Out of the blue, Humax announced the launch of their new single tuner Freesat HD box, with <free time> built-in. This took the industry by surprise hence why there are no reviews out there (at time of publishing), but behold; now there is!
Of late, Freesat has been stifled by a apparent lack of products available for the free satellite television platform, and this is no more obvious than in the single tuner HD box market, where there are just a small number of options, only one of which we see as worthy of the Freesat logo.
That was until now, as Humax has most certainly set the bar at a new height, launching a single tuner Freesat HD receiver based on the latest generation, known as <free time>. The <free time> service in brief adds to the basic access of 180+ television and radio channels via satellite with easy access to on-demand services via broadband from BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5, plus a number of interactive services, including YouTube; all seamlessly linked in to the EPG (electronic programme guide).
I have to admit I was concerned that the Humax single tuner wouldn’t have the processing power to cope with this new format and the fancy structure and graphics, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how capable it is, and actually seems as fast to navigate as the older brother, the PVR based Humax HDR-1000S. Clearly Humax have invested heavily in a quality chipset capable of the job. It isn’t perfect though, the graphics do sometimes judder when floating in and out and can at times take a few seconds to load the full guide, with further slow down during recording, but for the most part, it handles it all very well.
Humax HB-1000S Freesat HD Freetime Receiver (contents)
From the moment you receive the Humax HB-1000S, with the bright packaging signifying the colours of the freesat logo, to opening up and getting started, you will see what a quality product this is, and more so, be surprised by just how small the receiver itself is (200mm x 38mm x 155mm), yet how sturdy it feels with some weight to it (0.5kg) comparable to the size. The unit matt black and has plenty of vent holes to aid in air-flow keeping the unit cool, helped by the inclusion of an external PSU (on the plug, not a separate brick). We are greatly relieved that Humax have decided to go down the route of an external power supply following the issue of blown capacitors on the previous FOXSAT-HD unit; at least now if there are any issues with power, the whole unit doesn’t need replacing. The power consumption in use is a maximum of 13W and 0.5W in standby. The front is simple in design, just a green LED light when on and red when off; and a power button.
The Humax also comes with a good range of accessories, including the remote (almost identical to the HDR-1000S version), 2 x AAA batteries, HDMI cable and Ethernet cable (1.5 metre each), User manual and warranty card. This should be enough to get you started and the included Quick installation guide is simple to follow.
Humax HB-1000S Freesat HD Freetime Receiver (front)
The back of the HB-1000S includes the usual connections you’d expect, but most obvious is the missing scart output, which has finally been resigned to the scrap heap on this ‘HD’ receiver (obviously the lack of scart means a much smaller design). What you do get though is a HDMI port, single satellite input, CVBS (RCA out), Optical S/PDIF out, 2 x USB 2.0 sockets (both on rear) and Ethernet 100BaseT . It is worth noting that this receiver doesn’t have wifi built-in which is a shame, but an external Humax USB dongle can be purchased.
Setting up is simple, painless, and very quick. Simply plug everything in, switch on and you’ll be greeted by the familiar Freesat installation screen. The signal from your satellite dish will be verified, you will be asked to enter your UK postcode, check the picture settings (usually automatic so not much to change here) and scan for the available channels, which is almost instant. The installation will also check for an Ethernet connection and then you are done! There is also the option to set a PIN number for parental control, but you can skip this stage if you wish.
Once in, you’ll be greeted with BBC One on channel 101 and the 180+ channels available at the moment. The remote, which is laid out similar to the HDR-1000S is easy to use and comfortable to hold, allowing you to select and individual channel with the number buttons or scan through them all using the cursors. The only real downside and it is personal preference but I’ve never been a fan of gloss black and the constant battle with fingerprints and scratch marks. Also, it still has the possible issue of someone accidentally pressing the TV button at the top and it no longer controlling the receiver; an issue often complained about on the previous FOXSAT-HDR. The main buttons are all centralised on the remote though, which includes the arrow cursors and <free time> button which accesses the menu structure which contains pretty much everything.
Humax HB-1000S Freesat HD Freetime Receiver (rear connections)
The picture and sound quality on both standard and high-definition channels is very good, with the optical output a good option for Dolby Digital on programmes where available. These receivers are getting to a point now where the quality is as good as being broadcast, so in comparison, is very similar to its rivals.
I won’t go into too much detail on navigating the menus, as it uses the same <free time> structure of the HDR-1000S and there are plenty of videos out there showing how it works, but in brief, you can access the TV Guide (with forward/backwards 7 day listings), the on-demand services, the options menu, a Humax portal for additional non-freesat features, the Freesat showcase highlighting the key programmes that day (which is fairly accurate based on general viewing tastes) and a few more standardised options to help you. The quick banner found at the bottom on any channel by pressing the OK button is very useful, and switches from now/next to further into the future with the right arrow button. One thing I’ve not found which is a glaring omission (again!) if it isn’t, but there appears to be no ability to sort channels by those in high-definition only; this is a feature many have requested, so a shame if it isn’t possible?
A key feature of this HB-1000S, and one that hasn’t been seen in a single tuner Freesat receiver since the TechniSat HDFS, is the ability to record to an external hard drive (as this isn’t a PVR, so no hard drive built-in). There is of course the limitation of only being able to record the channel you are on, but for the casual viewer who might just want to record every now and again, it is ideal. It is disappointing that you cannot use a USB stick (apart from playback of a few basic formats), but providing you have a USB hard drive larger than 60GB (allowing 40GB for the Humax structure so we’d recommend a much higher capacity), then this is a cost efficient way of PVR functionality without paying double for the HDR-1000S, however, if you don’t have such a device, then the prices do become fairly similar totted up. (edited) It is worth noting that due to broadcasting copyright restrictions, for recording purposes, the USB HDD must be assigned to the receiver. The format used is NTFS, though if you try using a FAT32 or EXT3 HDD, you will need to reformat to NTFS in the settings option first and then re-install the HDD.
Humax HB-1000S Freesat HD Freetime Receiver (remote)
A key feature of this product that sets it apart from the existing range of Freesat HD receivers is defiantly the <free time> feature, and it works very well indeed now that you can receive all the main on-demand services. If you wish to watch a programme from the last 7 days, you can simply roll-back the EPG (TV guide) and click on the programme you want to watch, at which point you will be forwarded to the on-demand service via your broadband connection. On the whole, the service worked very well with the programmes usually available within 10-15 seconds, which on my terrible broadband connection was pretty good; it might be better on a faster line. I did experience a few problems opening programmes directly with Demand 5, but they were fine when selecting the Demand 5 home option first, so maybe that was down to my connection, or a bug that Humax will need to fix. I’m not a fan of on-demand services really, as I don’t like not being able to bypass adverts, but it’s a great inclusion following the trend and works well via direct links on the TV guide.
For those of you wanting more than the 180+ channels offered, there is a ‘non-freesat’ mode which allows you to scan for all channels available FTA (free-to-air) on the Astra2 and Eurobird1 satellites (the alignment your satellite dish has for Freesat). This option is basic, as it isn’t a fundamental part of Freesat (they want broadcasters to pay to put their channels on the official TV guide) but Humax have missed a trick which the rival at Manhattan hasn’t, whereby you can create your own line-up of channels (albeit without 7 day listings) and then access by a touch of a button from the normal Freesat mode.
Outside of the standardised platform is the Humax Portal, which includes a number of extra interactive services including Flickr and Wiki TV. Also within here is the new network client allowing you to connect to your home network/server to play back certain file types, which include but not limited to MPEG2, JPEG, BMP, GIF and PNG. I accessed a few AVI files through my NAS using a DNLA client and it worked very well, though obviously struggled with more complex file formats such as MKV, but that is to be expected. Once again, a great added feature and very handy.
For a unit so small, it is incredible what it is capable of, handling both the standard Freesat stuff and <free time> with relative ease. The receiver feels solidly built; looks smart and the remote is easy to use, though quite large compared to the box itself. The set up is easy and the supplied guides very handy for anyone less familiar with these products than I am. Once familiar, the menu structure is easy to navigate and TV guide looks and works very well. The option of accessing programmes already televised via the on-demand services directly is brilliant, even with the slight delay, and recording via USB hard drive is certainly a coup no other current Freesat receiver offers; ideal for casual viewers that wish to record programmes every now and again without the requirement for a fully operational PVR receiver (Freesat+HD). There are a few minor issues, such as some delays navigating the menus, and no ability to record to a USB stick, plus a reliance on accessing the on-demand services via a wired connection, unless willing to folk out for the optional wifi dongle. On the whole however, the Humax HB-1000S is in a class of its own within the single tuner market. At an RRP of under £100, this fits nicely between a basic Freesat receiver and a fully equipped recorder; and with access to all the main on-demand broadcast services (plus your home network), makes for a handy multimedia box too.
Humax have moved the game on, and the HB-1000S is worthy of top marks.
Joinfreesat score 9.5 out of 10
Suggestions to Humax
Flexibility with USB storage devices and formatting
Wifi built-in or a faster wifi dongle available
HD category within TV guide
Improved non-freesat mode to set your own list
More unique model name to avoid confusion by consumers
It is rumoured that eventually you will be able to connect this box to a HDR-1000S and access its recordings, using the main HDR-1000S as a hub for the ultimate multi-room experience. We hope this happens but will cover this in a separate review at the time.
Where to buy
The Humax HB-1000S is available now. Please consider purchasing from our key site sponsor, the UK’s leading satellite retailer, Satbuyer for £99.95 + delivery. Alternative places to buy can be found on the Humax HB-1000S product page.