High-definition television (HDTV) technology is in its infancy, so buying a satellite tuner like the HDCI-2000 to receive experimental free-to-air HD television signals (such as BBC HD) might initially seem like one step too far into the realms of frivolousness.
Hold your sensible horses though, what if the early adopters of other technologies had thought that way? What if, back in 1982, compact disc players had been met by dreary-eyed shoppers shaking in fear? What if the absence of any CDs to play on it (except Dire Strait's Brothers in Arms) turned them away? The mainstream acceptance of any technology relies on an adventurous few taking the initial plunge.
If you're not the sort of person who enjoys fiddling around with firmware updates via RS232, or working out why the signal from the Humax's HDMI output lacks the depth of blacks on the composite output, you probably won't enjoy this tuner. The HDCI-2000 is not for the faint-hearted. But is there enough chutzpah to this Humax receiver to excite the HD enthusiast? Or do teething problems with the technology fatally undermine the experience?
In the beauty stakes, satellite receivers have never ranked alongside the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Humax HDCI-2000 is typically bland, but it is at least a resigned blandness. The clean lines and utilitarian fascia make no effort to impress, so the unit fits discretely below any television set.
The front panel hinges to reveal two Common Interface (CI) slots which accommodate pay-TV cards. There's talk on some forums of getting this unit to work with Sky cards, for example. No one's entirely clear on where HD satellite transmissions are heading, but it's possible that, as with Freeview, you may be able to subscribe to pay-TV services in the coming months. Alternatively, we may find that the majority of HD stations choose to broadcast for free, using the model established by previously pay-for Freeview stations, like E4.
A series of buttons on the front panel let you switch between video formats, change volume and channel, and toggle from radio to television. The HDCI-2000's clear LCD provides basic channel information.
Things get interesting when you turn the receiver around and explore the rear panel. Humax has provided an impressive range of connectors on this unit -- the appeal of both HDMI and composite outs is hard to understate. This means you can feed an extremely high-quality HD signal to your HDTV set.
For those with older televisions, there's always the option to use the HDCI's SCART connectors. These let you run TV out of one SCART connector and a VCR out of the other. SCART is only good enough for SD, but those making a slow transition from their existing equipment will appreciate the inclusion.
There's LNB IN and OUT for your satellite dish, a USB port and an S/PDIF connector to output digital audio to a suitably equipped amplifier. Overall, the HDCI-2000 has a hobbyist feel to its design. It has the prosaic, functional look of lab equipment -- exactly what you'd expect from fledgling technology at this stage.
The HDCI-2000 will display video broadcast in 1080i, 720p and 576p. These are all the major formats you're likely to come across at the moment. Although the Holy Grail of 1080p is not supported, it's unlikely we'll see that broadcast by a commercial satellite channel for a long time yet. It's also extremely unlikely that your HDTV will display 1080p anyway.
The receiver is DVB-S and DVB-S2 compatible. This means it can receive both the original and newer standard of digital satellite transmissions. DVB-S2 is claimed to improve reception by using better error correction and adaptive coding. It's a fusion of the consumer and professional digital satellite broadcasting methods and should mean a better quality of image.