Goodman's GDB300HD is nothing if not a bargain. At around £70, it's by far the cheapest Freeview HD receiver we've seen to date. In fact, if you look at Comet's page for the device, you'll see it's possible to spend nearly as much on a single, 1m HDMI cable. For people on a budget who are keen to get into high-definition viewing, the GDB300HD could be ideal.
Looks good, feels cheap
The box itself looks pretty attractive when you first see it. It's shiny and black, which means it will fit into almost every AV system easily. The front has virtually nothing on it, save for four LEDs in a square configuration, and a power button on the right-hand side.
Although it looks quite cool, the plastic is cheap, and it marks very easily. The unit also feels quite flimsy and light. But, then again, it's a box that lives under your TV -- it's not designed to be used as a crash helmet or aeroplane, so build quality isn't a primary concern. We can also see the GDB300HD being used mainly with secondary TVs, in which case it will probably only be used occasionally.
On the back, there's every socket you could ever need. An HDMI output provides the HD signal, but there's a pair of Scart sockets for older TVs too. There's also a digital audio output, which is of limited use, but we'll talk more about that later. Aerial loop-through means that you can connect the box to your aerial, and then connect your TV to the box and continue to get reception on your television without faffing about with adaptors.
We were pleasantly surprised by the style of Goodmans' menus when we first fired the box up. The menus look contemporary and are easy on the eye. The user interface looks like something that belongs on a hi-def TV, rather than the mess all too commonly seen on Freeview boxes. Everything is clear and easy to understand. We're impressed.
The eight-day electronic programme guide is also very funky-looking. Although there's no record option in the EPG, if you select a show that's due to air in the future, pressing the 'OK' button will set a reminder. If the show is on air at the time you're looking, pressing 'OK' takes you directly to the channel. It's simple and easy to use.
One issue we noticed was that the box isn't particularly quick to respond to menu commands from the remote. Often there's a pause while the box thinks. This isn't a huge problem, but you may find yourself assuming that you haven't pressed a button properly and pressing it again. This can mean you end up issuing commands you didn't mean to. You'll get used to this over time but it can make for a slightly frustrating user experience.
Top picture quality
For such a cheap box, we have no complaints at all about the picture quality. Standard-definition channels looked pretty good to us -- at least, they looked as good as they can when they're so compressed by the broadcasters.
HD images look fantastic, especially if you get a well-produced programme on BBC or Channel 4. Hi-def pictures can be viewed at their native 1080i resolution, or the box can optionally 'upscale' them to 1080p. We don't see much value in the upscaling functionality, as your TV will probably do a better job. Nevertheless, using this feature doesn't seem to damage the image at all.
While the GDB300HD doesn't really threaten high-end boxes, it will certainly impress people who've yet to enjoy HD on their TV. Goodmans has done a great job in terms of picture quality.
Dolby Digital issue
The GDB300HD suffers from the same problem as other Freeview HD boxes. Put simply, Freeview HD channels tend not to use Dolby Digital for their 5.1-channel audio, preferring instead to use the more efficient AAC, or the newer and even more efficient HE-AAC, format. This is all well and good, but most AV receivers won't be able to understand 5.1 audio in AAC. That means that you won't get surround sound from this box, no matter how you connect it to an AV receiver.
Other boxes get around this by transcoding the AAC audio into the Dolby Digital AC3 format, which is universally understood. The GDB300HD can't do this, although it's safe to assume that most people after a budget box like this wouldn't choose to use that feature anyway.
Ethernet for future use
It's no big secret that, at some point, iPlayer will come to Freeview HD, as it did to freesat. For that reason, a box must include an Ethernet socket to obtain Freeview HD certification. When iPlayer on Freeview HD does launch, the GDB300HD will be able to take advantage of it. That's great news.
The Goodmans GDB300HD may not be all that fast, and it's not made from the highest-quality materials, but it only costs £70. For the price, we think it's a steal. With BBC One HD launching soon, and ITV1 HD, 4 HD and BBC HD already available, there's enough Freeview HD material to make it worth buying.
Edited by Charles Kloet