High-definition television (HDTV) technology is in its infancy, so buying a satellite tuner like the HDCI-2000 to receive experimental free-to-air HD television signals (such as BBC HD) might initially seem like one step too far into the realms of frivolousness.
Hold your sensible horses though, what if the early adopters of other technologies had thought that way? What if, back in 1982, compact disc players had been met by dreary-eyed shoppers shaking in fear? What if the absence of any CDs to play on it (except Dire Strait's Brothers in Arms) turned them away? The mainstream acceptance of any technology relies on an adventurous few taking the initial plunge.
If you're not the sort of person who enjoys fiddling around with firmware updates via RS232, or working out why the signal from the Humax's HDMI output lacks the depth of blacks on the composite output, you probably won't enjoy this tuner. The HDCI-2000 is not for the faint-hearted. But is there enough chutzpah to this Humax receiver to excite the HD enthusiast? Or do teething problems with the technology fatally undermine the experience?
In the beauty stakes, satellite receivers have never ranked alongside the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Humax HDCI-2000 is typically bland, but it is at least a resigned blandness. The clean lines and utilitarian fascia make no effort to impress, so the unit fits discretely below any television set.
The front panel hinges to reveal two Common Interface (CI) slots which accommodate pay-TV cards. There's talk on some forums of getting this unit to work with Sky cards, for example. No one's entirely clear on where HD satellite transmissions are heading, but it's possible that, as with Freeview, you may be able to subscribe to pay-TV services in the coming months. Alternatively, we may find that the majority of HD stations choose to broadcast for free, using the model established by previously pay-for Freeview stations, like E4.
A series of buttons on the front panel let you switch between video formats, change volume and channel, and toggle from radio to television. The HDCI-2000's clear LCD provides basic channel information.
Things get interesting when you turn the receiver around and explore the rear panel. Humax has provided an impressive range of connectors on this unit -- the appeal of both HDMI and composite outs is hard to understate. This means you can feed an extremely high-quality HD signal to your HDTV set.
For those with older televisions, there's always the option to use the HDCI's SCART connectors. These let you run TV out of one SCART connector and a VCR out of the other. SCART is only good enough for SD, but those making a slow transition from their existing equipment will appreciate the inclusion.
There's LNB IN and OUT for your satellite dish, a USB port and an S/PDIF connector to output digital audio to a suitably equipped amplifier. Overall, the HDCI-2000 has a hobbyist feel to its design. It has the prosaic, functional look of lab equipment -- exactly what you'd expect from fledgling technology at this stage.
The HDCI-2000 will display video broadcast in 1080i, 720p and 576p. These are all the major formats you're likely to come across at the moment. Although the Holy Grail of 1080p is not supported, it's unlikely we'll see that broadcast by a commercial satellite channel for a long time yet. It's also extremely unlikely that your HDTV will display 1080p anyway.
The receiver is DVB-S and DVB-S2 compatible. This means it can receive both the original and newer standard of digital satellite transmissions. DVB-S2 is claimed to improve reception by using better error correction and adaptive coding. It's a fusion of the consumer and professional digital satellite broadcasting methods and should mean a better quality of image.
Both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video decoders are packed into the HDCI-2000. Although you'll get the real benefits out of this box with an HD television, it will happily output to SD.
HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) with HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) output means that the Humax will sync with Intel's DRM (Digital Rights Management) hobgoblin. The HDCP system is designed to thwart pirates, and will downsample HD content to SD on non-HDCP compliant devices. This all adds up to a wonderfully confusing situation where you may find you're watching an SD signal instead of an HD one because a piece of hardware in your home entertainment system is not HDCP compatible.
TV programmes on the Humax may be sorted numerically, alphabetically, by TV or radio, satellite group or FTA (free-to-air). The obligatory parental lock option will let you prevent your child from watching any channels that may be unsuitable.
A 2-slot DVB CI (Common Interface) allows for the addition of pay-TV cards, as these become available. Particularly enterprising hackers will discover that they can watch Sky using these slots and an existing Sky card. This, however, relies on getting hold of a third-party device called a CAM (Conditional Access Module) which acts as a bridge between the Sky card and the HDCI-2000's CI slot.
Users report mixed results with this option and we would advise using the Humax in addition to your current Sky box, rather than a replacement for it.
Initially we intended to set up our own dish for use with the Humax, but after an hour of fruitless malhackery on the roof, we established that the advanced level of mathematical ability required to calculate the elevation of the relevant satellites, and thus the orientation of our dish, was beyond us.
Resorting to more conventional methods, we tested the HDCI-2000 with a pre-configured dish installation. Humax provided us with a firmware update (HDXSCI 1.00.04) for our review model which allowed it to receive the new free-to-air BBC HD service just in time for the World Cup. Users will probably find it useful to note that you tune into the BBC's HD channel by searching 10.847 Vertical, sr 22000, fec 5/6. The hardcore may also find it interesting to observe that it's possible to physically turn the dish on their roof round to the satellite known as 36E and tune in ART on 11057H. This satellite broadcasts the World Cup matches the BBC aren't covering.
Reception quality was exceptionally good. The HD signal provided by the UK's geostationary satellites is very clear indeed, putting digital terrestrial Freeview to shame. If you have an HD television, you'll be aching to put it through its paces, and the HDCI-2000 certainly does that.
It's hard to predict how HD free-to-air satellite will evolve right now, but there's some serious clout behind the BBC trials. If you're an HD enthusiast disillusioned by the cost of Sky, the Humax makes an extremely attractive proposition. If you like to tinker, you'll be right at home here. Those for whom more instantaneous entertainment is a priority might be better off with Sky.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield