It's been three years since freesat -- the satellite equivalent of Freeview -- was first announced and the first freesat-compatible receiver has finally arrived. The Humax Foxsat-HD costs £150 and gives those who don't want to be tied into a subscription a way to watch high-definition broadcasts. Is it a day for glorious celebration or just more waiting?
The Foxsat-HD is surprisingly small. It's about two thirds of the size of an average DVD player. It has an all-black colour scheme, apart from the two mirrored strips that run across the top and bottom of the front channel number display. It's stylish, but not in a 'look at me! I live in Hoxton!' kind of way.
Most people will be introducing high definition into their lives for the first time, which includes the standard £80 freesat installation service. If you already have a Sky dish on your home, you can use that instead, saving you the extra expense of a new install. All you have to do is connect the satellite lead to the dish socket on the back and you're ready to rock.
For hooking the box up to your telly, the Foxsat-HD sports two Scart sockets, a HDMI port, composite output as well as red, green and blue phono sockets. The latter are linked to a manual switch that lets you change between outputting a standard RGB signal and a full component signal for HD. There's also an optical output so you can connect it to a surround-sound receiver for Dolby Digital. Humax rather generously provides a HDMI cable as well as Scart and composite leads in the box.
When you first start up the box, it checks for a software update and then asks you for your postcode. It uses this to work out which regional variations of the ITV and BBC channels to include in your EPG. The channel tuning takes under a minute and once it's finished, your box is completely set up. There are 80 channels available now, but this is expected to rise to 300 by the end of the year. Take at look at our forums for the full list.
Your foray into the world of digital currently begins and ends with BBC HD, as it's the only HD channel available on freesat right now. Happily, the picture quality of the channel is stunning, with bags of detail and really vivid colours.
This quality is to be expected from a HD signal, but some of the other channels, like True Movies, are heavily compressed and look pretty poor. In fact, you're really getting the same broadcasts that are received by Sky set-top boxes -- the only real difference is the freesat EPG over the top. Still, we can't fault the actual output from the Foxsat-HD, as when it's presented with a decent signal, it performs admirably.
What really separates this box from standard free-to-air satellite receivers is the support for the seven-day freesat EPG. When you press the 'guide' button, you're first presented with a pop-up box that divides the channels into areas of interest, such as entertainment, news and sport, movies and music. Once you select an option, you're dropped into the main guide, which is laid out horizontally.
The guide looks dull, but it does feel very responsive and has a neat Quick Navigation feature that lets you jump between days with the up and down buttons while moving the time slot with the left and right buttons. Pressing the red button switches to a vertical list view and hitting the blue button takes you to the 'find' function that lets you search for programmes by name.