Footie fans keen to enjoy the imminent World Cup in glorious high-def are snapping up Freeview HD boxes like old ladies at a cake sale. And there’s a growing number of basic HD receivers to choose from, offering hi-def pictures without the added complication and expense of PVR functionality.
Despite being the cheapest way to get Freeview HD, £150 is still a lot to stump up no matter how much better the picture looks than regular Freeview. As a result, these receivers have to work hard to impress, so how does this one from French brand Metronic fare?
It gets off to a dodgy start in the looks department, sporting a design that would have looked dated in 1990. The casing is a plasticky black affair, with no curves or other concessions to modernity, and the seven-segment red LEDs on the front panel are yucky. But on the plus side, it’s remarkably slim and can be easily hidden.
On the back you get a bog standard array of sockets, including an HDMI port (which provides 1080p, 1080i, 720p and 576p output), an Ethernet socket for future IPTV services like BBC iPlayer, a single RGB Scart and an optical digital audio output. There’s no USB port for digital media playback or software updates though.
Like the external design, the box’s onscreen menus are nothing special. Metronic has gone for a tabbed folder look, which is pleasant enough but confusing in places and seem rudimentary next to the lavish graphics of the Humax HD-FOX T2. The cursor is also quite slow to respond, while the remote’s cumbersome buttons and anti-ergonomic shape don’t make life easy either.
The 7-day EPG packs in a grid of 10 channels, with a few handy options to search for specific shows, but it’s a shame live TV isn’t playing. Also disappointing is the now/next banner superimposed over the TV picture, which only shows the names of the programmes and not a synopsis, even if you press the "i" button again. Given that some boxes even let you search the schedules using this banner, this is very restrictive.
For all its flaws, the Metronic sure delivers a good-looking high-def picture. We took a gander at England’s World Cup warm-up games on ITV1 HD and the clarity of the image is stunning. High-def makes all the difference with sports broadcasts, as you can actually see the detail on each player, and they’re not surrounded by a puffy cloud of mosquito noise - as is the case on ITV1’s dismal SD broadcasts.
Standard-def channels are less impressive of course, but the picture is still of a decent standard - bold, colourful and sharply defined. Noise encroaches onto the picture but much of that is part of the source broadcast itself. Sound is clear and audible too, making this a solid performer.
With retro looks (not in a good way), a lack of juicy features like digital media playback and a clunky operating system, the T2 HD Zapbox is one of the least impressive Freeview HD receivers we’ve tested so far. If it was £50 cheaper, we’d be more forgiving, but better boxes are available for a similar price or less. But if you defy our advice and end up buying one, at least its picture quality is up to scratch.