With the World Cup rapidly approaching and Freeview HD expanding its reach across the country, many are looking to bring this goodness to their existing HD television, purchased in the last few years, but before anyone had made a firm decision about terrestrial broadcasts for high definition content.
The Goodmans GDB300HD (and the Grundig GUD300HD which offers the same package) is a basic Freeview HD set top box, that at around £150 offers one of the easiest methods of getting the upgrade to broadcast HD. We've seen cheaper boxes announced, but we predict that the Goodmans will be widely available and that the price will soon fall from what seems a little steep at the moment.
Encased in black glossy plastic there is little to the design. A central detail gives you four LEDs to indicate it is switched on, encircled by a chrome-effect ring. It measures 42 x 257 x 165mm and comes with an HDMI and aerial cable in the box. Around the back you'll find the important connections: HDMI, 2 Scart, optical audio, Ethernet and USB.
Of course, you also get the aerial loop-though, so if you want to persist with your existing in-built tuner for whatever reason, you don't have to have the Goodmans box switched on. Having tested the box with a couple of TVs, the loop-through didn't appear to introduce any perceptible loss in quality.
This being HD, you're likely to ignore all the connections except for the HDMI. If you have an older AV receiver or amplifier, you may wish to use the optical audio connection. The box is branded Dolby Digital Plus, which Goodmans told us means it will output DD and DD+ audio over HDMI to a compatible device, but there is also no guarantee that you'll see any Dolby Digital content being broadcast. There is still something of a debate surrounding Freeview HD audio formats when it comes to the promised 5.1 surround sound, so those who are looking to hook-up to an AV receiver may wish to wait for further clarification on this issue before parting with their cash.
The Ethernet and USB connections at this time offer no function - the Ethernet connection is indicated as "for future internet services" and the USB for factory software upgrade. There is also an OTA upgrade option in the menu, as well as a listing for network upgrade.
The tuner itself seemed stable enough and quickly scanned and found the new HD channels, occupying slots 50, 51 and 52. BBC HD is good enough to fill their non-HD broadcast time with preview material in HD so you do at least get to show off the quality that you can expect. ITV1 HD and 4HD are both guilty of slotting in SD programming, although when they do display HD content, their HD logos will be displayed on the screen.
The quality is excellent and a marked improvement over the SD programming. If the World Cup is a motivator here, then from a picture point of view you'll find that Freeview HD really delivers. We held up this review to catch the England vs. Mexico friendly and the improvement in quality is worth it if you are planning on watching the World Cup on your big screen at home.
The Goodmans EPG has had the HD treatment too: it is sharp and looks great. It can be a little slow to open, but we like the fact that it gives you a preview of the channel you are on in the corner as you browse the 7-channel, 3-hour grid. You can mark programmes for watching, and it will offer up the HD alternative if you've selected something broadcast in SD on the normal channel.
The menu is easy enough to navigate and it fades up nicely, but does take a bit of button pressing to get rid of - you often have to select your menu option, then back out of that category before you can close the menu screen. But hopefully you won't spend your entire time fiddling with the menus. You also get parental controls in the menus.
On button presses, we found the remote to be very sensitive. We even found that turning the box on and off would occasionally be registered twice; entering the channel numbers is very swift so if your finger lingers on the button for slightly too long you might find you have 555 rather than just 5. This may not be a problem, as if you are adding this to an existing TV, you might think about opting for a universal remote so you don't have another just for channel changing.
When we first started testing the Goodmans box it did misbehave somewhat. Connected close to the aerial socket it works with no problems, but when we moved it to the end of a longer extension to a TV in another room, it didn't like that at all. So long as you have a decent signal from your roof aerial, it shouldn't pose a problem. Under the same conditions we also found that the box crashed, needed to be switched off at the wall to get it to restart.
Subtitles and audio description are both available via a single press of the respective button on the remote control. The remote feels a little cheap, but again, if you are adding this box to an existing system, you might consider opting for a universal remote.
The Goodmans GDB300HD Freeview HD set top box is a no frills tuner. The delivery of the HD content looks fantastic, even if the design of the box will do little to enhance the appearance of your AV rig.
Those who are interested in getting the best possible audio might want to hold off until it is completely clear which codecs are being used when and how they will be supported, but for the majority of users, you're probably just looking to add terrestrial broadcast HD content to your TV and the Goodmans box will certainly do it.
Would we recommend it? Whilst the delivery of the HD content is great, the price looks too high and no other features are on offer here. With a box like this we'd expect the price to be under £100, so it is a case of wait and see how it stands once it hits the shops.