- Review Price: £149.99
The launch of Freeview HD might have taken the some of the shine off Freesat with its extra HD channel and through-an-aerial accessibility, but the subscription satellite service remains a hassle-free and cost-effective way of getting high-definition TV. There are loads of excellent Freesat HD receivers and recorders out there, and the Technisat HDFS is one of them.
This box has been available since last year but for one reason or another we never got our hands on one. However, it was thrust back into the limelight recently with news that it can now access the BBC iPlayer Beta trial, and is the first box capable of accessing it wirelessly – the perfect excuse for us to investigate this new feature and find out what else this feature-packed receiver has to offer.
The box itself is one of the more attractive Freesat receivers out there. It’s slim, compact and boasts a sleek black finish accentuated by a silver stripe and menu controls on the front panel. In the centre of the front panel is a scrolling alphanumeric LED display, which helpfully shows the name of the current TV or radio channel. Overall build quality is highly impressive.
A flap on the front drops down to reveal a USB port and SD/MMC/MS and Compact Flash card slots, hinting that this box does a lot more than just receive Freesat programmes. The Technisat’s multimedia capabilities are unrivalled in the Freesat receiver market, but we’ll discuss those in full later.
On the rear panel is a wide range of sockets covering all bases. Pictures can be piped to your TV using the HDMI output – crucial if you want to watch hi-def Freesat broadcasts on BBC HD and ITV 1 HD – the SCART output, or the composite video output. A second SCART is provided for connection to an external recorder, but both SCART only support S-video and composite video, denying you the ability to make best-quality RGB recordings. On the audio side the HDFS generously offers coaxial and optical digital outputs as well as analogue stereo.
As mentioned earlier, one of the HDFS’ main selling points is its ability to access the BBC iPlayer wirelessly, and for that reason you’ll find a second USB port on the rear, which allows you to plug in a Technisat W-LAN USB adaptor (or you can use the front mounted port if you prefer). This gizmo will set you back around £30 but it’s worth the extra expense for the added convenience. It’s discreet and comes with a little antenna to improve reception and a USB extension cable.
You’ll also find an Ethernet port on the rear, providing a wired connection to the web. But whether wired or wireless, you can the connection to stream MP3 audio files, MPEG-2 video and JPEG photos from networked PCs using the Windows file sharing (CIFS) system. This is the unit’s killer feature and works brilliantly – it’s easy to locate your content thanks to the straightforward menu screens, and our sample streamed music and photos from our networked laptop without a hitch. Alternatively music, movies and pictures can be played back from storage devices connected to either USB port, or from memory cards.
Setting up the wireless receiver is fairly easy – the special functions menu lets you search for access points and shows you the signal strength of each one. Your encryption key is entered using a responsive virtual keyboard. It took no time at all to connect to our router and the connection remained stable throughout the test.
After switching the receiver on for the first time, you get a polite welcome screen, which then checks that you have a satellite cable connected, checks for software updates and runs through all the vital settings like AV output type and aspect ratio. After you’ve entered your postcode it searches for all the channels on the Eurobird-Astra satellites – it found 116 TV and 37 radio channels in seconds.
Although the HDFS is primarily designed to pick up Freesat channels, the Technisat mode allows you to add hundreds of channels not found in the Freesat EPG, while DiSEqC 1.2 functionality with motor control allows for multi-satellite reception, which will appeal to more advanced users. The extra channels can be sorted out using various channel lists and an EPG.
The Technisat EPG is unusually flexible – programmes can be viewed in a grid, by genre or as a ‘now and next’ overview, all the options are listed in the Guide menu. It’s a little confusing at first, but after a while you start to appreciate the cleverness of its design.
The Freesat EPG looks slightly different due to its black background, and unlike the Technisat EPG live TV doesn’t play underneath. But it offers a similarly generous range of views and search options, and it’s a joy to operate – you can choose browse programmes later in the week using the numbered or coloured keys on the remote, and everything on the screen is clearly labelled.
If you don’t fancy delving into the full EPG, hit ‘i’ while watching a programme and an onscreen banner not only gives thorough details of the current programme (including eye-catching icons), but also lets you look ahead in the schedules and access programme info on any channel.
The rest of the onscreen design is superb. It takes a modern approach with jazzy fonts and subtle colours, but its inherent simplicity is why it works so well. The channel lists and setup menus are clear and helpful – the Nav menu, for instance, provides direct access to any function, including multimedia content, while a separate menu offers speedy access to regional channel variations, subtitles and audio description. There’s even a Help menu that offers handy pointers.
And kudos to the remote too, which boasts big spongy buttons, good labelling and a generally intuitive layout. The only criticism is that the ‘back’ button isn’t directly next to the menu controls. All in all, this really is one of the most user-friendly digital TV receivers we’ve ever encountered, despite also being one of the most advanced.
Performance wise, the HDFS is top class. Operating speed is ultra quick – digital text pages appear reasonably quick and channels change instantly. And while connected wirelessly to the web, we hit the red button on BBC One and sure enough the ‘BBC iPlayer Beta’ option is listed at the bottom (although it disappeared a couple of times).
The service appears in a flash, it moves from option to option with minimum delay and programmes loaded up in around 10 seconds. They also played back without a single buffering pause, making this a beautifully smooth way of seeing iPlayer in action. Picture quality is a touch fuzzy in standard quality but step up to higher quality and it can look as good as live Freesat programmes.
Moving to Freesat, we’re hugely impressed by the picture quality. High-definition channels, in this case BBC HD, look as stunning as ever, boasting lashings of glorious detail and splashes of radiant, natural colour. The through-a-window clarity of the image alone makes this box worth buying.
Standard definition pictures on BBC One are obviously softer and introduce some sprinklings of mosquito and block noise. We’ve seen boxes that offer a touch more sharpness, but on the whole we reckon you’ll be more than happy with the HDFS’s picture prowess.
Sonically the Technisat doesn’t put a foot wrong – Dolby Digital on BBC HD is dynamic and expansive, particularly when you pipe it though a home cinema system as we did, and analogue stereo through a TV is consistently clean and audible. When streaming MP3 files from a PC, punchy, well-balanced sound quality is the order of the day.
Could the Technisat HDFS be the best Freesat receiver money can buy? We think so. It boasts a fantastic array of features that will appeal to beginners and advanced users alike, and the wireless PC streaming and iPlayer access puts it in a class all of its own. Picture quality, operating speed, onscreen design and looks are also impressive, putting even the impressive Humax FOXSAT-HD to shame.
The only issue could be the £150 price tag, which some people may find slightly high for a straight up receiver with no PVR functionality – particularly as you have to pay out an extra £30 for the wireless adaptor. But in our opinion it’s a small price to pay for such a slick, feature-packed Freesat box.
Score in detail