Launch: July 2012 | Price: £189 (rrp)
It’s time for a (lengthy!!!) review of the much anticipated (and delayed) Manhattan Plaza HDR-S 320GB Freesat+HD Receiver. I have been looking forward to getting my hands on this unit for months now, tipped to be a low cost PVR receiver for recording all your favourite standard and high-definition channels from Freesat; and I must say, it doesn’t disappoint.
From the moment you open the packaging; you can’t help but be impressed by how super compact and light weight the receiver is, especially compared to other Freesat+ receivers available. This is due to the 2.5” hard drive you usually find in laptops (specific make/model is the Western Digital AV-25). The unit is matt black and actually much better in terms of looks and quality than I was expecting. The front panel has a simple layout of on/off light (red/blue), the “Manhattan” logo and of course the “Freesat+” logo to show it is an official product. One thing you certainly can’t ignore are the number of vents on the top of the casing, and whilst it looks a little fussy with a clear view of the inner workings, it serves an incredibly important purpose, keeping the receiver cool as it is a fan-less design which also keeps noise down and energy efficiency up. The top of the casing also has 5 buttons for controlling the record functionality, and whilst they are handy for those that still like buttons on a receiver, I think they are really there to stop you stacking things on top of it and risking the unit overheating.
The receiver comes well packaged complete with power adaptor, hdmi lead, remote control, 2 x AAA batteries, user guide and a quick start guide which is very handy for us blokes that don’t like reading instructions! The quick start guide is brief as you’d expect, but includes diagrams and colour images which really help ease you in to the HDR-S; it also has a remote control diagram showing you what every button does which is useful. Connections on the back of the receiver include power, 1 x HDMI, 2 x SCART (TV/Video), 2 x LNB input, Ethernet, USB (manual updates only), R/L RCA Audio and S/PDIF (optical audio).
The setup process is easy, as you’d expect from any Freesat product. Simply connect to your television via HDMI (you can use Scart but won’t have access to HD channels or up-scaling), your satellite dish via two cables (so you can record one channel whilst watching/recording another – will work with one with limitations) and to your wall outlet via the provided power adaptor (note this is an external brick to further help keep the receiver cool). Once switched on, you will be taken through the usual steps of selecting your picture format (widescreen, 4:3, 576i, 576p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p etc), followed by checking your signal strength and quality, then just enter your UK postcode and the receiver will scan for all the freely available channels. This process takes no more than a few minutes. There are currently 150+ television/radio channels on Freesat, 5 of which are high-definition.
Navigating the channels is simple, as are most options on this HDR-S. You can either press the CH up/down button, or use the navigational arrows to scan the channels and programmes before pressing OK to view them. What Manhattan have included that some others haven’t is the ability to scan for (+12 hours) future programmes on another channel using the arrows, which is great if you are watching something and don’t want to change to that channel to have a look.
The channel guide (EPG) is accessed via the GUIDE menu and whilst I could complain that it takes you to a category page first, requiring another press to get to the list, and doesn’t have a HD category, these are frustrations to be vented at Freesat, not Manhattan who are governed by this default structure. The guide is clear and lists 8 channels at a time and 2 hours worth of programmes, with the option to skip forward/backwards 2 hours as well as 24 hours which I was impressed with on the HD-S, so pleased this has been retained. You can also set reminders and view more programme information from this screen. Sadly though no mini-screen or sound when in the guide, though you do get sound in the other menus and both in the record library; but again, we know this is mainly a Freesat restriction plus is a bandwidth greedy resource in the EPG.
As I and many customers have experienced from the Manhattan Plaza HD-S (non-recorder), the picture and sound quality is excellent, easily on a par with the premium models from Humax and Echostar. The high-definition offered by NHK World HD is crisp and clear and standard definition is suitably up-scaled, albeit a little soft but I like it that way. The sound is basic and clear as you’d expect, though there is the option to use the optical output to your home cinema system for 5.1 Dolby should you wish (subject to programmes being available in that format of course).
The menus are simple and well set out; you can tailor a few picture and sound settings, plus adjust record settings such as a record buffer at the start or end (options are auto, 0 mins, 1 mins, 2 mins, 3 mins, 4 mins, 5 mins), plus you can set the skip forward/backwards time to 10 sec, 30 sec, 40 sec, 60 sec, which is great if you are watching a recording and want to skip part of the programme or adverts without using the fast-forward/rewind buttons.
I’ve covered the non-Freesat mode in the HD-S review so won’t go on about it, but happy to say that Manhattan offer the best option for adding non-Freesat mode channels to a favourites list so you don’t have to keep flicking between Freesat and non-Freesat mode all the time. It is a little fiddly to setup, but once you’ve done it, it works a treat. You can also filter the EPG by favourites too.
On to the most important feature, recording, I must say that whilst the Manhattan Plaza HDR-S is targeting the low to mid-range market, it works exceptionally well; there might be a few little glitches and delays in responding, but they are easily overlooked by the simplicity of use. The HDR-S has a 320GB hard drive capable of recording an advertised 80 hours of HD or 200 hours of SD. To record the programme you are on, you just press the record button; or use the channel banners or EPG guide to do the same. If a series link is available, it will prompt whether you want to record the series or just this one; as well as ask if you want to record in standard or high-definition if available. On that point, there is an option in the menu to default to SD or HD when available which is perfect, rather than it asking each time. Recordings are accessed very easily just by pressing the LIB (library) button on the remote, it will display programmes recording/recorded (plus group those in a series) and if you press the right arrow, show those scheduled to record at a future date. From the recorded list you can press red to delete, star to protect (so it prompts you to delete so you don’t do it by accident), play to preview (in a useful mini-screen) and OK to view. Navigation within playback is fine too, small delays in response but allow you to play, pause, stop, fast-forward/rewind, skip etc; the same options are available in live television mode if you miss something or get interrupted!
On demand services are available from BBC iPlayer and ITV Player, both work very well though basic as they are across all ‘television platform’ receivers and my Internet connection isn’t that great, so couldn’t give a full test.
Are there any bad points? Yes, there are a few minor ones, the remote control whilst easy to hold and navigate is a little cheap and has clunky buttons requiring a firm press and it’s also quite directional; not as bad as the Humax, but not much better; a few times I had to press the button twice to gain a response (this is the weakest point of the product) but it is by no means terrible. I had trouble getting the unit into widescreen from the initial setup, it just wouldn’t work, but as soon as I switched off and back on, it was fine; I’m sure Manhattan will be able to resolve this pre-release. The biggest missing for me is a record light on the front panel; I like to know the receiver is recording so you can plan what to watch, but, it all adds to power consumption so can be forgiven. You also get a slight sound crackle when switching channels or into a menu, but that is being very picky on what is a great device.
In conclusion, this is a straight forward, easy to use receiver suited not just for low/mid range market consumers, but the enthusiast too. It effortlessly accesses channels with excellent picture and sound quality and recording is straight forward. Yes the remote could be better, the unit more responsive and it could no doubt benefit from more features and options, but that isn’t what it is about, it is designed to meet a specific price range and providing it is sold slightly lower than the RRP guide, it will be a cracking buy. If you want a Freesat+HD receiver that is logical, user-friendly, easy to navigate and just does the basics very well, then I’d struggle to find a better option from the current range than the Manhattan Plaza HDR-S.
Joinfreesat score 8 out of 10
The Manhattan Plaza HDR-S is due to launch in July and has an estimated RRP of £189. Contact Satbuyer to be added to their waiting list if you wish to be notified when available (also available through other retailers).
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