It might not boast as many high-def channels as Sky HD or Virgin, but Freesat has provided salvation for thousands of viewers who want HD, but simply can’t afford the steep subscription fees. That is, before Freeview HD reared its head.
The trouble is, viewers who also want to record Freesat channels have only had Panasonic’s ultra-pricey Blu-ray combis and the Humax FOXSAT-HDR to choose from. But thanks to companies like Sagem, Grundig and Goodmans, the Freesat PVR market is widening, which should mean prices will start to drop as a result.
Grundig’s first Freesat PVR boasts a 500GB hard-disk drive, which equates to around 312 hours of standard-def material or 125 hours of HD. Anyone who fills that up either needs to get out more or to work out where the delete button is. Humax’s FOXSAT-HDR only features a 320GB hard-disk, which hands Grundig the size advantage, although it is more expensive. A 320GB version of the Grundig is also available.
Its twin Freesat tuners let you record one channel and watch another or record two channels simultaneously, and the range of Freesat+ features is designed to make recording simple. However, Series Link is clumsily integrated here - you have to set the programme to record in the EPG, then move to a separate recording library menu and find the Series Link option.
Connections include an HDMI output that delivers upscaled SD and native 720p/1080i signals to your TV, Scarts for a TV and recorder, an Ethernet port for accessing on-demand services like BBC iPlayer (which is now available on Freesat) and a USB port that sadly won’t let you play media content.
The smart, straightforward onscreen design is likely to appeal to beginners and experts alike. There’s nothing complex or niggly about the menus - the cursor is responsive, plus submenus and jargon are kept to a minimum. Channel tuning is quick and like most other Freesat boxes you can search for non-Freesat channels, although they’re not added to the EPG.
This programme guide is uncluttered and easy to follow, using the horizontal timeline structure favoured by Sky+, while the superb Library list lets you preview recordings in a small screen at the top (which also shows live TV). Scheduled timer recordings are listed at the bottom, ruling out the need for a separate timer menu.
It’s just a shame that Grundig couldn’t apply the same sense of logic to the remote. The channel change, Library and EPG keys are located right down the bottom, making them awkward to access.
The GUFSDTR500HD produces fantastic picture quality, most obviously with high-def pictures on the BBC HD channel. Detail sharpness, colour depth and edge definition are right on the money, resulting in pictures that’ll make your eyes pop out like a Tex Avery cartoon. Off-air recordings share this pristine quality, with no obvious signs of deterioration from the original broadcast.
Although they lack the same wow factor, SD pictures are also impressive. They’re draped in solid, natural colours with tightly contained edges and crisp detail. There is a pinch of mosquito noise here and there, and some shimmering on fast movement, but it’s well within acceptable limits.
All of which makes the GUFSDTR500HD a decent choice for anyone looking for a way of watching and recording free HD - it’s uncomplicated, attractive and delivers high-def pictures with the required panache.
Our only qualm is the price - £300 is a lot of anyone’s money, particularly when you can find the Humax a lot cheaper online. The older FOXSAT-HDR might pack a smaller hard-disk, but with features like USB media playback and external HDD support, it might just sway punters looking for a little more versatility from their Freesat box.