- Review Price: £49.99
After digital switchover has been completed, DVD recorders and VCRs with built-in analogue TV tuners will be next to useless, but their lives can be prolonged if you buy an external Freeview receiver and hook it up to the recorder’s SCART input. The trouble is most Freeview receivers only come equipped with a single tuner, which means you can’t watch one channel while recording another. The ideal solution is to upgrade to a twin-tuner PVR, but if you’d rather stick with your existing recorder, then French company Metronic has a cheaper alternative – the Gemini twin-tuner receiver.
So how does it work? The Gemini features two SCART outputs on the rear, one of which you connect to your TV and the other you connect to your VCR or DVD recorder. The picture from one of the unit’s tuners is output from the TV SCART and the other tuner signal is sent from the ‘VCR’ SCART, which means you can change channels to your heart’s content while independently recording the signal from the second tuner.
Aside from this twin-tuner arrangement, the Gemini looks and behaves just like a regular Freeview set-top box. Its dull dark grey styling makes it look like an 80s throwback and the construction is a little lightweight but thankfully it’s compact enough to hide away inside your AV cabinet. The front display panel is rudimentary, showing only the channel number and a green power LED, and there are a few buttons dotted about for up-close control.
Aside from the two SCART outputs on the rear, there’s a surprisingly generous array of connections by Freeview receiver standards. They include composite video, S-video and stereo audio outputs, plus optical and coaxial digital audio outputs to transfer stereo audio to your AV receiver. There are two aerial inputs (one for each tuner) and you can pass the aerial signal through using the supplied coaxial loopthrough cable. Also useful is an on/off switch on the rear, which means energy conscious users can shut it down completely when they go to bed.
On board is a seven-day EPG that enables you to browse the channel line-up and choose what to watch. You can skip through the days using the colour-coded keys on the remote or set the eight-event timer, which will change the unit to a specified channel at the programmed time. While you surf, the EPG displays live TV in a box at the top of the picture so you don’t miss anything, and it even allows you to preview another channel.
The Gemini offers all of the features you’d expect from a Freeview equipped product, including subtitles, digital text, favourite channels and parental lock, as well as interactive services. There are automatic and manual tuning options, and once you’ve tuned in the channels you can reorder and rename them if you wish. A button on the remote enables you to instantly switch between TV and radio channels.
The process of recording a second channel isn’t quite as simple as you might imagine, as there aren’t separate channel controls for the second tuner. You have to switch the main tuner to the channel you want to record, then hit a button on the remote which changes the ‘VCR’ tuner to the same channel as the first. You can then change channels freely while you record, or use another button on the remote to switch to the ‘VCR’ tuner and check what you’re recording. It’s all a little bit cumbersome, but it works.
However, it’s disappointing that the second SCART can only output in composite video (CVBS) and not S-video or RGB. While this isn’t a problem for VCR users, those using DVD or HDD recorders with RGB inputs won’t be able to make recordings in the best-possible quality.
The onscreen menu layout is easy on the eye and on the brain. The main setup menu uses welcoming shades of blue and lists all of its options in clear, legible white text. It isn’t always fast to respond to remote commands, but channel changing and digital text loading times are fast enough to compensate. We’re hugely impressed by the EPG, which has a Tardis-like ability to cram lots of stuff into a small area, including live TV, a programme synopsis, the channel list and all the available options.
The compact remote sports a pleasingly ergonomic shape that slips into the palm of your hand nicely, and the main menu control keys are perfectly placed. But some of the other frequently-used buttons, such as the programme up/down keys and the secondary tuner functions, are too small and awkwardly placed towards the bottom of the handset, which makes it a little fiddly to use.
Picture quality from the RGB-capable TV SCART is very impressive, boasting solid, realistic-looking colours and enough detail to make images look sharp and well-defined. We can’t say they’re the cleanest-looking Freeview pictures we’ve ever seen, though, as there’s a noticeable amount of feathery pixel noise, particularly with fast moving objects and camera pans, and some blocking on large expanses of colour. These artefacts are worse on some channels than others – BBC One, Two and Three on Multiplex 1 look better than the ITV channels on Multiplex 2, for example, but despite this the pictures on every channel are still perfectly enjoyable.
Slightly more disappointing are pictures captured on our external DVD/HDD recorder. We made a recording of ”The Jeremy Kyle Show” (a good test of colour vibrancy, if you must know) on a Panasonic DMR-HS2 combi in XP mode and the images suffer from composite video’s trademark tizzing around edges, dot noise and diluted colour reproduction. But if your recorder isn’t RGB-enabled, or if you’re not too fussed about having perfect picture quality, then the results are fine for day-to-day viewing.
Metronic’s Gemini is a great idea, giving the 30 million VCRs and analogue DVD recorders in this country a way of recording digital TV after switchover without the limitations that come with single tuner receivers. And in general that idea is well executed – the onscreen layout is appealing, picture quality is solid and the twin-tuner recording functionality is effective, if a little cumbersome. Our only qualms are the lack of RGB from the second SCART and a couple of operational issues, but on the whole the Gemini is a clever solution that’s sure to fly off the shelves as the digital switchover progresses.
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