Humax Aura Freeview Play PVR Review

Make your Freeview box smarter

SRP: £249.00

What is the Humax Aura?

The Humax Aura is the latest Freeview Play PVR (programmable video recorder) from a company that’s synonymous with this particular market. This new model is the first to be powered by Android TV (Pie 9.0), which means you not only get access to thousands of apps via the Google Play Store, but also 4K HDR, Chromecast support and built-in Google Assistant with voice control.

The Aura comes in 1TB and 2TB versions, allowing for up to 500 and 1,000 hours of recording respectively, and both include three digital tuners, allowing you to record up to four programmes while watching a fifth (depending on what you’re actually recording). There’s also the Humax Aura app for iOS and Android that enables remote planning, recording and viewing on the go.

The inclusion of Freeview Play provides access to over 80 subscription-free live TV channels, and countless hours of on-demand content via all the UK TV catchup services. And thanks to Freeview Play, there’s also an intuitive seven-day TV guide with scroll back functionality. There’s even a dedicated Kids’ Zone, allowing younger family members to view curated content safely.

As at the time of writing (December 2020), the Humax Aura costs £249 for the 1TB version and £279 for the 2TB model. So it might prove an affordable and highly effective way of adding recording capabilities and programability, along with 4K HDR smart features to TVs with limited operating systems. So, let’s see how this latest Humax offering performs in the real world.

Design, Connections and Control

The Humax Aura looks like most other PVR boxes on the market, a glossy black box with rounded corners and a grille effect around the outer edge to add a touch of individuality. There’s an indicator light at the front, basic controls and top, and connections at the rear, and that’s your lot. The Aura measures 258 x 43 x 200mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 0.76kg.

Humax Aura
Humax Aura front view

The Aura’s connections are fairly standard for a PVR, with an aerial input and a loop out connector for passthrough to a TV, an HDMI output (4K/60Hz, HDR10, HDCP 2.3 and CEC), an optical digital output, a pair of USB ports (one 3.0, the other 2.0) and an Ethernet port for a wired connection. There’s also a wireless connection using 2.4GHz/5GHz dual-band, Bluetooth 4.2 and Chromecast.

Humax Aura
Humax Aura connections

The controls on the Aura itself are for channel up/down, volume up/down and power on/off, with everything else controlled using the provided remote.

 

The connections are excellent, the controller well-designed and there's even a flexible remote app

The remote connects using Bluetooth, which is a nice touch, and it’s ergonomically designed and intuitively laid out. The controller fits comfortably in your hand, is easy to use with one hand, and has all the buttons laid out in a sensible manner. There’s a set of navigation controls towards the middle, with the Freeview/Home button underneath that’s flanked by the volume and channel controls. There are playback buttons for recordings at the top, and numerical and colour-coded buttons towards the bottom. There are also direct access buttons for Amazon Prime, Kids' Zone, Top Picks and Live TV.

Humax Aura
Humax Aura remote control

At the top left of the remote is a Google Assistant button, allowing you to easily access the built-in smart assistant and enjoy additional features such as voice control. In addition to all these control options, Humax also offers the Aura App. This allows you to use a mobile device to stream recordings around the home or download shows to watch later on the move. The app also affords users the freedom to schedule recordings or set reminders when away from home

Menus and User Interface

The Humax Aura includes Android TV (version Pie 9.0) and a quad-core 1.8GHz (ARM Cortex-A53) processor with 3GB of RAM. As a result, the primary home page will be familiar to anyone who has ever used a TV with the Android operating system. It also means the PVR is easy to setup, with an effective wizard guiding you through connecting to your Wi-Fi, tuning the TV channels, and setting up all the various apps. As part of this process you log into your Google account, which immediately provides access to downloaded apps, YouTube settings and Google Home connectivity.

Humax Aura
Humax Aura

The resulting Android home page offers a series of tiles that provide access to live TV, catch-up services, and streaming apps. You can customise the layout by moving apps around, thus creating a more personalised user experience, and keep all frequently-used apps and content in one place. In general, the layout is fairly straightforward, and at the top left you can access Google Assistant, and over on the right is the time and the settings menu. Suggested content you might enjoy based on your Google preferences are also displayed on this page.

It's a well-designed and clean interface, but it does reveal one of the few issues that I have with the Aura, and that's an overabundance of home pages. On this one device you have an Android home page, a Freeview Play home page, a Kids' Zone page, Google Play, and EPG (electronic programme guide), and recordings and schedules. As a result, the experience can become fragmented, and rather than concentrating on being a PVR, the Aura is trying to be too many things at once.

 

This PVR suffers from an overabundance of home pages that sometimes makes interaction fragmented and confusing

On the plus side, the interface is fast and responsive, making navigating the numerous pages relatively painless. However, simply watching TV or changing channels does take longer than expected, which I suspect is the result of a box that's wearing too many hats. If you're buying a PVR, the chances are that you primarily want to watch TV, record programmes and access catch-up services, and you're less concerned about other streaming features and apps.

Humax Aura
Humax Aura Android TV page

The sense of fragmentation also extends to the settings menus, which aren't particularly intuitive to navigate. As a result, fine-tuning the set-up isn't as simple as it should be and, as far as I can tell, there are no picture settings. The Aura simply sets itself up automatically based on your display's capabilities, although in testing this appeared to work flawlessly in terms of resolution, frame rate and HDR.

Features and Apps

The Humax Aura comes with a host of useful features, including three Freeview tuners that provide access to subscription-free channels in SD and HD. The included hard drive provides the ability to record, pause and rewind live TV. You can plan your viewing up to seven days ahead using an intuitive and easy-to-use programme guide, and you can even skip backwards to catch-up on programmes from the last seven days. You can also record up to four channels while watching a fifth, although this will depend on what you're recording at the time.

Humax Aura
Humax Aura Freeview Play page

The Freeview Play page allows users to browse top picks from all the UK on-demand players. These picks are neatly organised based on what's on now and the day's top picks, plus various categories and box sets. There's a universal search function and curated recommendations, making it easier for viewers to find their favourite shows and discover new ones.

At the top of the Freeview page you can access Live TV, Top Picks, Kids' Zone, TV Guide and Recordings. In the case of the Kids' Zone, which can also be access via a direct button on the remote, Humax has developed a safe environment for children to watch content specially curated for the youngest members of the family. Episodes can also be browsed, searched and selected based on duration, allowing parents to pick a show that will fill a suitable slot before dinner or bedtime.

 

Despite including Amazon Prime and Disney+, there's no Netflix app, which is a first on a streaming device

The Aura includes all the UK TV on-demand apps, including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5, UKTV Play, CBS Catchup Channels UK, Horror Bites, STV Player and BBC Sounds. There's also Amazon Prime, Disney+ and YouTube, which allows your to watch content available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR10. While 4K HDR isn't available on broadcast TV, you can watch 4K HDR via the BBC iPlayer, which uses hybrid log-gamma (HLG). Bizarrely, the Aura doesn't include Netflix, making it one of the first devices we've seen in years not to include an app that we thought was ubiquitous. Apparently Humax is currently in discussion with Netflix about adding the app. However, the inclusion of Google Play Store offers access to over 5,000 apps and games, so you shouldn't be short of choice.

Humax Aura
Humax Aura left view

In terms of video support, the Aura can handle 4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) HDR10 playback at up to 60Hz using the H.265/HEVC codec, 4K playback at up to 60Hz using the H.265/HEVC, VP8, VP9, H.264 and MPEG 1/2 codecs, plus 1080p at up to 60Hz using the H.263, MJPEG, MPEG4, and WMV9/VC1 codecs. On the audio side of things, the Aura supports Dolby Audio (Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus), Dolby Atmos (pass- through), DTS-X, (pass- through), and high-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192 kHz over HDMI.

In terms of other features, thanks to Google Assistant the Aura is capable of controlling smart home devices like lighting, room temperature and the like using your voice. In addition, the inclusion of Chromecast allows you to stream entertainment to your TV from phones, tablets and laptops. Finally, you can connect plug 'n' play FAT 32 formatted USB/hard drives, or you can connect with your home media server.

Recording and Playback

The Humax Aura sports an excellent TV Guide, with seven channels spread over two hours. There’s extensive information about any programme that you highlight, and a thumbnail image in the top right-hand corner. You can move through the guide using the navigation controls, and skip forwards and backwards by 24 hours using the colour-coded buttons. If you want to record something you simply highlight it and press the record button on the controller. Where appropriate, you’ll be given the option of a one-off recording or a series record, and you can also set a reminder for a programme. You'll also be told if there's a higher resolution option or a clash, although given the number of tuners that seems unlikely.

Humax Aura
Humax Aura TV guide

The Aura benefits from a well-designed recording page layout that's slick and intuitive to navigate. As with the rest of the user interface, you can access the recordings using multiple methods, but at least you can move around easily using the navigation keys. Once opened, you'll find there are options for Programme, Channel, Day of the Week, To be Deleted and Schedule – all of which are fairly self-explanatory. If you have the 1TB version you should be able to record up to 500 hours of programming, while the 2TB allows up 1,000 hours (depending on whether it's standard or high def).

 

This is a slick and effective Freeview Play recorder that schedules, records and plays back programmes flawlessly

To open a series or play a recording you simply press the OK button. To delete, lock, sort or convert a recording you press the appropriate coloured button. Deleted recordings are sent to the 'to be deleted' folder, while the recordings themselves can be collated based on programme, channel or day of the week. Partially viewed records show how much has been viewed so far, and there's also a bar at the bottom left of the page that shows how much storage has been used. All upcoming recordings are located in the Schedule folder, and here you can edit planned recordings or set reminders if necessary.

Humax Aura
Humax Aura recordings

The picture quality of the live programmes and recordings is excellent, especially when it comes to the HD channels. The Aura correctly recorded every scheduled programme, and played them back flawlessly. You can also pad recordings if you need to, although in testing the Aura never missed the start or end of a programme. The Freeview Play feature is superb, allowing for quick and easy access to on-demand content. The 4K Ultra HD playback is also impressive, and the overall system is stable, robust and responsive. Overall, this is well-designed, slick, and extremely capable Freeview Play recorder.

Verdict

Pros

  • Excellent HD recorder
  • Android TV built-in
  • 4K and HDR support
  • Google Assistant built-in
  • Freeview Play

Cons

  • Multiple home pages
  • No dedicated picture settings
  • Bizarrely no Netflix app

Humax Aura Freeview Play PVR Review

Should I buy one?

The Humax Aura is an excellent Freeview Play PVR that delivers everything you could want from such a device. You have three Freeview HD tuners, a 1TB or 2TB hard drive, an effective EPG, a well-designed remote, a slick interface, and the ability to flawlessly schedule, record and play back programmes. Thanks to Freeview Play and built-in Wi-Fi, you can also access a host of on-demand content, including all the UK catchup services, which are seamlessly integrated into the TV guide.

This alone is enough to recommend the Aura but, if that's not enough, you also get a full Android TV media streamer with more apps including Amazon Prime and Disney+, along with support for 4K HDR, Google Play Store, Chromecast, and Google Assistant. You can also stream from connected USB devices or your home network, and Humax offers the Aura remote app for control from your smart device. There's even a Kids' Zone, specially created for the younger members of the family.

The Aura is a slick, smart and very flexible PVR that offers a complete package of features, aside from the surprising absence of the otherwise ubiquitous Netflix. If I was looking for a criticism, it's that sometimes the Aura is wearing too many hats, and in its effort to be all things to all people, the interface can sometimes feel a little fragmented. As a result, there are a multitude of different home pages, and actually interacting with the TV guide or changing channels can feel a little sluggish.

However, these minor points aside, anyone looking for an accomplished PVR that can also add a sophisticated smart platform to their TV is sure to be delighted. As a result, the Humax Aura comes highly recommended.

What are my alternatives?

The obvious alternative is the Manhattan T3-R, which is an excellent Freeview Play PVR that benefits from a well-designed and intuitive user interface. It has all the connections you'll need, including Wi-Fi, Freeview HD tuners, a built-in hard drive for recording programmes, an ergonomic remote, and support for 4K Ultra HD HDR on its YouTube and BBC iPlayer apps. Thanks to Freeview Play there's also a complete set of UK TV on-demand services, which are fully integrated into the TV guide.

If all you want is a PVR, the T3-R is the better option because watching TV, scheduling and playing recordings couldn't be easier. Playback is flawless, and the picture quality is excellent, especially with HD channels. All the on-demand apps work without a hitch, and the overall experience is slick, responsive and seamless. Manhattan offers 500GB (£169) and 1TB (£198) options, and while the pricing is better than Humax, you are limited to recording two channels while watching a third.

The T3-R is not designed as a media player, so there are limited apps, and you can't stream from your network either. There's also currently no remote app, although Manhattan has promised to add one in the near future. Ultimately, the T3-R is intended to be a well-designed, effective and competitively-priced Freeview Play PVR, and in that sense it's a resounding success. So if you're mainly interested in watching and recording TV, the Manhattan T3-R is the perfect choice.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Design

.
.
8

Connectivity Audio/Video

.
.
8

Remote Control

10

Ease of Use Menus/GUI

.
9

EPG

10

Recording Flexibility

10

Recording Reliability

10

Picture Quality HD

.
9

Picture Quality SD

.
9

Catch-up/VOD Services

10

Other Features

.
9

Value for Money

.
9

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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