ADB i-CAN Easy HD 2851T receiver
Wow - a Freeview HD receiver that does other stuff! Not only does this debut box from ADB feature a cutting-edge DVB-T2 tuner, but it also sports an interface for the BBC iPlayer - and a quite magnificent one, at that.
Its multimedia talents don't stretch to the USB slot on the rear panel; it's only for software upgrades - some DivX or DivX HD capability would have made this an all-conquering proposition for a high-def home.
The Linux OS-powered iPlayer interface is good looking, easy to read and incredibly simple, but it's not as fast as, say, the similar service on Virgin Media. We used a 10Mbps broadband connection, though it should work on a 2Mbps service - any slower and you'll have to use "normal" as opposed to "high quality" settings.
As well as regular iPlayer fare, the i-Can also deals in on-demand programmes from the BBC HD channel - now that's a nice extra. Of course, there's plenty in HD of questionable merit (should Shaun the Sheep, Flog It! and Over The Rainbow really be in high-def?), but there's also a lot of must-see TV. Choose a programme - we opted for Doctor Who - and you get a synopsis and "more episodes"/"more like this" options as well as details about the programme's duration and availability. Once again, all this information is presented simply and is impossible to miss.
As is the action; BBC HD on-demand programmes are hugely superior to standard-def fare, though they still don't approach live Freeview HD channels in terms of detail, depth and fluidity.
And while the i-Can's iPlayer interface is superbly simple, it can hang a little; pausing and then playing programmes, and scanning (at either 4x, 8x, 16x, 32x and 64x speeds, or using the left/right buttons on the remote to move through a visual progress bar) through material does require a little patience though the box tends to catch-up with itself after 5 or so seconds. There's also a lengthy pause of around 10 seconds when you select to play a programme. Still, that's broadband TV for you, we suppose.
It's a generally brilliant interface, though connection issues do rear-up occasionally; once we were presented with an "Address not found" panel when loading the iPlayer menus. Elsewhere on the interface are options for parental control, a nifty "how to" guide and a favourites lists for both TV and radio. There are other nice extras, such as the chance to change the volume of adverts, and a button to toggle between 576i, 720p, 1080i and 1080p.
Switch to the i-Can's DVB-T2 tuner and the interface is equally gorgeous; a rotary-style central menu system is dominated by graphics and is easy to use, with an excellent 8-day EPG constantly reacting to where the cursor is positioned by expanding a small synopsis of the programmes listed.
Tune-in to ITV 1 HD from the i-Can's DVB-T2 tuner and we're talking some seriously detailed images and loads of depth - this is a box truly set-up for the World Cup.
Switch back to BBC 3 - a likely location for games such as New Zealand vs Slovakia and Switzerland vs Honduras, we'd suspect - and the SD performance isn't anywhere near as good. Obviously there's less detail, but the overall picture is studded with digital blocking and picture noise.
The remote, too, is a letdown. Too small and light, it feels flimsy and needs to be better weighted to feel comfortable in the hand, while some of the key buttons are too small; we made a lot of clumsy mistakes while exploring the onscreen menus. The subtitles mode also seems to have a mind of its own, seemingly switching on and off at will.
What you will notice is that the i-Can's remote does have a red "record" button; for the moment it is defunct, but we'll wager a software upgrade in future will make it possible to record to an external USB drive or memory stick. The remote also sports two icon commands - a "spinning world" and a movie graphic. The former is presumably to initiate interactive services, but it does not. It's a shame, because the remote could benefit from a shortcut button to BBC iPlayer, as found on Cello's similar stab at iPlayer on its iViewer LCD TV.
Featuring two stunning interfaces for both BBC iPlayer and Freeview HD, it's initially hard to find fault with the i-Can. Though a pleasure to use with impressive hi-def images, the i-Can nevertheless falls at the final hurdle by proffering very average picture quality from standard definition channels, and a remote that needs a tweak or two. Both could annoy in the long run, though at £129 the i-Can still seems an absolute bargain.