(Pocket-lint) - Humax are the first company to bring Freeview HD to market with their HD-Fox T2 set-top box. The company has enjoyed success with its PVR solutions and is known for its Freesat decoders too, so it's no surprise to find them leading the pack in the Freeview HD game.
Freeview HD is going to usher in a change for UK viewers, offering free to view HD content via terrestrial broadcast for the first time. If you are one of the millions who bought an HD TV over the past few years, you'll find yourself unable to view these high-definition channels without upgrading the tuner, which in most cases will be by adding a set-top box such as the HD-Fox T2, rather than buying a new TV.
Out of the box, the HD-Fox T2 looks every bit Humax. The design isn't showy or distracting and as a set-top box you don't want it to be. You want something that will do its job with minimal fuss. The front offers enough control to be able to change the settings without the remote, but most only ever touch these controls when the supplied remote vanishes down the side of the sofa.
Around the back of the HD-Fox T2 you'll find a host of connections. There is the aerial loop through, meaning you can still use the tuner in your TV if you want to. Twin Scarts feed your TV and your VCR (if you have such a thing), as well as Composite video and stereo audio. Most likely, however, is that you'll be looking for the HDMI, Ethernet and optical audio connections, which are all present and correct.
We connected the HD-Fox T2 into a typical domestic situation: a roof aerial that supplied perfect Freeview reception to a 40-inch Samsung TV, offering only a standard Freeview tuner. To connect, all you have to do is plug the aerial from the TV into the HD-Fox T2, and connect the box via HDMI. Voila! HD channels on your TV.
Remember that if you are using a new HDMI socket that your TV might have a whole range of settings for that input, so you might need to tweak the settings as you may well have done when you first bought your TV.
Ok, a slight disclaimer is needed. This won't give you a full collection of HD channels, in fact you only get BBC HD and ITV HD at the moment (4HD is "coming soon"), as these are the only channels being broadcast currently, and then not all over the UK. These channels lie on channels 50 and 51. They do look glorious, it's just a shame the offering isn't more comprehensive. For more on HD television in the UK, read our guide here.
The EPG offered by the HD-Fox T2 is a work of art in itself. It is gloriously rendered, living up to the HD badge. It's the best looking EPG we've seen to date and gives you a preview of the channel you are tuned in to as you browse around. Everything, from the mute symbol, to the onscreen messages are pin sharp.
The output signal from the box is set at one resolution (you'll likely select 1080p), which means that the broadcasters can switch the quality of the transmission without you having to change the settings on your box. But the HD tag only applies to those HD channels and the EPG and menu functions of the HD-Fox T2. Unless you have a set that includes some sort of upscaling technology (such as Toshiba's Resolution+) then your normal Freeview channels will look like they currently do.
Basic set-up is a breeze, letting you simply select the resolution of the screen, aspect, audio options and so on, and running a scan to detect channels, which was done in no time at all. The EPG gives you seven channels on the screen in 2-hour blocks, which you can scroll across or down to get more info.
You can change the "Group" to display TV, HD, Radio or Recent, as well as view your Schedule of reminders, so if you have selected a range of programmes you want to watch, you can scan down them here. You also get searching options, so you can set-up keywords and scan the EPG to find something to watch.
Switching channels flashes up information on that programme on a banner, showing you the resolution (576i for standard channels, 1080i for HD), audio options and so on.
Adding value to what it otherwise just a set-top box, is a small button labelled Media on the remote. This takes advantage of the Ethernet and USB connections on the back of the HD-Fox T2 to connect to your home network and stream media. Double-take. Yes, the HD-Fox T2 wants to pump your digital media into your TV as well.
The interface has the high-quality sheen of the rest of the box, but only really offers basic folder navigation, before playing compatible media. It happily saw our Cisco Linksys Media Hub and offered to serve up music, video and photos, as it will from a USB drive plugged into the slot on the rear. Format support is limited however, so don't ditch your WD TV unit just yet.
We successfully played XviD and some AVIs, but the vast majority of video files would not play back. Some of the AVIs played without sound, an indicator that a wider codec support is needed. This sort of thing is easily fixed with an OTA update to the HD-Fox T2, so let's hope that happens sooner rather than later.
However, JPEG photos and MP3 music presented no problem, so long as you navigate to your source then select the media type. Music can be shuffled and repeated, whilst photos can be put into a slideshow for your viewing pleasure. It's a great move as all those with a second screen somewhere in their house could potentially access their movie collection with relative ease. Including Wi-Fi would have made it easier still, but we used Devolo HomePlugs to connect it up with no problem at all.
When we were first introduced to the HD-Fox T2 back in December 2009, Humax told us that you'd be able to record to a USB stick, an option that you currently don't have. There was also the possibility of support for services like BBC iPlayer, but there is no sign at this stage. Whether these features will make it to the HD-Fox T2 or not we don't know, but we do know there will be a Freeview+ HD PVR from Humax at some stage in the future too, if recording is something you are keen on.
As a set-top box it performs perfectly well when fed a good signal. Freeview HD content looks beautiful and you'll find yourself watching Coronation Street in HD just because you can. But the real treat is getting access to the likes of BBC's drama and the sport, which ultimately is a good reason to switch to Freeview HD - the World Cup in HD is going to be sensational. Sure, the offering overall is rather sparse, but that's going to change, and Freeview HD will be your cheapest option going forward.
The Humax HD-Fox T2 offers up great looking controls and an EPG that will leave your default Freeview guide looking rather drab. The media player functions could be more comprehensive and wider codec support is desperately needed to make this a real selling point.
The HD-Fox T2 is your most immediate way to get Freeview HD into your TV. So long as you live in an area that is currently transmitting and you have access to John Lewis, the box can be yours today for £179.