(Pocket-lint) - Humax is one of the biggest names in set-top boxes in the UK, almost synonymous with TV recording, having been a supplier of YouView, FreeSat and Freeview Play boxes in the past.
The Humax Aura looks to lean on that long experience with a new TV offering - Android TV. Wrapping that into a box that offers Freeview Play, it could potentially be the product that offers everything you need - recording, streaming, and live TV.
The Humax Aura has plenty to offer, ticking just about every box on the feature list. As a single device that will offer recording and live TV, as well as the goodness of Freeview Play, on top of a complete Smart TV platform in Android TV, its skillset is vast.
The omission of Netflix is the big negative though. Perhaps the biggest streaming service, it's likely to be the top of the list for many. If you have no interest in subscription services then that's not a problem - but at the same time, a cheaper Freeview Play box might also then suit your demands.
But with support for apps from Google Play, the Humax Aura smartphone app, ability to stream from network storage in the home or download to your phone, there's a huge amount on offer here.
Humax Aura TV box
- Supports Google Cast
- Full platter of UK streaming services
- Fast to navigate
- Great Freeview Play experience
- Supports external drives and NAS
- No Netflix
- Can be complex with numerous layers of software
- Dimensions: 258 x 43 x 200 / Weight: 764g
- Plastic construction, glossy top
Set-top boxes don't really win prizes for their attractiveness. For many, it's just a device that gets integrated into a TV stand or cabinet out of sight.
For what it's worth, the Humax Aura looks interesting, with a lightly domed top - that's slightly glossy - sitting on mesh-wrapped sides and a base that makes it looks like it's floating. The front LED, which will give a visual clue to the box's status, shines through this bottom layer - which is better than the old days of LEDs on the front.
There are touch controls on the top right leading edge, allowing you to control power, volume and channel if you've lost track of the physical remote.
The back panel houses all the connectivity - which we'll get onto in a second - while there are rubberised feet on the bottom to keep it secure and stop it scratching or slipping on the surface you place it upon.
The remote comes from the school of putting on as many buttons as possible, so it's substantial, but designed to control lots of different aspects of this box. We suspect that many would rather have direct controls than a minimalist controller and lots of on-screen menus.
As such, there's controls for the box, universal controls for your TV and sound control, shortcuts to some services, Freeview Play controls, Android TV controls, a Google Assistant button, the list goes on - but you soon learn to ignore those you don't need.
This is both an IR (infrared) and Bluetooth remote control. The IR is essentially there to support your TV controls, while the box controls actually run over Bluetooth. This means you can have the Aura completely out of sight and it still works, which is great.
Connectivity and setup
- RF, HDMI, Ethernet, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, Optical, Wi-Fi
The connectivity won't bring up any surprises, offering RF in and out for the aerial, a single HDMI output (HDMI 2.1. HDCP 2.3, CEC), SPDIF optical for audio, and two USB-A connections.
One of those USBs is USB 3.0 (the one with the blue interior), the other USB 2.0; the former will let you connect a FAT32 connected device so you can access additional external content.
There's also an Ethernet port for a wired connection, while 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi frequency bands are supported. Whether you go with Wi-Fi or cable will depend very much on the Wi-Fi connectivity in your home and with a hard line in place, we connected via Ethernet.
The setup process is straightforward, connecting the box to the various cables and power. Most nowadays will use HDMI, but the separate optical audio output will provide support for those with older sound systems.
During the setup process the Humax box will invite you to connect the remote, as well as setup control of your TV. We were able to quickly assign control of the TV power, but using a separate sound system, we weren't able to get volume controls from the Humax controller to work.
As this is an Android TV device, you'll be invited to sign into your Google account. This allows you to access Google Play to install more apps, while also giving you access to content you might already own with Google. That would be content (formerly) on Play Movies, but now more commonly accessed through the Google TV app or on YouTube.
Signing in will also sync with your YouTube account, so you can access your subscriptions, while it will also empower Google Assistant, so that it knows who you are, can control your smart home devices you might have already setup, as well as answer queries personalised to you - which is standard Google Assistant stuff.
Beyond that - yes there's more - you'll have to sign into each catch-up TV provider separately. This will allow those services to give seamless access through the Freeview Play electronic programme guide (EPG), meaning you can scroll back (and sometimes forward) through time, as well as getting features such as being able to watch a programme from the start when you switch to a particular channel.
This all takes a bit of on-screen keyboard time, although some services offer a faster route to sign in, often using on-screen codes and sign-in via your phone - which tends to be a lot faster when it comes to things like password and email entry.
Of course, beyond those basic tasks, you then have the option to go on and sign into a full range of streaming services or apps provided by Android TV, which means going through the whole process again to sign in. Once finished, however, you'll have a box under your TV that will essentially offer everything - with one major exception which we'll get to in a minute.
Watching and recording TV
- Freeview Play
- 1TB or 2TB storage
- Three tuners
You'll need to connect an aerial to the Humax Aura to watch "live" TV (although you can livestream some channels these days). There are three tuners, meaning you can watch one channel and record across a number of other channels. Humax says you can record up to four channels, but it will depend on compatibility and might not always give you the combination you want depending on the source.
Arguably, the need to record so many channels is diminished now that streaming is so well established and in some cases BBC iPlayer will give you higher quality streaming than is broadcast - take Vigil for example, which is available in UHD on BBC iPlayer, higher quality than the broadcast version.
On the other hand, the other UK channels - ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 - don't offer the best quality through their streaming services (ITV Hub, All4, My5), so you might want to record those - with the added benefit of being able to forward through the adverts when you come to watch them.
Freeview Play's EPG is designed to let you scroll back and forth, so you can hit play on something you missed and have it start streaming (which is why you need to be signed into all the apps), or scroll into the future to press record.
There are various points of access, with a pop-up on the top right when your hit new channel numbers, or a banner across the bottom when you use the channel buttons. Or you can press the Guide button to go into the EPG proper and browse around.
One thing to note is that you have to press the OK button to actually navigate and you'll find you have to press the Guide button to close the guide once you've selected a channel - the Aura is a box that likes a lot of button presses.
As with other services, when you're sitting on a live channel you'll be able to hit pause, or rewind if you miss something, although the amount of time you can rewind will depend on how long you've been on a channel - it basically starts buffering through the storage when you change to it (hence the ability to return to the start of a programme, using the catch-up app instead) - as the 1TB storage option will give you about 250 hours of HD recording.
We've found the Humax Aura to be stable, it's fast to change channels and to navigate - albeit with plentiful button presses - and over the months we've been using it, it hasn't crashed or given us any errors.
But there can be some complication because of all the layers it offers - you can hit a button and end up in Android TV or some other area - fortunately the "Live TV" button is your friend and will bring you back to the familiar with a tap.
The Humax Aura app
- Remote recording
- Download recordings
- Stream live TV
There's an app that goes with the Humax Aura, which follows in Humax's long tradition of giving you smartphone access. This will allow you to set remote recordings (again, with catch-up streaming so prevalent you might not now feel the need to do this) as well as watch recordings.
That's right: you can stream content you have recorded on your box to your phone or you can watch live TV on your box playing on your phone. Again, in some situations you might be better using the catch-up service that programme is on. For example, it's better to watch live on BBC iPlayer on your phone than it is to attempt to stream that from your Humax box to your phone.
There's also the option to convert recorded content to a mobile-compatible format, meaning you can download it and watch it on the go. Again, this needs to be set in the context of downloading content from catch-up apps - but if you have something recorded you really want to watch, you can convert it and then download it, so you don't have to stream it and don't have to worry about having a mobile data connection. Conversion takes some time, so it's not a quick option if that's what you want to do.
Streaming services and Android TV
- Google Cast
- Google Play apps
- Google Assistant
Android TV is the other side of the Humax box and that brings with it a full range of options too. That includes a completely separate interface, as well as access to all those additional apps. You access Android TV via the home button on the remote, while the apps button on the remote takes you to apps within Android TV.
It's here you'll find streaming apps for the big services - Amazon Video, Disney+, Apple TV, Spotify and so on. Surprisingly there's no Netflix or access to it - which is that one major exception we were talking about. That's really the biggest downside of this box. Furthermore you can't access a proper app for Now either - although that is supported via casting - which, given the link with HBO/Sky, is an important content source for many.
On top of those entertainment apps, there's access to the Google Play Store so you can install a whole collection of apps including games, music, and probably a whole collection of things you'll never want or need.
You can shortcut to apps with a long press on the apps button on the remote, which makes it faster to get back to them so you don't have to press home and then scroll around to find it.
Google Assistant can help here, letting you open apps using your voice after pressing the button on the remote, while it will also deliver other services you'd expect - smart home control for connected devices, weather, and so on. You can get Google Assistant to give you a live view from connected cameras on your TV, while it will also help you find your lost Android phone - if it's signed into your Google account.
Google Assistant, however, can get sidetracked if it doesn't know exactly what you're asking for, sometimes returning an obscure channel, although it will generally find what you want to watch. It doesn't feel quite as direct as Alexa does on Fire TV devices, but generally speaking, it has no problem opening entertainment apps or finding the films you ask for and then suggesting where you can source them to watch.
Casting provides another avenue to watching content and with built-in Chromecast, there's wide support for casting from phones or laptops. That makes it really easy to show off photos on your phone, or you can just cast from any of the supported apps.
The performance, generally, is very good, with apps quick to open and the box quick to respond. Although there's a lot crammed in here, it all seems to work well. Netflix being the one major absence, of course.
- UHD 2160p output
- Dolby Atmos and DTS-X passthrough
- HDR10, HLG support
While much of the broadcast TV or Freeview Play side of this box will be limited to 1080i, there's full support for UHD resolution (4K / 2160p) - which you'll get from some of the streaming services. As we mentioned above, there's UHD content on BBC iPlayer, Amazon Video and the likes of Apple TV+ or Play Movies.
When you switch to one of these services to start watching a new stream, you'll get a quick flash in the corner showing you the quality you can expect to get, but this is the start of the stream - and there's no access to the information during the stream to check you're actually getting the quality you expect throughout.
The performance is good here, however, the Aura quickly starting the stream and stepping up through the quality to deliver a nice crisp high quality visual experience.
There's also support HDR (high dynamic range) and HLG (hybrid log gamma - used for live broadcast HDR), although not for the advanced formats of HDR10+ or Dolby Vision that you'll find used in many top-tier streaming apps' film collections.
There's good audio support too, supporting a broad spectrum of Dolby Digital formats, including Dolby Atmos (where available) as well as DTS-X via passthrough, assuming you have a sound system that can support those object-based "3D" formats.
What stands out is that a lot of the time the Humax Aura is a speedy in navigation, with the Freeview Play side of the package working really well. The Android TV side is a little slower to navigate.
The Humax Aura is an advanced set-top box, with its slick Freeview Play performance being one of its most appealing elements. That's layered on Android TV, with access to apps from Google and offering Google Cast. The biggest omission is Netflix which could be a deal breaker for some - but otherwise offers an incredibly wide range of options, from recording, to remote smartphone access to support for external drives. It's very much a complete package ... except for lacking Netflix.