As we approach kick-off in Johannesburg, the market for Freeview HD set-top boxes is getting fierce. Prices are being slashed for boxes that offer both HD pictures and some nifty extras - can this back-to-basics box from British brand Linsar survive?

The answer is in this digital box’s simplicity. For there is no wireless media streaming, no DivX or DivX HD playback, and no BBC iPlayer widget available on the FHD1; you will find these features on similar boxes from Humax, Icecrypt and i-Can that generally cost £10 more (at least at RRP - look online for lowest prices).

Is the FHD1 the patriotic choice? Manufactured by Linsar and sold in John Lewis as that store’s cheapest Freeview HD box, the FHD1 does have a few tricks up it sleeve. Its chief future-proof feature is its rear panel’s Ethernet LAN port, which will come into its own given time. Once Freeview makes broadband-delivered on-demand fare such as ITV Player and BBC iPlayer part of the interactive service - something that should happen late this year or early next - the FHD1 will only require a software upgrade to be fully compliant.

On the other hand, the FHD1 does not include a Common Interface port, making it impossible to add viewing cards for subscription TV add-on channels - such as the Top-Up TV package that could soon contain Sky Sports channels.

The FHD1 is set-up well to serve a HD Ready TV though; an HDMI output makes sure of that, though the appearance of a Scart socket doesn’t seem necessary. An RF aerial and loopthrough slot mark the end of its picture ports, with sound being offered either as a bitstream or PCM feed over HDMI, or to a home cinema amp through a digital optical audio output.

The FHD1’s remote control represents a good stab at adding some style, though its long arched design proves tricky to operate while holding with one hand. The graphical user interface it controls is equally flawed; its lilac and red menus look one-dimensional, soft and a tad old fashioned, especially when compared to similar efforts from the likes of the Humax HD-Fox T2, Icecrypt’s T2200, i-Can’s Easy HD or Philips DTR5520.

Those onscreen menus - including its 7-day electronic programme guide - did jam a few times during our test and aren’t always responsive enough, though when they’re behaving it’s a cinch to operate the FHD1.

So far, so mediocre, but this black box takes a huge leap forward when we tune in its high-def TV channels. The BBC HD channel’s rolling daytime show reel shows-up some fabulous images, none of which are blighted by any kind of picture noise. Solid, clean and with realism a-plenty, the FHD1’s high-def performance carries on with SD channels. Almost all Freeview HD set-top boxes claim to upscale SD to 1080p HD quality, though don't all manage it successfully. The FHD1 isn’t in that camp; in our test ITV is bolstered to a level that makes it watchable on a bigscreen TV - surely the destiny of Linsar’s FHD1.

Verdict

Pin-sharp high-def TV and excellent upscaling make this small set-top box one to savour, though its old fashioned user interface, lack of Common Interface slot (for Top-Up TV) and otherwise basic feature count make it of questionable value when compared to busier boxes on sale.

Sections TV