The Humax PVR Smart is a unassuming silver box measuring 380 by 70 by 281mm and weighing in at 3.7kg that won't upset the decor in most living rooms. Along its mirrored facade is a discreet strip of playback controls underneath a vacuum fluorescent display (similar to a liquid crystal display but with a very bright light to boost contrast). A flip-down panel on the right gives access to the PVR's USB 2.0 port.
The bundled remote control is fairly well laid out, but we wished Humax gave more prominence to the Commercial Skip button that jumps ahead 30 seconds -- to access it, you need to slide down a panel on the lower half of the remote.
With two built-in standard-definition (SD) digital tuners and a 160GB drive, you're able to record up to 100 hours of video in SD resolution (576 lines interfaced) and perform "timeshifting" operations such as pausing and rewinding live TV. The integrated tuners allow you to simultaneously record two channels while playing back a previous recording or record one channel while watching another live.
Connectivity is somewhat lacking for video- and audiophiles with component video, HDMI and coaxial digital outputs absent. However, there are a pair of SCART connectors (one for the TV and one for passing through a VCR or DVD), composite video, analog stereo and digital optical audio, and a single aerial input that feeds both tuners, which thankfully means one less cable to connect when setting it up.
Although the Smart includes electronic program guide (EPG) functionality, it is currrently limited by the reluctance of television networks to broadcast seven-day programming information over the air. Unlike the Topfield TF5000PVRt, the Humax PVR Smart doesn't support add-on applications, which prevents it from being able to integrate it with the subscription-based EPG from Australian provider IceTV for one-click recording.
Other features of the Humax include picture-in-picture, teletext and editing of recordings.
A slight picture jerk was apparent when we hooked up the PVR to Fujitsu's 127cm (50-inch) P50XHA51AS plasma screen, but this was mainly during smooth transitions such as the scrolling of the Universal logo at the start of the film. However, when we watched it on a much smaller 60cm CRT set, recorded video looked just as good as a DVD. Owners of large-screened TVs would be better off forking out extra for a PVR with a high-definition (HD) tuner, such as the LG LST-4100P or the Toshiba HDD-J35, for the best picture resolution.
One performance setback we found with the Humax was the inability to allow "chaseplay" when recording using the timer. So, if you get home half way through a show you've scheduled to record, you have to wait until it finishes to be able to watch it from the start.
The USB port on the device for transferring MP3s and photos from a PC or laptop to store and play back from the PVR's hard drive. Unfortunately we could not get the supplied Media E-linker software (Windows based, Mac not supported) to connect with the PVR when we hooked it up via USB.
On the plus side, the PVR Smart correctly notified us of any recording schedule conflicts we threw at it, although if you're manually recording two channels and a scheduled recording is due to start, a pop up box appears asking the user which channel to stop recording. If nothing is pressed during this time, if you're not at home for example, the scheduled recording won't happen.
Another impressive aspect of the Humax is its responsiveness while changing channels and the intuitive, well designed on-screen menu and information panels. Finding a particular section in a recording is also a breeze as, unlike other PVRs we've seen, high-speed scanning functionality (x2, x4, x16 or x64) actually works.
Humax Digital provides a one-year warranty with the PVR Smart.