Name:Humax DTR-1000 YouView set-top box
Type: Digital terrestrial set top box with catch up players and recorder
Specs: Click here for more information
Price as reviewed: £299
A digital set top box for those who don't want to subscribe to Sky or cable TV, this Freeview box from Humax combines Freeview with catch-up TV services from all four main broadcasters.
Digital terrestrial set top boxes are now available from just about every supermarket for £30 upwards. While they are handy for converting your old analogue TV into digital so you can receive Freeview services very few offer you the added benefit of watching catch up TV services such as BBC's iPlayer, the ITV player, 4oD and Demand 5.
First announced as Project Canvas way back in 2008, YouView aims to change this. Initially due to launch in 2010, the project has been delayed for some time due to 'technical reasons'. Even the latest July launch date has slipped back into August. Meanwhile the number of devices on the market able to view catch up TV services - from mobile phones to games consoles, web tablets such as the iPad and 'smart TVs' including an entire range from Samsung has increased exponentially, making competition in this space very crowded indeed.
So the big question is who is going to pay the fairly hefty £300 asking price? I suspect the answer is that it's aimed primarily at an older generation who want the convenience of watching catch-up services on their large living room TV rather than on a smaller portable device such as an iPad. Also those who don't want to upgrade their main TV to a smart TV which have built in catch-up TV services, but which are still expensive (though coming down in price rapidly). Is this a big enough market though? Only time will tell.
Where's the wireless?
Made by Humax, a company which has a good track record when it comes to producing high end digital set top boxes, is also a reassuring factor as many of the cheaper set top boxes suffer picture break up especially when watching programmes from catch up TV services like BBC's iPlayer.
However, interestingly, this Humax box isn't wireless-enabled which means you will have to plug it into an ethernet port in the back of your router to receive the catch up services. Great if you happen to have your router near your TV set, but how many of us have a computer router near the living room TV? I'm guessing not that many.
For this test YouView provided a set of powerline adaptors from Devolo which worked superbly well using the mains electricity to send digital data from the catch up services to the TV. Just plug one into the mains near your TV set and connect up the ethernet cable, then plug the other into the mains near your router and connect up the ethernet cable there.
Of course having a wired solution is a much better option for streaming video than lower bandwidth wi-fi but it's still curious that wi-fi isn't built into a box that YouView must know will probably - in most cases - sit nowhere near a broadband router. Also given the additional expense and (possible) technical complexity of having to buy a set of powerline adaptors when wireless Smart TVs are readily available on the market seems a huge own goal.
That said, in terms of performance and specifications the Humax box is pretty good. A large 500Gb hard drive is provided for recording up to 300 hours of standard definition or 125 hours of high definition content (HDMI cable is provided for hooking up the box to an HDTV for high definition pictures). Also on board are two tuners for recording one channel while watching another. Recordings can be displayed by date, alphabetically or by watched/unwatched and you can stop a recording being deleted by locking it using the yellow button.
Usefully, especially for those of us who can't see as well as we used to (!), the onscreen display is nice and clear and the 7 day TV guide works well. Information about programmes is in white text on a black background with headers in an electric blue colour which is particularly easy to read (there's even a zoom button if you want to see the programme information a little bigger). YouView says you can access programmes that were broadcast in the last seven days via the TV guide without having to use the catch up TV service, but I wasn't able to get this to work.
Confusingly, rather than using a menu button on the remote, you need to press the blue Y button to access the full range of features that the set top box offers. Pressing 'On Demand' brings all the available catch up TV services on screen (iPlayer, ITV player, 4oD and Demand 5) as well as Sky's Now TV. An on demand movie service, like LoveFilm and NetFlix, Now TV allows you to watch movies for between 99p and £3.49 or the monthly subscription package for a hefty £15 (you can see our review of the service here). Apparently 300 service providers, including Love Film, have shown an interest in YouView, but none has gone live - yet.
One clever feature is 'Find Programmes By Genre' which pulls together
all of the content from the various catch up TV services and displays
it as thumbnails which you can scroll through. So, for example, if you
like comedy it will display programmes from 4oD such as Peep Show,
alongside content from the iPlayer such as Bad Education or Russell
Howard. Useful if you're not sure what to watch and don't want to have
to check through each of the catch up TV services individually. However,
it is a little tricky to find, requiring you to press the Y button,
followed by On Demand, then TV, then Genres. Indeed navigating your way
around this set top box could generally be a lot more intuitive than it
Another niggle is the low energy eco-mode - a great idea in theory but in practice a huge pain which means the set top box seems to take forever to load up. Even when you switch eco mode to low it still seems to take a long time for the box to load up. All in all not a great experience.
With all the hype surrounding YouView, especially with the involvement of company chairman Lord Sugar, the service - which has been four years in the making - was always going to struggle to live up to expectations. Fundamentally, in an age full of web tablets like the iPad, Smart TVs and catch-up TV enabled games consoles it feels like a product that is simply too late to the market. Even leaving that aside, it seems there are a few big mistakes in this launch product from Humax. The most important of these is the omission of wifi, but there are others such as menus that are less intuitive than they should be and a start up mode which seems to take forever. I think these will need to be ironed out if the YouView vision of integrating broadcast and digital TV content within a digital set top box is going to stand any chance of survival.