the Humax FVP-4000T you have two ways of accessing these services. You can scroll left through the standard programme guide to search for missed programmes – going 'back in time' if you will – which is useful in situations where you’ve either forgot to set a recording, or you simply forgot that Homes Under The Hammer was on.
You can also open up a separate on-demand menu (which gives you access to things like BBC News, BBC Sport, YouTube and others). Eventually this is also where you’ll find Netflix, but at the moment, that’s not due to arrive until early 2016.
Alternatively, you can jump straight to a separate On Demand menu where you can search for content through the menus of the players themselves.
A discrete 'On Demand' button lives in the top left corner of the remote which powers up the carousel of catch-up services, which can also be accessed by hitting the large blue 'Home' button and selecting 'On Demand'.
That's the basics of Freeview Play. It's virtually identical to YouView in terms of its function and is similar to EE's TV offering too. It differs from both of those services in some subtle and some not-so-subtle ways, which we'll take a look at now.
The Home key is the one you'll probably be hitting the most. Pressing this loads up an umbrella of five icons – On Demand, TV Guide, Recordings, Media Centre and Settings – which we'll now go through in turn.
Humax FVP-4000T: On Demand services
If you've ever used BBC iPlayer or similar on a smart TV platform or a games console you'll feel right at home here.
As well as catch-up services from all of the public service broadcasters, you've also got YouTube. This is the same HTML5 TV app we've seen many times before, which means you can also cast content to your TV Chromecast style, if you've got a phone or tablet that supports this. If you don't, then you can make use of YouTube Leanback, which lets you pair unsupported phones and tablets with your TV. Either option works perfectly on the Humax FVP-4000T.
Other apps that are available from launch include BBC News, which gives you rolling 24 hours and BBC Sport, which lets you access live streams, interviews and highlights – everything you can access from the BBC Sport website and mobile apps, essentially.
Other than that, there's not much else to really write home about. There's a smattering of radio stations, international news, lifestyle and cooking channels and a very basic internet radio app, all of which are incredibly 'meh'.
Humax FVP-4000T: TV Guide
The programme guide is big and bold. You get a lot of programme information crammed in to each listing, including start and finish times and a little progress bar which tells you at a glance how far into each programme you are. You even get a little screenshot of shows, which makes for a more inviting, visual experience.
Well, sometimes. As you can see from the screengrab above, the Humax FVP-4000T doesn't always pull in pics from everywhere. It's unclear if this is a fault of the current firmware or if it's a metadata issue. Either way, it spoils the intended effect.
A consequence of the large menu layout is that you only get a view of five channels at any one time. Because there's no 'page up/down' control on the remote, channel hopping is actually a pretty tedious affair. There's no picture-in-picture window on the programme guide either, which might not bother everyone, but some folks like to see what's going on while they're setting recordings or channel hopping.
In the settings you've got the option of creating Favourites lists, which basically let you create your own programme guide. This is good if you can't stand anything that appears on BBC One, ITV2 or VIVA and wouldn't miss them, but perhaps not a great option for less discerning viewers.
Once you've picked these out, you can access them at any time by tapping the plus key on the remote. You can also filter TV channels, HD channels and radio stations on the Guide page by hitting this button.
Finally, it's worth pointing out the search tool, accessed by tapping the magnifying glass button on the remote. This lets you comb the Freeview programme guide for a specific channels, TV programmes and radio shows. It's clever enough to start pulling in results based on a single letter, though the way in which it presents those results doesn't make full use of the screen space.
In the example above, we were looking to episodes of Deal or No Deal, which the FVP-4000T was able to find after three letters, which is great, but it's not so great when you have to sift through collapsed threads looking for what you're after.
Humax FVP-4000T: Recordings
One of the standout features of the Humax FVP-4000T is its ability to record up to four shows at once, while letting you watch previously recorded programmes or catch-up content.
While this is a great plus, there's no way to record an entire series of shows – whenever you hover over a show and hit the record button, the Humax FVP-4000T will simply start recording the show if its live and if it's not, it'll just set to record for that show and that show only. You can manually set recordings for individual shows yourself, either by trawling through the EPG or setting a schedule in the Recordings tab. You can record an entire series of a show by searching for it in the guide, hitting OK and picking the relevent option - although it's not possible to action series link from a programme that's already started airing.
Saved shows can be easily accessed in through the Recordings tab, where they're sorted by name, channel and the day of the week they were recorded on. This makes finding stuff you've hoarded away a piece of cake. A storage bar lets you keep tabs on just how much space all of your recordings are consuming.
On the 500GB model of the FVP-4000T, you get 465.8GB of space to play with, which, according to the box, works out at 100 hours of HD content and 260 hours of SD programmes.
Humax FVP-4000T: Media Centre
TV channels and catch-up is all well and good, but what about when you want to watch your own stuff?
Sadly, the FVP-4000T had issues connecting to our NAS drives and even when it did, the limited file support meant that it could only play a selection of the files we had stored. Officially, only MP3s and JPEGs are supported. It's quite often the case with set-top boxes that the 'official' list doesn't always cover what is and isn't supported – and in this case we got .MOVs and .MP4s to play no problem, but had problems playing MKVs (even though they're officially supported).
Humax FVP-4000T: Settings
The Settings page is where you'll be able to do things like configure your Favourites list of channel get a more in-depth look at how much space your recorded programmes are taking up, as well as do the things you'd expect to be able to do – check signal strength, change aspect ratio, that sort of thing.
It's here where you can also turn on the built-in FTP server, which in normal-person speak means you can archive your recorded programmes onto separate USB drives and sticks, which is useful for backup purposes.
If you've shelled out for a 4K Ultra HD TV already, you might be interested to learn that there's an option for the FVP-4000T to output in 2160p on. Of course, as there's no 4K content available from broadcasters yet and Netflix isn't due to arrive until 2016, other than the programme guide and menus looking a little nicer on your 4K panel.
Humax FVP-4000T: Apps – Live TV, Remote and Media Player
Related: Best Universal Remote apps for AndroidWhile there's no real equivalent to Sky Go or Virgin TV Anywhere here, Humax has launched a trio of apps – Live TV, Remote and Media Player – all of which work with the FVP-4000T to varying degrees.
Of these, Live TV is easily the best. Like EE TV, the Humax Live TV app lets you carry on watching live TV content on your phone or tablet, should someone else come into the living room and loudly declare that they want to watch The Apprentice, while you'd rather carry on watching The Dark Charisma of Hitler's Favourite Bodyguard (or whatever is being broadcast on Yesterday).
While you're connected to the same home network that the FVP-4000T is hooked up to, you'll be able to stream shows on your iOS and Android devices, over WiFi. It doesn't work when you're out and about, for rights reasons, but it's a good second screen experience for home viewing.
You can also use this as an ad-hoc remote control. As well as accessing streams on your phone or tablet, the Humax Live TV app lets you push whatever you're watching on your mobile device to the TV. This will almost certainly cause arguments, so use it wisely. You can also use this same feature to pull in whatever you're watching on the box at the time, which is handy should you need to get out of the living room. Recorded programmes can also be streamed to your phone or tablet.
This is great feature, one that we're happy to see come to a digital TV platform that doesn't require you to cough up for subscription fees every month. It would be nice if the Humax Live TV app would let you manage recordings and set reminders remotely - the Guide section of our app was greyed out. Hopefully future updates will rectify this.
The Remote control app itself is a fairly basic facsimile of the physical remote that's really not very intuitive. In areas where you'd expect a universal remote-style app to excel – like text input – it falls flat on it's face. There's no clear or easy way to navigate around the app, especially on Android, where pressing the 'Back' button on your device prompts you to exit the app altogether. The Android version is also prone to crashes and freezes, prompting you to force stop the app and restart it. It's miles behind Tekoia's SURE Universal Remote (which works perfectly with the FVP-4000T by the way) so you might as well install that if you like controlling your TV with your phone.
Worse still is the Media Player, which promises to make getting content stored on your phone or tablet to your TV a breeze. We spent several fruitless minutes trying to get standard definition recordings to play on our test devices. This should work in theory, but we've struggled to do much more than either fail to get this going or despair as the Android version randomly crashed for the millionth time. We will update this section of the review as and when we have some success here.
Humax FVP-4000T: User experience
While every effort has gone into making the menus of the Humax FVP-4000T look bright, bold and inviting, that doesn't always match up with the actual user experience.
Navigating menus is right now a slow and clunky affair. Whether you're scrolling through the programme guide, searching for a channel or trying to get recordings to pause and skip backwards, the experience can be wading-through-treacle-slow.
When you're jumping between the five main sections, there's also a tendency for the FVP-4000T to revert back to whichever linear TV channel you were last watching.
We appreciate that it's very early days for Freeview Play and we remember how sluggish Humax's first YouView box felt at launch compared to how it is how. This is something we're sure can be ironed out with over the air software updates, but it doesn't exactly feel cutting edge right now.
Humax FVP-4000T: Specifications
Despite the official spec sheet listinig three tuners, you can actually record up to four programmes at once on the Humax FVP-4000T, while watching catch-up content or a previous recording.
This is a welcome step up from the standard two tuner set-up we’ve been used to over the years and takes the jam out of Virgin Media’s TiVo doughnut somewhat. The cable ISP has long been proud of the three tuners it’s TiVo box contains, as this gives it an edge over the Sky+HD box of its main pay TV rival as well as most of the free to air options out there. Now plucky old Freeview Play comes to the party with its record-four-shows-at-once trick. Take that Virgin Media.
- Dimensions: 280x48x200mm
- Weight: 1.3kg
- Tuners: 3
- Resolution: 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i
- RAM: 1GB DDR3
- Memory: 512MB
- Connectivity: HDMI (HDCP), RCA, USB (2.0)
- File support: JPEG, MP3
Humax FVP-4000T: Verdict
The first ever Freeview Play set-top box gives buyers a lot of features for their cash, but there's also much room for improvement.
We love that you can record up to four shows at once. We think that this will be the biggest selling point of the FVP-4000T and depending on how assiduous you are when planning recordings, it should more than make up for the relative paucity of on-demand players. We also like that the Live TV app means you can take TV shows with you, should the living room get busy.
On the other hand, navigating the menus is sluggish, the search tool could present its results in a more coherent manner and we're not sure why you can't series link from a programme that's halfway through broadcasting. There are other areas where the user experience could be improved too, but it's early days so we can forgive small imperfections and hope that these teething pains are soon nixed with firmware updates.
That said, the service succeeds in integrating on-demand content with linear TV channels, which is the whole point of Freeview Play.
It’s great that all of the PSB services are present and correct and we know that Netflix is in the pipeline, but how quickly Freeview Play can grow and build on this will determine how enthusiastically people lap devices like this up.
At the moment, you can get a 500GB model for £200 or a 1TB version of the Humax FVP-4000T for £230. People tempted may very well consider the YouView DTR-T1000, which costs a little less and comes with more on-demand services including Netflix and Connected Red Button.
- HDMI, RCA
- S/PDIF, Audio L/R
- Yes - Humax Live TV