Freeview has been broadcasting HD content since the end of last year - although the official launch of its HD services only took place this March - so it's odd that manufacturers of set-top boxes have taken so long to release new models for Freeview HD.
None of the Freeview HD recorders that we were promised back in March have yet materialized. However, there is a small batch of basic receivers available now, so here's a quick round-up of the options on offer for people who want to watch BBC HD, ITV HD and Channel 4 HD without paying a subscription.
Price: £150 More info: Goodmans More info: www.goodmansdigital.co.uk - but not updated lately…
Size (WxDxH): 27x16x5cm Key features: Freeview HD receiver with 8-day EPG, 1080p upscaling for SD content and Dolby Digital Plus audio. Connections: RF In/Out, 1xHDMI, 2xSCART, 1xEthernet, 1xUSB, 1xSPDIF
Goodmans' website may be rubbish - it doesn't actually mention the GDB300HD yet - but the GDB300HD is nice and easy to use and, at just under £150, is one of the cheapest Freeview HD receivers currently available.
The low price is reflected in the somewhat flimsy build quality, and it doesn't even have an LCD display, but all the basic features and connectors you need are still there nonetheless. It has an HDMI interface, two SCARTs, Ethernet, USB and SPDIF with support for Dolby Digital Plus, although there's no CI slot for top-up services.
A large fold-out poster provides very clear installation instructions to help beginners get started, and the image quality for HD channels is very good, although the upscaling feature doesn't really seem to produce any obvious improvement in the quality of SD channels. The menu system and eight-day programme guide are straightforward enough, although the remote control is a bit basic - there's no button to instantly call up a channel list for quick browsing, and we also found that the GDB300HD was sometimes a little sluggish responding to commands from the remote control.
It does have a couple of rough edges, but the GDB300HD's (relatively) low cost and ease of use of may appeal to people who are new to HD and digital technologies.
One of the cheapest Freeview HD receivers, easy to use for beginners Minus points
Still expensive for a basic receiver, sluggish response to the remote control
Price: £180 More info: Humax Size (WxDxH): 28x20x4.5cm Key features: Freeview HD receiver, with 8-day EPG, Dolby Digital Plus audio, 1080p upscaling of SD content, DLNA support for streaming media devices Connections: RF In/Out, 1xHDMI, 2xSCART, 1xUSB, Ethernet, SPDIF, RCA video/stereo audio
Humax HD-FOX T2
It's fairly expensive, but the HD-FOX T2 is a well-designed and versatile Freeview HD receiver.
In addition to the standard HDMI and twin SCART connectors, the T2 also provides a set of RCA connectors for audio/video output. There's an Ethernet port, and a USB port for playing media files off a memory stick, and the T2 also supports the DLNA networking standard, allowing it to stream files off a games console or media server on your home network. The only obvious feature that's missing is a CI slot for top-up cards.
High-definition channels such as BBC HD look great, although - as generally seems to be the case with these receivers - the upscaling feature makes very little difference to the quality of conventional SD content. The on-screen menu system and remote control are both well thought out and easy to use however. The eight-day EPG displays a preview of the current channel, and there's a translucent pop-up channel list for quickly browsing through channels and creating lists of favourite channels.
Admittedly, a price of almost £180 is quite steep for a receiver with no recording capabilities, but if you're determined to get Freeview HD sooner rather than later then the T2 is one of the best options currently available.
Easy to set up and use, well-designed menu system, DLNA networking Minus points
Expensive, no CI slot, manual is a bit vague at times