- Review Price: £149.99
If you want high-definition TV without forking out for a Sky HD or Virgin Media subscription then Freesat is the ideal alternative. At present, there isn’t a great deal of hi-def content available on the platform (BBC HD and ITV HD are the only channels officially available), but as broadcasters move from SD to HD over the coming years you’ll soon have a lot more to choose from. In the meantime, you can enjoy over 80 standard-def channels and radio stations available on the platform, all of which can be accessed without having to pay any ongoing subscription costs.
To take advantage of the free hi-def channels, you’ll need to pick up an HD-capable set-top box and there are already a few of these on the market, including the very impressive Humax FOXSAT-HD. Goodmans goes up against Humax with its GFSAT200HD, which comes with the same £150 price tag and £80 installation cost (recommended if you don’t already have a dish installed). Goodmans has also launched a £70 non-HD version (the GFSAT100SD) which is aimed at those without HD-Ready TVs.
On the outside the GFSAT200HD boasts a very simple, understated design with only a small cluster of controls on the gently sloping fascia. Its compact size makes it easy to tuck under your TV and there’s a generous array of sockets on the rear. Of greatest interest is the HDMI output, essential for watching high-definition broadcasts and standard-definition channels upscaled to 720p or 1080i (another of the box’s key talents), and it’s joined by two SCART outputs that let you connect to a TV and recorder simultaneously. These could have been very useful given the lack of internal hard-disk recording, but the lack of RGB output from either is disappointing as it means that non-HDMI users are stuck with dodgy composite picture quality.
Also on the rear is an Ethernet port for future broadband IPTV services and advanced interactivity, and an optical digital audio output for sending Dolby Digital audio (which accompanies most HD broadcasts) to an amp with the relevant decoding. Finally you’ll find an LNB input to hook up the satellite dish feed, plus an output which is supposed to let you pass through the signal to another receiver, but we couldn’t get this to work.
The GFSAT200HD offers a comprehensive range of digital TV features, including a 7-day programme guide, digital text, interactive access and programme information banners that can be called up as you’re watching TV. The unit also supports Audio Description and subtitles, plus you can create Favourite channel lists and set programme reminders.
Goodmans always puts a strong emphasis on ease of use and this is apparent with the GFSAT200HD. When you first power it up, it jumps straight to an initial setup screen where you enter your postcode in order to receive the correct regional channel variations, although this didn’t work during our test – we were stuck with ITV Central in the South West region. Otherwise it’s incredibly easy to make other initial changes in the main setup menu, such as aspect ratio and HDMI output settings.
Although we’re generally impressed by the presentation and responsiveness of the logically structured user interface, it’s nowhere near as attractive or pleasant to use as the Humax receiver. The Goodmans’ onscreen banners are more basic than those found on the Humax, lacking its rival’s informative icons and snazzy presentation, but in action the box is every bit as fast and responsive when it comes to changing channels or moving around the menus.
Press the Guide button on the remote and the unit offers a choice of genres (a Freesat requirement), and once selected the programmes are listed in a logical timeline arrangement that allows you to skip forward or back 24 hours using the remote’s colour-coded keys.
Goodmans has also done a superb job with the remote, arranging the buttons in a sensible, uncluttered fashion and labelling each one with big obvious text – it’s just a shame they couldn’t have made it prettier to look at.
Something that may disappoint some users is the lack of manual tuning as found on the Humax receiver. That means you can’t search for non-Freesat channels found on the same satellites, including the hi-def Luxe TV channel and many more. There were rumours of a service code that allows you to scan the non-Freesat channels but we couldn’t find a way in.
Picture quality is excellent, particularly BBC HD’s coverage of Wimbledon. In the 1080i setting, the box picks up all of the delicate detail on the grass court and you can make out the faces of people in the crowd, with hardly a trace of noise to spoil the show – exactly the sort of qualities that you look for from hi-def. ITV HD’s football coverage is equally dazzling, making the SD equivalent look like a blurry mess – proof that once you’ve seen hi-def in action, it really is hard to go back.
Standard-definition channels in 576p look pretty good too, but we’re even more impressed by how good they look when upscaled to 720p and 1080i. Edge definition on channels like BBC Two is clean and smooth, plus colours are vibrant and the sharpness of fine detail also appears more focused than 576p. There’s no escaping the customary MPEG block noise and shimmering during camera movements but on the whole there can be few complaints.
If your TV doesn’t have an HDMI input then it’s bad news we’re afraid. The composite picture quality offered by the SCART output is soft and noisy, plus colours appear washed out, which makes general TV viewing less than enjoyable – and recordings on external machines will sadly suffer the same fate.
Sound quality is fine however, particularly if you rig up the optical digital output to a decent receiver. Speech is clean and intelligible, while loud movie scores are capably handled, particularly with Pro Logic II processing engaged. What’s more, the Dolby Digital sound that accompanies BBC HD’s Euro 2008 coverage is excellent, engulfing the listener in atmospheric crowd noise without any drop outs or distortion.
Goodmans’ debut Freesat HD receiver is slick, easy to use and a good performer, but despite this we’d still recommend opting for the similarly-priced Humax FOXSAT-HD, which boasts a far superior operating system and more features, including RGB from the SCART socket and manual channel tuning.
Score in detail