Freesat via a Humax Foxsat-HD

I’ve had this little box for a couple of weeks now, and am very
impressed not only with the box but with the BBC and Humax as a

As I live in the Isle of Man, an island wholly forgotten about in the digital
switchover and other modern technologies implemented by the BBC and others, my options for receiving reliable digital TV have previously been limited to lining
Ruper Murdochs pockets. Lucky people living in Ramsey can receive a reliable
signal from across the Irish Sea in Cumbria, but having moved to Douglas, this
is not an option until 2009 when we won’t even get the full complement of
channels anyway on the Freeview platform.

Therefore, the Freesat offering from the BBC really helps islanders make that jump to digital without subscribing to the – much of it quite frankly crap – content available on Sky. For a one off purchase of between £100-£200, it is possible to get either a standard box or one with HD functionality. I’m not sure of whether the island’s retailers have taken Freesat on board, having bought mine from Currys. (Note that I thought the box didn’t come with an HDMI cable, so bought one for £18, turns out it does)

My set-up is quite complex, my installed Humax Foxsat-HD outputs an SD
content through the RGB SCART output into my Windows Vista Media Centre and a second HDMI content straight into the back of my Panasonic LCD TV. The box
therefore is particularly useful as it outputs to both SD and HD connections,
enabling me to integrate it into my PVR functionality of Media Center, yet still
watch HD content “live”. Unfortunately, as UK HD content is broadcast in H.264
format, which Microsoft don’t support, there is no option at the moment to
integrate HD content into my PVR set-up.

The box itself is quite petite, and has buttons hidden behind the flip down
panel on the left for when you can’t find the remote. An LED display shows the
current channel, a useful improvement on a Sky box. On the back, outputs are
available for RGB SCART, VCR SCART, Component Video, HDMI and digital audio via a TOSLink port. Additionally, the box also sports a USB slot and an Ethernet port. While I don’t expect the USB port to support anything other than firmware upgrades, the Ethernet port is exciting particularly as it is required in any
Freesat platform – BBC iPlayer will surely appear on these devices soon.

The Humax device fits well within a Windows Vista Media Centre set-up,
although I did have to teach Media Centre the remote codes for the device. Once
done, channel switching can be done on “Fast” and is reliable. The GUI on the
device is attractive enough, and a full EPG is provided. Obviously, as I
primarily use Windows Vista as my schedule planner I am not able to really give
any detail on the EPG function but I have found key features such as programme
descriptions, auto-turn over functionality and the data is pretty comprehensive
and up to date. One issue I did find in setting the device up with Windows Vista
Media Centre is that the Freesat platform is not yet configured as a complete
EPG, instead only “Freesat unmapped” is available. Obviously, an unmapped
configuration is next to useless, so I had to opt for my Manchester postcode on
a Sky platform and walk through the channels renumbering the ones I did receive.
A couple of hours doing this, though, you should be sorted.

The BBC have obviously been key to the whole process of developing the
Freesat platform, and much credit has to go to their technical teams in being
able to roll out the platform in time for the European Cup, Wimbledon and
Olympics. Unfortunately, the schedule was particularly tight, so the Euros and
Wimbledon did not see the multiscreen functionality that the Sky and Freeview
platforms sport. As a Wimbledon fan, this is a bit disappointing, but as the BBC
output to so many platforms, I can hardly complain! While I am truly struggling
to receive a reliable signal, I am enjoying what WImbledon coverage I can
receive. Unfortunately, my annual holiday watching WImbledon (either there or on TV) has been ruined this year by a tree that has grown too much in the last few
weeks and is now blocking my dish. That said, the content I have received is
very good, particularly BBC HD. I am not exagerating when I say that you can
pick up the detail in the scuffed grass at each baseline. (Wimbledon is
broadcast in 1080i.)

More credit also has to go to Humax for their involvement in the userbase. As
I have said before, in particular at the previous Work Connexions site (which I
wrote 😉 ) companies must open up to the internet community in their product
development. Both the BBC and Humax have done this. The various BBC blogs all provide opportunity for users to feedback to the editors – who do reply to posts to show that they are at least taking notice of feedback. Also, Humax have also
contributed to a support thread at the very good site Digital Spy, further showing that they are open to feedback and are willing to act on it in as transparent manner as possible within their corporate policies.

In the future, I’m looking forward to a high likely iPlayer implementation,
further bug-fixes and software updates on the platform and more channels
becoming available. While the BBC is planning some exciting content and services
for the Olympics, which I’d love to see, I won’t be watching it for reasons of
principle (Human Rights, Tibet not being autonomous), but I’m pig-headed like