Like its sibling -- the HD-FOX T2 -- the Humax HDR-FOX T2 is an HD Ready receiver for accessing the latest high-definition channels via Freeview. The difference, however, is that the HDR-FOX T2 adds a 500GB hard drive and twin tuners, turning it into a fully featured personal video recorder. While the non-recording HD-FOX T2 is £150, this machine is just nudging £300.
Externally, the HDR-FOX is a very different beast to its PVR-less brother. It's bigger and has a shiny case -- and it's amazing how much this improves the look. While there is nothing wrong with the design of the HD-FOX T2, this newer model brings a much more pleasant style.
In addition to a different look, there's also an all-new front panel. Placed in the centre is a round button, which is surrounded by a ring of LEDs. This button enables you to turn the recorder on and off, and the LED gives you an idea of what's happening. When the box is in standby, the ring is orange. When it's on, the light is blue, and a red ring is better news than with most devices, because it means the machine is recording.
The remote control remains the same as with Humax's other machines. It's a decent size, has reasonably good button placement and is generally a pleasure to use. It's not perfect, though. We did find ourselves struggling to track down the menu button, as it's not in the place you'd expect! This is only a minor gripe, and not enough to tarnish our opinion of the styling Humax has invested in this machine.
The great Dolby Digital fiasco
When people think of surround sound, they generally associate it with the name 'Dolby'. This is fair enough, since most DVDs and Blu-ray movies use Dolby Digtial of various flavours. When you hear that Freeview HD has surround sound, you might also assume that the channels use the same system as Sky and disc-based movies. However, that is not always the case. With Freeview HD, broadcasters have opted to use a slightly different format for delivering 5.1 audio. Known as AAC, or in future iterations HE-AAC, the surround-sound format isn't always accepted by surround-sound receivers. This means that equipment capable of decoding Dolby Digital from your DVDs might not cope with Dolby Digital delivered via AAC on Freeview HD.
The good news is, firstly, that the previous paragraph is now over, and secondly, that the Humax HDR can transcode AAC sound to the more AV-receiver-friendly AC3 audio. That means all AV receivers that accept Dolby Digital will be able to present full 5.1 channel surround sound on Freeview HD channels.
Catch-up TV ready
With Sky Player, iPlayer and 4oD-type services springing up for every broadcaster in the UK, it's no surprise that Humax has included support for these services. Sadly, there won't be anything available on any of Humax's current devices at launch. The company does, however, promise it will add on-demand services via the Humax Portal in due course.
While we're pleased to hear these services might appear in the future, we are slightly disappointed Humax hasn't included them here. After all, other set-top box manufacturers are offering them, and that's going to put Humax at a huge disadvantage.
Picture and sound quality
The good news about the HDR-FOX T2 is that the picture and sound quality are both surperb. HD channels look totally stunning and we're pleased to see the Humax relays all of their broadcast quality onto our TV. As we often say about HD, though, what you see on your TV and the quality of video depends on the quality of the production. HD can seem variable at times, but when it's at its best, all of the HD channels on Freeview look amazing. If you want to see the best picture and test HD material, look out for Doctor Who, Luther and movies on 4HD. Transformers was recently shown, and it blew us away with its stunning picture.
Most Freeview HD broadcasts are 1080i resolution in the UK, but all Freeview HD-branded boxes must be able to upscale to 1080p. This is unique to Freeview HD which, unlike freesat HD, isn't hamstrung by Sky's existing hardware and infrastructure. If your TV is 1080p capable -- and most modern ones are -- the box will upscale SD and HD video to this format. In future, if broadcasters do use 1080p, this box will also be capable of relaying that to your TV.
Sound on all channels was pretty decent, but you'll need to pipe it through an AV receiver to get the very best out of the HD channels' 5.1 audio. Even SD channels will sound better when sent through an external sound system.
Home networking and media playback
Humax has, once again, added some decent media playback to this device. You can view photos and video or listen to music from external USB devices, or via your home network. It's a worthy system, but video codec support is quite limited, and the newer MKV container isn't supported, so it might not be all that relevant to people downloading video regularly.
One superb feature the Humax offers is the ability to share video with other Humax devices. In fact, other devices might be able to access SD content, but HD is strictly only available to other Humax hardware. This means you can record a show on your lounge HDR-FOX, then watch it upstairs, in bed, on your HD-FOX. It's great, but you'll have to own a whole heap of Humax hardware for it to pay dividends!
A pricing mistake
Our major problem with the Humax HDR-FOX T2 is the price. While the machine does a terrific job, looks superb and works wonderfully, we balk at paying between £150 and £180 extra for a 500GB hard drive and a second tuner. When dealing with HD video, we would prefer to see a 1TB-capacity drive fitted.
What's more, Humax's decision to add recording to the HD-FOX T2 means that, for half the price, you can have access to Freeview HD and record channels onto your own storage device. Okay, this is basic PVR functionality, and no one is pretending that the two are the same, but the numbers just don't add up for us, and that's irritating.
Despite the relatively high price of the Humax HDR-FOX T2, we still love it. It's attractive, usable and has top-notch picture and sound quality. It's an easy-to-use PVR, too, which is a nice break from the tedious user interfaces we so often find on devices like this. The EPG is fresh and easy to use and we love series-linking and the prospective ability to share video with other Humax devices on your home network. At £300, it's not cheap, but if you find it at a lower price, it's definitely worth considering.
Edited by Emma Bayly