Freesat+ HD with free time review: Freesat+ HD with free time

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The Good High-quality user interface; Classy design and very quiet in operation; Good media streaming and digital playback features; Comprehensive recording capabilities.

The Bad Search doesn't work with on-demand services; Needs more on-demand service providers; On-demand shows are slow to play; Won't skip adverts on on-demand shows.

The Bottom Line The Humax HDR-1000S Freesat+ HD box with free time impresses with its easy-to-use interface and strong recording features. The backwards-in-time EPG works well but the on-demand services are not as tightly integrated as on YouView. It needs more service providers to come on board and I'd like to see the EPG populate faster and playback of on-demand programmes to start up quicker.

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8.3 Overall

Review Sections

Free time is Freesat's answer to Freeview's YouView offering and the Humax HDR-1000S is the first set-top box to hit the market with the service on board.

The box lets you watch all the usual channels available on the Freesat satellite service (as long as you have a dish), and adds a new EPG that allows you to go back in time to catch up on programmes that have already been broadcast.

It will set you back £280, which is a little cheaper than the Humax YouView box, but is it a better option?

Electronic programme guide

Thankfully, the new free time electronic programme guide (EPG) is completely different to that used on all standard Freesat boxes. I say "thankfully" because Freesat's EPG is diabolical. It forces you to go through a genre selection screen every time you open it and it lacks basic features like a video thumbnail window so you can continue watching TV while checking the listings.

Free time feels like it's been designed by a completely different team because it's just so much more pleasant to use. When you open it, the channel you're watching is shifted smoothly into a thumbnail window in the top right-hand corner of the screen. Beneath this you're shown 'now and next' information on programmes across seven channels. If you push right with the remote control past the now and next information, the EPG populates with a standard bricks-in-the-wall-type layout, showing around 3 hours' worth of data in one go.

The split between the now and next and full EPG data is a good idea, as most of the time you just want to quickly see what's on another channel rather than delve into the full guide. Naturally, you can also do the usual stuff like pressing the info button on the remote to view a summary of a show and set recording timers by hitting the record button when a show is highlighted. It's all very straightforward stuff. The clever bit is when you click to go backwards in the EPG though.

Humax HDR-1000S Freesat
The free time EPG is like a TV time machine, allowing you to scroll back in time to watch what's already been broadcast.

This is also where the free time EPG differs substantially from the YouView one, and in some ways manages to better it. On free time you can only go back in time on the channels that are linked to the supported on-demand services. If you select another channel, such as CBS Drama, the EPG doesn't do anything.

When you do pick a channel that's linked to an on-demand service, such as BBC One or ITV1, the EPG switches to showing a list view of the shows that you can catch up on from earlier in the day. Press the back button again and it'll switch to the day before and if you carry on pressing back you'll step through all seven days for which content is available. In many ways this is better than the YouView system, as it only shows you the stuff that you can actually watch, rather listing everything that has previously been broadcast, with many shows you can't actually catch up on.

However, there are some slight annoyances. With YouView, when you go back in time in the EPG, the shows you've recorded to the hard drive are also listed in the guide as watchable, whereas that's not the case on the free time EPG. For example, if you recorded a show on CBS Drama the previous day, and try going backwards in time in the EPG on that channel, it doesn't do anything because there's no facility to access recordings in this way.

It's perhaps a minor issue but it does make the box feel not quite as well integrated as YouView -- something that's apparent in other areas too, as I'll point out along the way. Overall though, the EPG is quite well implemented and is in some ways more straightforward to use than the YouView system.

Recording features

The HDR-1000S is, at heart, a dual-tuner Freesat personal video recorder (PVR), so as you'd expect, it's got all the recording features you'd find on normal PVRs. You can schedule recordings just by hitting the record button on a highlighted show in the EPG, and if the programme is part of a series, you're given the option of recording the whole series automatically. Cleverly, it groups shows together in a series in the recording library, so you access them like a boxset.

Two shows can be recorded at the same time on different channels. You can also record one show while watching another or watch on-demand programmes while recordings are in progress. Sometimes, if you're recording two shows at the same time, you can actually watch a third channel if it's being broadcast from the same satellite transponder as the shows being recorded.

Humax HDR-1000S Freesat
The recording features are pretty impressive, allowing you to record two programmes while watching a third, in some instances.

When you try to record a third programme while two recordings are in progress, the box will give you two options -- to stop one of the two other recordings or alternatively to schedule a recording of the show at a different time if it's being re-broadcast later, which is neat.

Chase play is supported too, so you can watch the start of a show while the end is still recording and it buffers the channel you're watching so you can pause and rewind if you've missed something.

The model I had in for testing had a 500GB hard drive, which provides enough space for storing around 300 hours of standard-definition programming. However, for £20 more, there's a 1TB version available, which is a better option, especially if you record a lot of shows in HD.

There's no way to set up recordings remotely, but Freesat says it will soon introduce iOS and Android apps to allow this.

On-demand services, searching and streaming

The box currently only supports two on-demand services -- BBC iPlayer and ITV Player. However, the on-demand menu does have placeholders for 4oD and Demand 5. Freesat says these will be added by Christmas.

The two on-demand apps are the same as the versions you'll find on smart TVs from manufacturers like Samsung. They're pretty easy to use but aren't exactly lightning quick to start up. For example, from selecting ITV Player in the on-demand menu to being able to choose a programme to view took 13 seconds, which is pretty sluggish. However, it's similar to YouView in this regard.

Free time lags behind YouView when it comes to search features. Unfortunately, search doesn't work across the on-demand services at all, but instead only searches the EPG for upcoming shows. By contrast, YouView's search is one of its best features as it's fully integrated and works across on-demand, upcoming shows and your own recordings, so this is a major failing of free time and something that needs to be addressed by Freesat.

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