When it comes to digital TV services, Freesat is a relatively new kid on the block. Launched 18 months ago, it’s still seen by many as the poor relation compared to Freeview (digital terrestrial) and Sky (satellite). But all that could be about to change with the announcement a couple of months ago that BBC and ITV are gearing up to launch their digital TV players on the service. The BBC iPlayer, already available on Virgin’s cable service, is currenly in beta testing on Freesat and the ITV Player will start early next year.
Another attraction of Freesat is that it’s a good way of watching HD content without having to pay Sky TV up to £50 a month for the privilege. The Beeb offers a wide selection of programmes on its HD service, including popular shows live Gavin and Stacey and Friday Night With Jonathan Ross while on ITV there’s Champions League Football. And with all the criticism surrounding Sky+ latest HD TV Guide (see HDTVUK.tv for more details) now seems a good time to look at a much cheaper and aguably better alternative.
Annoying set up
Available in two versions (one with a 250GB and one with a 500GB hard drive), the Sagem DTR94 is the latest Freesat box from the France based company. Like most digital boxes these days set up is largely automated though you will have to feed it your postcode details (I’m not really sure why as you could easily make one up if you didn’t pay the licence fee and besides you don’t have to put in your full address).
Annoyingly it’s default position is also to make you input a four digital parental code and to hide away all the adult channels – well there’s only really two that I could find, Babestation and Filth (what a horrible name that is!) Once it’s found the channels these are stored either by genre or as a channel list and you can move them around etc if you really want to.
The 8 day electronic programme guide is particularly clear with the ability to skip forward by days or hours to find what you want using the colour coded buttons. And one-touch recording is straightforward enough – recordings complete with a preview screen can be viewed by pressing the red button.
The only downside with Freesat is that you will need to have a satellite dish with two LNB outputs in order to watch one channel while recording another. The box can be used for manually adding channels and not only do you get the usual programme descriptions you can also access technical data about each broadcast such as whether it is available with 5.1 channel sound, is transmitted in high definition and what the satellite signal level is like.
High definition pictures
If you want to receive full HD quality then you will need to connect the silver box up to your TV via HDMI cable (most recent TVs have an HDMI socket – but if yours doesn’t then you will only get standard def pictures). Plenty of other sockets are provided too, including two Scarts for connection to a DVD recorder and a digital audio output (coaxial) in order to benefit from DTS/Dolby Digital sound when connected to a home cinema amplifier.
Picture quality seemed very good though is of course largely dependent on the source material in the first place. For example watching old American programmes on the CBS channels I was struck by just how terrible pictures were, but that has much to do with the NTSC format they were filmed in rather than any fault of the set top box. On the other hand, Champions League Football in HD really does look fantastic with the players much more clearly defined. Nor is storage of high definition programmes a massive problem with the 500Gb box capable of holding around 200 hours of content according to Sagem.
With the addition of ITV and BBC’s digital players in 2010 and with some (albeit not enough) HD content now available for free, Freesat is definitely worth considering as an alternative to Freeview or Sky. And with a price tag of £300 for a model with 500Gb storage, the Sagem box is a good option.
Sagem DTR94 HD Freesat (£250 for 250Gb hard drive, £300 for 500Gb hard drive)
Good price – works out much cheaper than Sky+
Easy set up
Lots of sockets
BBC iPlayer available soon
Parental controls too restrictive
Still not enough HD material on Freesat
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