Freesat's new Free time internet connected setup has just been announced and we have been lucky enough to have a play.
Initially the service will be available only on a Humax box, the one we have looked at here. But it will eventually also run on kit put together by Manhatten and Sagemcom. The Humax box looks a pretty good place to start.
The whole user interface revolves around the idea of being able to go back and forward in the EPG. To the left and right of the main programme guide are two large arrows: one for going backwards to look at catch-up content; the other to go ahead in programming to record shows or TV series.
The design is extremely simple and very easy to understand. The lack of clutter and straightforward approach to Free time definitely has to be commended, as it means even the least tech savvy should be able to get their money's worth from the box.
On top of a standard programme guide, Free time also includes a dedicated catch-up page, which will launch the fully fledged HTML versions of iPlayer and ITV Player. This will eventually have 4OD and Demand Five added to it.
Humax has included its own section in the Free time box, which allows for MP3 playback and access to Humax's own video content. A fully featured help section, complete with instructional videos, has also been put together for every Free time box.
Humax's player unfortunately doesn't have a Wi-Fi chip built in, so those who want access to all the internet-related content must connect via ethernet. It does, however, come with 500GB of memory as standard, with a 1 Terabyte option also available.
This memory means you get Sky and TiVo-like recording capabilities, allowing you to do things such as record individual shows and series and then watch them when you want to. We are also told the Freesat app, which is due out soon, will enable you to control the boxes remotely and set things to record.
While there isn't a TiVo-like recommendation engine running on the Free time boxes, there is a programme showcase, which brings most-watched content to the fore. It features both on-demand television and upcoming recommended programmes. Freesat did tell us it would be possible to implement some sort of recommendation algorithm and to bring content to viewers based on what they watch, but that this would be something possibly added in future.
Right now Freesat brings 150 channels and 5 HD channels, all of these will be included with the Freetime boxes. Paid for video on demand content is planned later, although it will be entirely optional.
The box certainly handles well and, coupled with all the content that Freesat offers, could make quite a persuasive one-off television upgrade. As we said earlier, Humax will be first to the fore with Free time, releasing a box by the end of the month priced at £279. Expect more manufacturers to follow.
What do you think of the new service? Let us know in the comments below ...