Review: Nokia 221T versus Sony DX800U

Discussion in 'Satellite TV, Sky TV & FreeSat' started by BOFH_UK, Oct 18, 2004.

  1. BOFH_UK

    BOFH_UK
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    A couple of weeks ago I asked for some advice on digiboxes and promised to write up what happened. The purchase was delayed a bit, so this is the first chance I've had to write about it. Hope it's of some interest / help.

    Background: After several years of using the old onDigital Nokia Mediamaster box I finally decided to go for an upgarde about five months ago.

    I live in a small block of flats in London and get a decent, though not spectacular, signal most of the time. It does however tend to drop momentarily, possibly matching a larger than usual truck driving over the slipramp from the M1. Knowing beforehand that my signal wasn't the best I specificaly went looking for a box that was supposed to be good at holding a weak signal. Checking the reviews that were around at the time the Nokia 221T seemed to be the best box on the market so it seemed a no-brainer. The resulting experience though has not been at all pleasent.


    Nokia 221T

    Let's get this clear first, the machine itself is not a bad one by any stretch of the imagination. The picture was good for the most part, the sound was fine and in day to day use it performed well enough. Channel switching was quicker than the older Mediamaster box (as you'd hope) but it was still slow enough to be annoying. Worse, interactive services took an age to load and were very unresponsive, making them practicaly unusable. The navibar system that Nokia built in as the main user interface is a neat idea, but once you've got used to the unit it seems a little overblown, needing far too many keypresses to get to some options.

    Connectivity is excelent with two RGB scart sockets and both digital and analogue connections for audio It's one of the few boxes on the market to have the ability to use Top-up TV if you want it, and there's a serial port on the back for software upgrades, something all digital TV boxes should have in my opinion. At least that way you're not at the mercy of the engineering channel if you happen to miss an update slot. Looks are always subjective, but I wasn't particularly taken with the 'turtle' shape, especially with the big silver flap at the front of the unit feeling less than solid. The remote is... well, odd frankly. It's definately got hints of Nokias phone background in its design and while some of it works nicely (the direction pad and select button in particular) other parts just didn't seem to feel natural in use. It does however stand out when hidden in the typical forrest of remotes that seems to accompany every home entertainment setup these days so bonus marks there.

    All of this I could live with. What made me switch was something far more simple. Reliability. The unit would occasionaly crash spectacularly, with the entire screen going to a mess of static (although the sound would occasionaly stay on) but on a regular basis the unit would fail in other, smaller, more subtle ways. Things like hitting the button for the navibar system and seeing the unit indicate it had picked up the command from the remote but nothing happening. Change the channel and press the navibar button and it worked fine. The box regularly 'lost' the remote, recieving the signal but not doing anything until it was reset. And on and on and on. Worst of all, there's no reset button on the box so a crash meant turning it off and on again, a royal pain when your plug is behind a bookshelf and the unit placed in the middle of your home theatre rig.


    Sony

    So the Sony was bought to replace the Nokia and after running it for a few weeks inital impressions are very good indeed. Picture and sound quality is about the same as the Nokia, maybe a fraction better but I wouldn't like to put money on it. In use however it leaves the Nokia for dead. Channel change is near instant, in fact it feels just like using analogue. Interactive services are much faster and a joy to use, even digital Teletext is a realistic option. The interface design might not be quite as pretty (yellow text on black background, very 80's) but it is more useable once you know where everything is. And then there's the 7 day Electronic Programe Guide...

    This is an absolute godsend and the fact Nokia still doesn't have the facility available on its flagship reciever is verging on the unbelievable. Being able to see at a glance what's on for the rest of the night, not to mention being able to plan a lazy sunday afternoon well in advance without having to fire up a PC to check on-line listings or remember to buy a TV guide is, in my opinion anyway, the big hook to get people to move over to digital TV and Sony's implementation is wonderful. Seven channels to a page leaves plenty of screen space to use big characters and a nice big chunk (maybe a third of the total screen space on a widescreen set) at the top of the screen to display the information about the current entry, it's fast (faster than Sky's EPG certainly though granted it's not displaying as much data) and generally a delight to use. As with most EPG's it allows you to set reminders on any show quickly and easily, the only missing feature that I can find is the ability to jump forward or back a day at a time rather than scrolling through (though if it's there and I've missed it please let me know).

    Looks, as I said above, are subjective but the Sony seems more at home in a typical living room setup than the Nokia. The ability to position the unit either horizontaly or vertically is a genuinely useful touch and should make it easier to find this box a home amongst the ever increasing mass of boxes and speakers. The remote is a typical Sony unit, long and comfortable to hold with most functions logicaly laid out. My major criticism of the remote comes in the large amount of wasted space and the typical 'vague' feeling when pressing buttons that seems common to all Sony units these days. It's also a shame that, despite the buttons being a clear plastic, they aren't illuminated in any way, possibly a missed oppotunity. My other major criticism comes on the back panel of the unit itself. There isn't quite enough space between the second SCART socket and the aerial out. You can still get everything in but there is a tendancy for the SCART lead and aerial lead to touch and make things awkward. There's also the trully weird audio connection which either needs a miniTOS optical cable or a 3.5mm -> phono adaptor before it can be used, neither of which come in the box. For a unit listing at £120 that really isn't good enough.

    One general moan which applies to both boxes considering they're both meant to be range toppers, why only offer Scart connections? Increasingly more and more (relatively) cheap home cinema amps are offering component video switching capability and more and more televisions are starting to sprout suitable connectors to match. In my existing setup the digibox is connected to a DVD Recorder by RGB Scart which is in turn connected to the TV by a component video cable and even on this 'passthrough' setup the difference is noticably better than a straight RGB Scart connection to the TV. Hopefully, with even sub-£100 DVD players offering not only component video but progressive scan options the next generation of digiboxes will catch up.

    The Sony seems to be far more forgiving of a less than perfect signal. In fact, where the Nokia's recption bar showed only about 40% signal strength, the Sony has both signal strength and signal quality running at virtually 100%. Not of course that this means the Sony is magically getting double the signal than the Nokia but it does show just how fussy the Nokia seems to be with regards to the quality of the signal. The Sony also seems to handle the occasional fluctuations in signal with a little more grace than the Nokia, showing fractionaly less screen corruption and a quieter (or absent) 'pop' from the audio when the signal drops in strength for a moment. Trying to directly compare pictures is, of course, very difficult and subjective, but to my eyes the Sony isn't quite as 'sharp' as the Nokia but it makes up for it by seeming a little smoother when watching fast moving pictures (in this case, Formula 1). The slightly softer picture isn't necessarily a bad thing though as, on a 32" widescreen set, it helps to hide some of the more obvious problems with low bandwidth signals. I think the outright winner on picture quality will come down to the specific television you're using, and how any picture enhancment options on the set react to different sources. In my case it's being fed through a JVC HV-32P37 which tends to suffer with 'noisy' pictures so the softer presentation of the Sony is actually a benefit to me.

    Reliability is, at this point, still an open question but initial impressions were good with none of the occasional pauses or 'will-it-won't-it' moments of the Nokia. After a couple of weeks at least the box seems to be rock solid, even dealing with a transmission failure without so much as blinking. A major step up from the Nokia in all respects.

    Conclusion

    The Nokia isn't a bad freeview box, let's be clear on that. Its technical specification is good and really it SHOULD be the current leader in Freeview boxes. The design, while eye catching on the shelves of your local electrical goods store, isn't great when it comes to actually finding it a home in your existing system but at least it IS different from the usual silver box. However, for such an expensive unit to have stability issues 10 months after its last software update, coupled with the absence of a 7 day EPG, is really inexcusible. As always when it comes to reliability some examples of a particular unit may be better than others, but a quick look around the web shows this isn't an isolated incident.

    The Sony on the other hand is in many ways the poor relation to the Nokia, but what it looses in features it gains back and then some in usibility and fitness for the task of actually being a digibox. If you don't need the extra toys that come with the Nokia, go with the Sony. It's about the same price now, with most stores doing it for around the £100 mark, Amazon have it listed at £82 and it's simply better at doing the basic job of recieving Freeview transmissions. Now if only Sony would release a unit with this chipset and interface with a hard drive built in and the niggling issues on the back panel sorted out...
     
  2. matty2767

    matty2767
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    1. you can scroll +24hr within the 7 day epg on the sony. when in the 7 day epg press (on the remote) the button on the right with 2 arrows going round in a circle then either blue for +24hr or yellow for - 24hr.

    2. use straight/flat scarts instead of the L shaped ones. nothing touches then :)

    cheers

    matt
     
  3. BOFH_UK

    BOFH_UK
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    1) Ohhhhhh. Knew I should have read that funny papery thing that came with it. Cheers.

    2) Not really an option when your L shaped Scart costs almost as much as the freeview box ;) Besides, and again this is just personal experience, most el-cheapo (and some not so el-cheapo) Scart leads still seem to be L shaped rather than straight so it's going to be a bit of a pain for quite a few folks. Me, *shrug*, it's in, it required minimal swearing and I'm not in the habbit of moving my digibox around so it doesn't really affect me, but I was struggling for flaws ;)

    Thanks,
    Steve.
     

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