There's nothing more satisfying than buying a digital set top box that works perfectly straight out of the box. The Humax PVR-SMART is one such box, well, for the most part, anyway.
- Dual tuners, Good picture quality
- USB problems, MP3 and JPEG playback issues
Despite the problems using the USB port and the slight inconvenience of the remote control and MP3 and JPEG playback, we found this unit very easy to use for watching and recording TV and very reliable. Its picture quality was excellent and it was also a very quiet operator, with only one small rear fan cooling the unit and only slight hard disk noise evident during boot-up and seek sequences. It's also well priced for a dual-tuner set top box. We highly recommend it.
Price$ 699.00 (AUD)
It's a decent looking set top box with a 160GB hard drive built into it that can record around 100 hours of standard definition digital television. The best part is, it has two digital tuners installed so you can record two programs at once, or record one channel while watching another (it can also do picture-in-picture). The player uses these tuners transparently and only one antenna input cable is required to plug into this unit, so there's no need for any messy cable splitters or loop-back cables. However, there is a loop out port that can be used if you want to share your antenna with another device in your wall unit, such as your VCR.
Following installation, the PVR-SMART scanned and found all available channels in the metropolitan area very quickly and displayed them all brilliantly. Indeed, the performance of the tuners in this unit was fantastic during testing, using a rooftop antenna installation. Switching channels took hardly any time, and there was no unnecessary lag going from one channel to another. The name of the channel we were watching showed up clearly on the unit's LED screen.
A feature we liked is how the unit switches aspect ratios at the press of a button - without any problems. This is handy if you have a small TV and want to jump to "full-screen" when watching a widescreen program.
Pausing live TV worked flawlessly in our tests and this feature is set by default - no need to enable it in the system menu. Recording options
To record TV programs, you can hit the record button manually and adjust the length of time for your recording, use the episode guide and click on a listing, or you can set the scheduler. Note you will only find now and next data as Australia's free-to-air networks do not supply data for a whole week or even a whole day.
All methods are simple to use although the manual recording option defaults to 30 minutes so you absolutely must adjust the recording length if you want to keep recording past this time frame. The scheduler has the ability to handle two recordings simultaneously from different channels, even if the times overlap.
Play back of recordings is through the on-screen display, but access to the playback menu through the remote control is inconvenient as the menu button resides under a sliding lid. We also found the process of deleting recordings to be rather tedious as it can only be done by going through the main system menu. From here, recordings can also be edited to remove unwanted scenes (or adverts) and to set new start and end points.
The USB 2.0 port at the front of this unit lets you transfer digital recordings to your PC. We had mixed results using this port in testing as the connection seemed unreliable. Some small files transferred without a hitch, but others (hour and two hour programs) crashed halfway and required us to cut the power to the unit before we could start it again. The files that did transfer to our PC were not playable in any of our media players or video software: this is something we are still trying to resolve.
The PVR-SMART can also store and play back MP3 files and JPEG photos. You can transfer these to the unit using the USB 2.0 port, they are then saved to a separate partition on the hard drive. The playback interface of MP3s is not intuitive, however, and high-resolution photos take an eternity to load before they are displayed on the screen (640x480 photos are optimal).
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