You won’t find a cheaper Freeview HD set-top box on sale in the high street before the big kick-off in South Africa. And nor will you find a set-top box this basic, but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker since the Bush DVB680 delivers high-definition and upscaled standard-definition channels almost as well as any Freeview HD box of any price.
Let’s start with the drawbacks and limitations of this basic black box. On sale throughout the UK at Argos, the DVB680 is no looker - see its bog-standard black shell and small red-on-black LED display for proof of that. Bookending that are a cluster of logos and a gap in the design where a viewing card-hungry Conditional Access Module (CAM) slot should be. Sadly, it’s empty, meaning add-on subscription TV packages - such as Top Up TV - are off the menu. That’s a shame given the hope that Sky Sports channels could soon be available on such a deal.
Elsewhere on the back is a digital optical audio output, a RF in and out, and a Scart in case you decide you really don’t want to watch in high definition. Note the absence of a USB 2.0 slot; most Freeview HD boxes have one for software updates, others use it for DivX playback and suchlike. The Bush manages neither.
What the DVB680 does have in the way of future proofing is an Ethernet port, which means you can attach the box to a broadband home network. Aside from downloading software updates from Bush - something that can also be done over-the-air - there’s little point to it for now, since it’s merely waiting for Freeview to begin carrying on-demand TV services such as iPlayer.
That could come early in 2011; for now the Bush is left with its built-in DVB-T2 tuner, which takes its time searching for and tuning-in the 50-or-so Freeview channels, including the all-important BBC HD, ITV 1 HD and either Channel Four HD (in England) or S4C Cirlan (in Wales). As well as taking an age, the DVB680 failed find any high-def channels at the first time of asking, and managed to lose the frequencies for a number of other channels during our test.
Software on the DVB680 is basic at best, with a 7-day electronic programme guide that can be searched - or rather, filtered - by genre, channel and text, though that’s a long-winded process. It’s not difficult to get to know the interface as such, but it brings little joy; commands from the oversized remote often get lost, while it’s not obvious what the myriad unlabelled buttons actually do until you’ve been using the DVB680 for a while. Still, there’s an effective zoom option that zeros-in on 1 hour in the schedules.
Picture-wise the DVB680 is decent, offering sharp images from BBC HD in our test that had plenty of depth and riotous colours. Switch to a SD channel such as ITV and the quality drops off, but not as much as you might expect; the DVB680 may have cut a few corners, but it upscales reasonably well. At its core this is a reasonable option for anyone after a cheap option for the World Cup. If you plan to use it a lot for HD channels in the long run, however, it might be wise to suss-out the slightly pricier - but eminently more likeable - competition.
This is Bush’s budget attempt to make three high-def channels available for a small upgrade and, as such, is works. But with basic Freeview boxes selling for as little as £30, the DVB680 is still an expensive purchase for most, and its low feature count, below average build quality and rudimentary software make it a means to an end only; excellent HD and decent upscaling just about save the day.