Clear space in your home entertainment setup - it's time for another black box! Freeview HD is the latest logo on the nation's shopping list, and you'll find it on three distinct products: integrated TVs, set-top boxes and Freeview+ HD recorders. That latter category is only just beginning to creep into the market - Sharp's 360GB hard disked TU-T2HR32 arrives sometime in June - and if you're one of the 18 million who've bought an HD Ready TV over the past 5 years, the idea of replacing it just for the sake of a new TV tuner will seem abhorrent.
Step forward Sharp's TU-T2, a small, shiny black box with no notable characteristics other than a cluster of blue LED lights in the middle of its front panel.
Switch on this unassuming unit, though, and you're treated to a high-def system that's second-to-none in its simplicity. The TU-T2's onscreen menus look tediously ordinary to begin with, but within 5 minutes we'd sussed out the entire system, tweaked the design so everything "floats" over whatever TV channel happens to be showing, and tuned-in 50 Freeview channels - including the three free-to-air HD channels.
There's nothing too special about the 8-day electronic programme guide aside from the fact that it's super-quick and puts all the info you might need at your disposal. A schedule for eight channels can be flicked around with ease, with shortcut buttons available for changing the day (schedules for up to 8 days in advance are constantly - and quickly - updated) or checking schedules in 2-hour chunks. Select any programme on the EPG and a large panel at the top of the screen shows some brief information, as well as tech details such as whether it's being shown in HD or not (some of the HD channels regularly simulcast SD programmes).
The only major drawback of this responsive and enjoyable system is the TU-T2's remote, which is just too small to use with ease.
Still, the system as a whole grew on us, doubtless partly because the picture quality from the high-definition channels is supreme. Glossy, pin-sharp and smooth pictures come from BBC HD, though switch to one of the standard-def channels and things aren't quite so rosy. In fact, we'd say that there's scant upscaling going on inside the TU-T2, making it a less-than-perfect remedy for a big TV.
Aside from Freeview HD there's little else going on - no USB input for playing JPEG pictures, music or video files, and no broadband TV services despite the TU-T2's Ethernet port on its rear. No matter - that should come into it own when Freeview starts carrying interactive services like ITV Player and the BBC iPlayer.
Connection-wise the TU-T2 is relatively well specified, with a couple of Scart cables available if you want to attach a VCR, an optical audio output to carry Dolby Digital to a home cinema, and a USB slot that's only for manual software upgrades. The main drawback of the TU-T2 for many will be its lack of a viewing card slot for Top-Up TV.
Smart and simple, Sharp has come up with an excellent interface for its debut Freeview HD receiver, though the TU-T2 is limited. There are few extra features aside from Freeview HD access, and SD programmes can look drab, though it's a likeable box that goes that extra mile to make Freeview HD seem like a leap forward in more ways than just pin-sharp pictures.