After years of waiting, the BBC and ITV finally launched Freesat, a subscription-free TV service offering over 80 TV, radio and interactive channels broadcast from the Astra and Eurobird satellites. It's available to 98 per cent of UK households, bringing digital TV to people who aren't covered by a Freeview signal or don't want Sky.
The service includes all the BBC and ITV channels, as well as E4, Channel 4 and a range of children's, news and music channels, and the line-up is set to swell to around 200 channels by the end of the year. But here's the best part - you also get hi-def channels from the BBC and ITV, and although ITV HD hasn't yet gone live, when it does it will be exclusive to Freesat.
The Humax FOXSAT-HD was the first Freesat receiver on the market, and the £150 price tag includes the box but not a dish or installation, which will set you back a further £80. The box itself is remarkably compact, and attractively styled in black with a couple of silver strips that inject a dash of glamour. Either side of the central information panel (which only shows the current channel number) is a drop-down flap, one of which hides a cluster of menu controls, plus buttons that call up the programme guide and setup menu.
On the rear is an excellent array of sockets including an HDMI output, which is the best way to watch hi-def channels or standard-def channels upscaled to 1080i or 720p. Alternatively you can use the component output (which supports HD), composite or SCART, the latter offering RGB, S-video and composite video output. A second SCART allows you to hook up to your VCR or DVD recorder and make recordings of Freesat channels (in either S-video or composite), which will be useful given the lack of a built in hard disk.
You'll also find an optical digital audio output that allows you to connect the unit to your AV receiver and listen to Dolby Digital broadcasts found on channels like BBC HD. There's also an Ethernet port that isn't enabled at present, but in the future will enable you to access IPTV services (such as BBC's iPlayer), plus the USB port can be used to upload software updates.
The lack of a built-in hard-disk is a shame, but otherwise the digital TV feature list is fairly generous. It offers a 7-day EPG, digital text, subtitles, audio description and fast interactive access, plus its software can be updated using over-the-air upgrades.