When Freeview launched, we grudgingly accepted the need for a separate set-top box. Most TVs at the time didn't have digital tuners -- and those that did were idiotically overpriced. Then TVs got built-in Freeview with the transition to flat panels, and we finally got rid of one more box. But now, if we want to take advantage of Freeview HD, we need to resort to -- you guessed it -- a set-top box.
Still, if you have to put up with a set-top box, it might as well be one that does something awesome like Freeview HD, and looks as good as this little TechniSat HDFV does. There's more to life than looking good -- ask any geek-- so we need to examine this £150 Freeview HD box and decide if it's up to scratch.
Easy on the eye
The HDFV is a compact and stylish box, finished in glossy black at the front, and a more traditional matte black around the rest of its chassis. The front panel has a simple display, which we think is chronically under-used. For example, instead of showing 'BBC One', it says 'P1'. It's unnecessarily basic stuff like this that we hoped would be banished when analogue finally died. It seems that's not the case, though, and that makes us sad.
The remote control is something of a triumph. Okay, it's not going to win any awards, but it has a sturdy feel to it and the buttons are firm. When navigating the menus and electronic programme guide, we found it pretty simple to use. The only thing worth noting is that there's no 'back' button, which meant we ended up leaving the menu when we only wanted to go to the previous screen. You can, however, press the green key to back up, but it's not always obvious.
Connectivity is decent, too. HDMI is the only way to get high-definition images to your TV. If you're using this on a TV without HDMI, you'll be stuck with either composite video or Scart. If you use these, we honestly can't see why you'd buy this receiver, which is intended as an HD box first and foremost.
More than just a Freeview HD receiver
For £150, we would expect the TechniSat to have a couple of tricks up its sleeve. Happily, it does, with the most impressive being its ability to record TV programmes. But how, I hear you ask, does it record anything when it doesn't have a built-in hard drive? The answer is, predictably enough: using USB drives.
You have a choice here. You can either opt to record onto a USB memory stick, or a larger hard drive. There are pros and cons to either approach and you'll need to pick the solution that best suits you. USB sticks are convenient because they just slot in the back, don't use much power and can be swapped out when full. Hard disks are larger, so don't need to be swapped but they also need extra power, and that means you'll need to plug them into the mains, which will eat more electricity.
It's also worth pointing out that not all USB memory sticks -- or hard drives, for that matter -- are fast enough to record TV onto. We tried recording onto a slower thumb drive and all that happened was the TechniSat stuttered a fair bit, and didn't record the show properly. The machine has some diagnostic routines that will test a drive first and tell you if it is fast enough to record, so we suggest you pay attention to what it says before leaving it to record your favourite TV show.
If you have a drive of some sort connected, you can pause live TV, which we find incredibly useful. Don't expect this to perform as well as Sky+ does. To avoid missing a crucial moment in Jeremy Kyle, however, it's dead handy.
You can't watch another channel while you're recording because the TechnicSat only has a single tuner. We also noticed that the device displays a little recording icon on screen when it's saving your show. This icon might annoy you and, worse, could leave a semi-permanent mark on your plasma TV.
EPG and menus
We like the visual style of the menus, which are large and bold. This is especially useful if you're a little older, or your eyesight isn't what it once was. On the downside, the clarity of menus was slightly spoiled by their slightly confusing layout and cryptic naming conventions.
The EPG is excellent, though, offering a look at the next eight days' worth of TV shows. Recording a programme can also be done via the EPG -- or by simply pressing the record button on the remote. To program such a recording, just select the show, press 'okay' and tell it you want to record.
Picture and sound quality
We have to say, we were impressed by the picture the TechniSat produced. Plugged into our Sony TV, it rivalled the built-in tuner for image quality. Sharpness was good, but not excessive, and the colours seemed natural, if a little on the muted side.
Sound is, as you'd expect, decent too. We plugged our machine into the TV via our Onkyo 5007 AV receiver and enjoyed the full benefit of greatly improved sound. You get the option to connect the HDFV to a sound system using stereo audio, or digital via RCA coaxial. That means everything, from your Hi-Fi to a soundbar, should be able to make use of much better quality sound.
Some exciting extras
The TechniSat has the distinction of a three-year manufacturer's warranty included. That's super news, and we long for the day when all consumer electronics are backed up with such a tight promise. You also get an HDMI lead thrown in, which we're very happy to see -- finding your own when you've just bought an expensive new piece of equipment seems a little mean.
We definitely like the TechniSat. It's small and stylish, but there are a couple of design problems we aren't so keen on. We've mentioned the display, which seems inadequate for the era in which we live, but we're also annoyed that there is only one USB socket. That means, if you want to make use of the Wi-Fi and the USB record, you'll need to invest in a USB hub. The Wi-Fi dongle also costs extra, which in this day and age makes us a little grumpy, too. Why not just build it in?
We think TechiSat could have added support for more media playback types and included access to the BBC iPlayer or other catch-up TV services. It's not the crime of the century, but we would be even more keen to recommend this box if it had gone a little further.
Shop around and you might be able to save a few quid on this TechniSat HDFV. We liked its performance a great deal and we can't help but think it's a good choice for a Freeview HD receiver. Still, if you can possibly wait, prices should start to fall rapidly in the next year. In fact, freesat HD boxes are considerably cheaper, which might be a better option for people with a satellite dish on their house. Even so, there's nothing here that stops us from suggesting this box as a good buy, so if you feel inclined, go right ahead and get one.
Edited by Emma Bayly