Humax FVP-4000T Freeview Play PVR Review
Anyone for coffee?
What is the Humax FVP-4000T?This is Humax’s very first Freeview Play (more below) branded product and, in fact, it’s the first – and only - set top box released on the platform so far (October 2015). This is far from the first Personal Video Recorder (PVR) Humax as produced, however, with a history dating back to almost the beginning of the product category. The idea behind it will be a familiar one; it’s a device you use to view and record programming as well as it being a centre to access catch-up services and a variety of other ‘Smart TV’ apps. At the time of publishing, the Humax FVP-4000T comes in two colour choices – mocha & cappuccino – and two storage capacities - 500GB and 1TB – with prices set at £199.99 and £229.99, respectively.
What is Freeview Play?Before we fully tackle the nuts and bolts of the FVP-4000T, let’s take a quick look at what Freeview Play actually is. Put simply, it’s just a convenient aggregation of the catch-up services from the ‘major’ broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Channels 4 & 5 – with various other features geared to making your viewing experience ‘seamless' built in to the software. So, instead of having to open the individual apps, e.g. BBC iPlayer, to find something to watch there are other methods by which to do it that; if implemented well, it should bring Freeview into the 21st Century. To be clear, Freeview Play doesn’t give you any more channels than Freeview HD, it’s just a new software platform to deliver the content. We couldn’t let this section go without mentioning YouView which, on the face of things, is an incredibly similar service; in fact, they are highly comparable but due to (alleged) behind the scenes political machinations, the backers behind the consortiums differ slightly.
Design & ConnectionsInstead of being coffee themed, the design of the FVP-4000T might better be described as marmite; it’s definitely different, that’s for sure. Rather than being you usual collection of rectangular, almost-non-descript, black plastic and silicone, it’s a contoured, almost handbag-like box with a textured top surface in your choice of brown – yes, brown! The sample provided was the 500GB Mocha version and, we’ll be honest, even after living with it for a few days, we can’t decide whether we like the way it looks, or not. We definitely do like that fact there is no built-in fan so besides some slight whirring from the hard drive, if you put your ear (too) close, it’s nice and quiet in operation
There are a healthy set of connections at the rear of the box and one you can’t see that is a thumb in the eye of YouView – built-in Wi-Fi – which crazily, no YouView Box has! The physical connections include an HDMI port, an Ethernet connection, a Toslink digital audio out, and a pair of stereo outs that can be used in conjunction with the composite video output but you really want to use HDMI if you can, as you won’t get High Definition (far from it) out of composite. Naturally there’s a terminal for your aerial connection and also an RF out to loop-through the channels to another device – usually your TV.
Whilst we’re a little undecided on the box design, we’re definitely not in two minds about the supplied remote control; we don’t like it. It feels very cheaply constructed, it’s a few centimetres longer that it needed to be and some of the buttons around the directional keys are loose and far too ‘clicky.’ There’s nothing wrong with the button layout, although those coming from a more traditional PVR will likely bemoan the lack of a dedicated one to take you directly to your recordings. Could do better Humax; a mimicking of the YouView remote wouldn’t have gone amiss in this instance.
SetupAfter first switching the machine on, you’ll be asked to choose a language – English, Welsh, Gaelic or Irish – enter your home network password, agree to some T&C’s and then scan for channels. Provided that all goes well, you’ll then be up and running. We don’t know if it will be the case for others, although we assume it will, but the available software update succeeded in wiping out all our initial settings, once installed, so we had to go through the process twice. Not the greatest introduction but these things happen and we assume it won’t be an issue for the software engineers to fix.
Menus & User Interface
Electronic Programme Guide (EPG)In terms of the user interface, we’ll begin with the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) since it’s at the heart of a PVR. It has its good points, we guess; the text is large and easy to read and the background is an eye-comforting shade of grey. There are also thumbnail photos related to the programmes which give it a contemporary, app-ish look. One of the problems with it, however, is that said thumbnails don’t always load which spoils the look. Another issue with the EPG, and perhaps somewhat related, is that it takes quite a long time to load; OK, we’re only talking 2-3 seconds but it’s quite jarring in this age of instant info. We guess the guide might be loading in the thumbnails, and extended programme info, each time it’s fired up which would account for it. Whatever the reason, it needs to be addressed.
We also think there should be a more expansive view available for the EPG; as it is you get just five channels with a ‘Now/Next’ view which doesn’t really help for planning. There is no way to alter the view at present, and that’s another recommendation we will make to Humax. When viewing the Guide for programming in the past, you are afforded the option of a genre view – Children’s, Drama, Education etc – but that doesn’t exist with present and upcoming content; instead you can group channels by TV, Radio or HDTV. We do like the fact that when selecting an SD channel, if an HD alternative exists, it will prompt you to watch in better quality and the same feature extends to when you’re setting a recording.
Home MenuThe Home Menu is grouped in to five categories, with a recently accessed channels bar just below. These are On Demand, TV Guide, Recordings, Media Centre and Settings. We’ll deal with all but the latter later on and the Settings menu is a very simple affair. Under the General Settings you get things like Parental Control, Video (output up to 1080p) and time-outs for the on-screen display. You can also configure your Network, reset to defaults and initiate channel scans; importantly to those in marginal signal areas, there is the ability to manually scan.
Features & AppsAs well as the selection of catch-up apps provided under the Freeview Play umbrella, the FVP-4000T also features the Opera app store which offers a few more to choose from. Most notable of these is YouTube but there a few others besides. Compared to YouView, the platform is a bit lacking here, however, but it’s been confirmed Netflix, at least, will appear on the platform early in 2016.
More interestingly, the FVP4000T can act as both a DLNA media server and a renderer, meaning it can both play files from your home network as well as allow the contents of the hard drive to be shared in the same way. Meaning, in theory, you can watch your Freeview Play recordings from other DLNA devices on your home network. Not only that but the Humax will also play media files – photo, video & music – from connected USB storage with support for MP4, VOB, AVI, ASF, MKV, MPEG-2TS video; JPEG, PNG, BMP and GIF photos plus MP3 audio.
The Humax FVP-4000T also provides excellent support for those that like to archive programmes which can be done to USB storage. Because of copy protection, you can only play HD recordings back on the device you recorded it on but standard definition content can be freely played on anything. That could be handy for replay on a phone or tablet when you can’t get a network or Wi-Fi signal. Speaking of which, at present there is no Freeview Play specific app but we wouldn’t be surprised if there were before long with the feel of the user interface having the whiff of touch-screen friendliness about it.
RecordingDespite the shortcomings of the EPG, the FVP-4000T is very strong in its core duties of recording programming. It has several features that elevate this functionality over the obvious competition, including the ability to set manual timers, edit existing timers and, crucially for us, the option of setting global ‘padding’ on recordings – i.e. you can initiate events to begin up to 20 minutes before they are due to start and add twenty minutes to the end, just in case a programme over-runs and the broadcaster hasn’t kept the EPG data right up to date – it happens!
Due to the architecture of the FVP-4000T, and it’s something previous Humax’s have been capable of, it is able to record up to four channels and allow you to watch another, simultaneously, given the right circumstances. Whether there will ever be a need to record five things at the same time on Freeview is open to question but the facility is there if you need it. As a very brief explanation, the Freeview channels are grouped in to what are known as multiplexes (mux) and there are seven, in all, to cover each of them. When you switch to a channel on a particular mux, all the data for all of the channels on it are sent to the box but you only see the one you select; but the FVP-4000T is capable of recording the data for two channels per multiplex. So, with three tuners at its disposal, the Humax can record two channels on each of the first two tuners while displaying another channel on the third. Clever stuff but, as we say, how genuinely useful is a bit open to question.
There are a few ways to set recordings; most will probably use the EPG to schedule but it can also be done following a search, using the vertical information bar brought on-screen using the OK button or simply when watching something you want to see again. When playing back recordings or catching up with paused ‘live’ TV, you can configure the right and left directional buttons to skip forwards and backwards in pre-determined steps – 30, 60, 120 and 240 seconds forwards and 7, 15 and 30 seconds backwards – we would call it ad skipping but the manufacturers shy away from such terminology.
All the usual Freeview PVR features are also present, including the ability to ‘chase play,’ i.e. to begin watching something you are recording before it ends. There’s also full Series Record functionality and even the ability to binge watch your accumulated boxsets with a Series Play option. In terms of things missing, we would like to see a facility for creating your own folders to organise recordings introduced. That said, the default categorisations in the Recordings Menu to sort by programme name, channel or date offer a reasonably easy to navigate interface.
Catch-up and On-DemandThe integration of the major catch-up players in to Freeview Play is, more or less, identical to the YouView implementation, which is no bad thing. There are a couple of ways to find programming you’ve missed - and not recorded - from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, The headlining seven day ‘scroll-back’ EPG works well, although Channel 4 are slow to update what’s available on catch-up from the guide. There seems to be no Demand 5 guide integration, at all at the moment, so we’re seeking clarification as to whether it will be added at a later date. You can access Demand 5 through the on-demand menu however.
We did uncover a bug when scrolling back through the guide, in that it works fine on the horizontal plane, i.e. when you’re looking back at a single channels’ programming, but once you try to scroll up and down through other channels, the one you were viewing replicates ad infinitum, meaning you have to exit and go back in. We’re also slightly disappointed the search function doesn’t extended to catch-up content, as it does in YouView, and Freeview Play is definitely lacking the number of services the rival service has available. In addition to all that Freeview Play has, YouView covers Milkshake (great for the kids), S4C, Quest and the channels under the UK TV umbrella, including Dave, Yesterday, Really and UK Drama. On top of that, YouView has pay services from Netflix, NOW TV and Sky Store as options, although Netflix is coming to Freeview Play soon.
- Versatile, reliable and flexible recording options
- Archiving capabilities
- Network playback of recordings
- High-Definition prompts when recording and viewing
- All major UK catch-up services available
- EPG can be sluggish
- Remote feels cheap
- Not as many catch-up and on-demand services as YouView
Humax FVP-4000T Freeview Play PVR Review
Should I buy the Humax FVP-4000T?There are lots of really good things about the Humax FVP-4000T. We like the recording capabilities and flexibility, in particular. Should the occasion arise, you are able to record up to four channels, at once, while watching something else and Freeview Play also provides other nice-to-haves including global timer padding, chase play, customisable time skipping and the ability to archive recordings to external storage. This box can also share the contents of its hard drive to other DLNA equipped devices on your home network, which is excellent. The FVP-4000T will also play back your media files from USB or, again, from other networked machines. So, it’s a great box for those most interested in recording, archiving and sharing.
On the flip side, those who are more interested in the on-demand, catch-up side of things might be better with a more mature platform. As it is, scroll-back integration is better on – sorry to keep mentioning it – YouView; both have the same channels covered but the YouView guide is kept up-to-date better. There are also quite a few more catch-up services available through YouView; both have iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4 and Demand 5 but the older platform has UKTV, Quest and Milkshake, to name a few, besides. The Freeview Play search function also doesn’t incorporate catch-up content, where the ‘other’ service does. Sorry, extensive comparisons between the two services are unavoidable
The Humax FVP-4000T is some way off the finished article in other areas, too. Some optimisations need to be made in software to make the programme guide load quicker; the layout of the EPG could also use a tidy – or at least some customisation options – and we’d like to see the support of folder creation as an option for organising recordings. The remote also needs a redesign/refit as it feels cheap and tacky with some buttons alarmingly loose and clicky. All that said, the Humax FVP-4000T is a great option for those that value the core duties of a PVR – recording, playback and archiving – and as the platform matures we can only see the catch-up side of things getting better so it is well worthy of an AVForums recommendation.
Ease of Use Menus/GUI7
Picture Quality HD9
Picture Quality SD8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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