There is a very specific problem on the horizon: the analogue switch-off. When this happens between now and 2012, there will be a lot of older sets that will no longer receive terrestrial TV.
TVonics thinks it has an elegant solution. The MFR-300 is a small, light and easily concealed box that picks up digital TV channels and then sends them to your TV via its RF socket. This means even TVs without Scart sockets aren't excluded from the digital party. We took a look at the £60 MFR-300 to see if it was the sort of thing we'd buy for an elderly relative or the kitchen TV.
The best thing about the MFR-300 is its diminutive size. It's so small, you can just chuck it down the back of your TV and forget about it. TVonics has specifically designed it this way and includes an IR receiver that sits on top of your TV, which means changing channels is nice and easy.
Because of its size, putting a Scart socket on this receiver just isn't possible. Instead, it features RF modulation, which means you simply tune your TV's existing analogue tuner into a special channel the box broadcasts. This is exactly the same way VHS players worked.
Of course, RF modulation doesn't produce a perfect picture, but the good news is there's an optional AV cable, which connects to the TV via a composite video lead. Most TVs have a composite AV input, but you can easily adapt it to Scart if yours doesn't. Of course, this little cable is an optional extra and costs £8, including postage from TVonics directly.
We had our MFR-300 up and running in about five minutes. Our TV was able to pick up its signal with no problems at all. From there on, it was just a simple matter of tuning the MFR-300 in to the digital stations. Again, this took virtually no time and was all rather automatic.
Picture quality was very good, although we aren't talking the sort of quality you could get over Scart. We love the fact that the box can output a widescreen signal; this is a great benefit to the people who have older, widescreen CRTs with no digital tuner.
Additionally, this box does everything a full-size set-top box does. Interactivity is no problem: in fact, it's speedy for red button features and we were very impressed. You also get audio description support, which is handy if you have problems with sight and would like extra audio information about what's happening on screen.
The remote control is large and the buttons are a sensible size. This is great because the product is aimed at people who aren't technically minded such as the elderly or people who just want a simple digital TV solution. That means a fiddly little controller would be a waste of time, so thumbs up to TVonics.
We think there's a lot going for this Freeview receiver, but it's not without its faults either. We have some concerns about the cost, which we think is rather to high for the market at which it's aimed.
But our main gripe with this little device is the power consumption. TVonics tells us that the receiver's high standby consumption -- 1.5 watts -- is because without power, you wouldn't get any signal through at all. It would prevent other signals from getting to the TV, so you couldn't watch a video or even pick up analogue. While we take its point, we think it's still too much.
We're not going to suggest that you shouldn't buy one of these because of this, but we think TVonics could do much better. We also think that by removing the two LEDs on the unit -- one on the machine itself, the other on the remote extender -- it could have reduced the current drain.
We do think £60 is too pricey for this machine. As good as it is, we don't think it's worth a premium over the regular set-top boxes, available on supermarket shelves for around £20. That said, it does do everything you need it to.
If this box was £30, we'd say it would be perfect. It's likely that in a few years time, the government is going to have to offer some sort of equipment to people who haven't upgraded to digital. If it did, this box would fit the bill perfectly.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday