(Pocket-lint) - The Humax FVP-4000T was the first Freeview Play set-top box to hit the shelves when the new service launched in 2015. The FVP-5000T follows on from this box looking to upgrade the experience and giving customers a method for adding Freeview Play's services to their TV.
Freeview Play is now widely available through TVs like those from Panasonic or LG, as well as set-top boxes, also from Panasonic, Bush or Humax. It's in competition with YouView and there's a great deal of parity between those two services, with both looking to bring you free-to-air channels and integrated free-to-view catch-up services with no need for a subscription.
While YouView is available through BT and TalkTalk offering enhanced services (like BT Sport or movies on demand), the Humax offering is designed to be as straight-forward as TV watching comes, but without sacrificing some of the nice features you want from a modern TV, like recording, pausing and rewinding live TV.
Humax FVP-5000T preview: Design and build
- Conventional black glossy design
- 280 x 48 x 200mm
- Remote with plenty of space
The Humax 5000T is designed to be inoffensive, more conventional than the 4000T it replaces. That model had a faux leather top with stitching around the edges and was available in a fetching brown, sorry mocha, which we rather liked. The world is full of black boxes and the 4000T was something different.
The 5000T is back to the black box, however, and we're guessing that the aim was to design something discreet, rather than something that would be a talking point. The Humax and Freeview Play logos sit on the front, with a run of physical controls on the leading right-hand top edge.
There's an LED on the bottom leading edge in the centre, which casts its coloured light downwards so you can see the box's status, with blue telling you that everything is ok, purple when you're recording and so on. It's a subtle detail and much better than a front-facing LED.
The connections sit to the rear, except for one USB which is on the right-hand side, ideally placed for ad hoc use.
There's plenty of ventilation around the 5000T, with some quiet fan and disc noise in operation, but nothing that we found distracting when in use. Essentially, the layout is the same as the 4000T.
The remote is pretty large with big clear buttons. There are buttons for Freeview Play which takes you to a central area to access everything, there's a direct Netflix button which everyone loves and clear controls to let you record, pause and navigate around. Some of these have a very distinct click which we're not huge fans of, but at least you know you've pressed the button.
Humax FVP-5000T preview: Setup and connections
- 1x HDMI 1.4
- 1x Optical
- 2x USB
- RF In/Out
- Ethernet and Wi-Fi
The 5000T is designed to be as easy to setup as possible, with everything you need included in the box. That means it comes with an Ethernet cable, the HDMI cable and even the batteries for the remote. It's simply a case of taking it out of the box and hooking up those cables.
There are legacy RCA connections for audio and video, but there's no Scart on this box, so if you have a really old TV, you'd have to use RCA. That's not ideal and we suspect that HDMI will accommodate the vast majority of those looking to hook this box up - certainly it will cover most TVs sold in the last decade years.
As this is all about Freeview Play, you'll need to connect an aerial to it to watch live TV. For those with an old satellite dish, you'll be more interested in a Freesat product instead. There's aerial in and out, so should you wish to have another tuner working without the 5000T, that's also an option - but you'll have to turn power saving off to allow this pass-through.
In terms of audio there is a SPDIF/optical output that you could run directly into an AV receiver or soundbar if you can't use the HDMI to do that. The box supports Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus, with the option to pick Dolby Digital or stereo outputs in the settings.
For the network connection Ethernet is nice to have if you happen to have somewhere to connect the box, but Wi-Fi will work for those who might not. We tried both options and found they worked equally well. With no Ultra HD to worry about, Wi-Fi will probably be adequate for most use cases.
There are two USB sockets on the box and these can be used to connect external drives with other media on. There's wide support for major video and image files, as well as MP3 for music. You can also access content you might have a network drive, something of an old Humax favourite.
Once connected, setting up the box is as simple as following the onscreen instructions which will let you set the language, scan for channels, connect to a network and that's about it, you're good to go.
Humax FVP-5000T preview: Features and user interface
- 3x Freeview tuners with recording
- Catch-up services
- Scroll-back EPG
- Netflix streaming
The FVP-5000T offers three Freeview tuners, although it will allow you to record four and watch another channel. We were able to record BBC One, BBC Two, ITV and Channel 4 while watching Five, which gives you plenty of flexibility for your recordings - something that BT's YouView box won't stretch to.
There are three storage sizes available, 500GB, 1TB and 2TB, with that largest size offering you 500 hours of HD content and double that if you stick to recording SD. Recordings are then accessible through the recordings tab under the Freeview Play menu, arranged by programme, channel and day of the week, with the option to view your storage and set a manual schedule. This lets you record from the TV at times defined by you, rather than from the EPG.
The whole idea of Freeview Play is the seamless integration of catch-up services. This will allow you to open the guide and scroll back, see what you've missed and start watching it. For BBC content the coverage is very good through iPlayer, but for the other commercial channels there are often gaps in the programmes that are available.
That's not something that's the fault of Humax, it's down to those catch-up services themselves. While you'll be able to get to things like soaps and some of the best prime time series that those channels offer, there will always be gaps. With that in mind, the ability to record still has plenty of merit.
It's worth noting that the catch-up apps are standardised across platforms. Even though they are integrated into the EPG for instant access here, all this is really doing is using the data from the app to give you direct access. When you press play on the show you want, the familiar app opens so you can watch the programme - and they look just as they do on YouView or smart TVs.
These apps now offer more functions than they did when Freeview Play first launched as they'll ask that you sign in, which means they can keep track of what you've watched and let you resume that series without having to guess the last episode you watched.
This all works smoothly enough, although it also doesn't seem quite as snappy to navigate around these apps as on more powerful devices. Navigating All4 or Netflix was slower here than on the latest LG TV for example.
Netflix is the major paid-for service that's available, meaning you can stream the latest shows and movies. There's no support for Ultra HD on this box, so you'll only get access to the HD version, although we suspect that will be good enough for many. Naturally, you'll need a subscription to Netflix.
Finally there's YouTube which is a significant app for younger users and something that's notably missing from the YouView platform. For those who don't know, YouTube also gives access to anything you rent or buy through Google Play via your Google account, providing a method for movies on demand via this Humax box.
Humax FVP-5000T preview: User interface
- Useful searching
- Lots of information
- Slicker overlays
- App access
Freeview Play is an interesting monster, because unlike YouView, the manufacturer gets to design the layout and user interface; YouView, by contrast, is the layout, so it looks the same on Sony TVs, BT or TalkTalk boxes, but with a customised area for other services.
For the 5000T there's a visual lift over the 4000T, with better use of transparencies to make everything look more modern; there's also better layouts for things like the programme guide, so you can see more content.
In some ways there's a bit of an imbalance between the "guide" and "Freeview Play" buttons on the remote. The former serves up the channels and should be the natural starting place for things, but the latter button for Freeview Play is larger and branded, so more prominent.
The Freeview Play menu, however, is where a more modern consumer might want to go, because it offers recommended programmes to instantly flick to (from catch-up services), as well as your run of apps so you can access the different players.
This screen looks a lot like your typical home screen on a modern smart TV (the ribbons on Samsung or LG for example), while top tabs offer some of the same things again - players and top picks. Humax has some control over these recommendations and they are designed to adapt to your preferences, so there's always something suggested that you might actually want to watch.
The guide itself is easy enough to glance across, with seven channels down the left and 2 hours of time across the page. From here you can easily hit the record button or change channel. Once on a channel you can hit the "ok" button to view more information and then use the nav keys to scan back and forth through programmes, or up and down through channels.
There's also some degree of universal searching. Search for EastEnders and you'll get results from live TV, BBC iPlayer and YouTube; search for Doctor Foster and you'll get same, but what you won't get is searching within Netflix, which is something that YouView will do.
In addition to everything else, Humax also offers a range of apps to support its devices. To use these you'll need to have your phone and the box on the same Wi-Fi network and you'll then be able to connect the apps to your box. This will enable live viewing of content through our phone, as well as remote control functions through your phone.
Humax's new 5000T Freeview Play box is easy to use and we've found it to be reliable during the time that we've been using it so far.
It offers all the core features that you need from a modern set-top box, but the real advantage here is the three tuners giving you four channels of recording, which puts this box over some of the competition. Ironically, the biggest rival is likely to be the 4000T box that it replaces, which is now available for around £179, a healthy £50 less than the RRP of this 5000T.
The £229 price sounds a little high to us, considering you can get yourself a UHD YouView box for £149 from Amazon which offers some advantages (Ultra HD Netflix), better universal searching and arguably faster navigation.
In reality, it's importance of the expanded features that this set-top box offers that should guide your buying decision.
We'll be bringing you a full review of the 5000T once we've spent more time with it and tested some if its more advanced features.