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Monday, September 8, 2008

Homecast HT3000 Digital Terrestrial Freeview Receiver [Review]

Introduction

The Homecast HT3000 is a set top box designed to be connected to your television, allowing owners to view New Zealand UHF Digital Terrestrial Freeview transmissions. The unit can receive and display high definition transmissions when connected to compatible equipment.

Advertised Feature set
The following specifications are posted on the retail box. The feature set on the box is written in American English and I have translated below:
  • High Definition Digital Tuner with Loop –through
  • MPEG-2 Video([email protected]), MPEG-4(H.264)
  • MPEG-1 Audio Layer 1, Layer 2 AVC, HE-AAC, AC3 (Dolby Digital)
  • Wide Symbol Rate 8 Mbps & Frequency Input 470-862 Mhz
  • S/PDIF AC3 Audio
  • Vector Font and 256 colour GUI (Graphic User Interface)
  • Variable aspect ratio (4:3, 16:9) with Pan Vector or Letter Box
  • Teletext and Subtitle supported (VBI & OSD )
  • Installation by Easy Setup Guide
  • Favourite Channel and Parental Lock Function
  • USB 2.0 port or RS232C port for upgrading system software
  • OTA supported
  • HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) supported
  • MHEG-5 supported
Weight and Dimensions
The units dimensions (H x W x D) are 55mm x 280mm x 233mm. The unit weighs 1.2 kilograms.

Audio and Video connections
The HT3000 has the following video output connections; (2 x SCART, 1 x RCA Video, 1 x Component, and 1 x HDMI). The unit has the following complement of audio connections; (RCA Left and Right, and SPDIF)

An important consideration is the fact that over a component connection, the video output is artificially limited to a maximum resolution of 576p and 576i. For the highest resolution available I recommend using HDMI cables where possible.

The Remote Control
The HT3000 comes with a somewhat standard remote control. The main left/right and up/down buttons are located in the centre. The numbered keypad is at the top which may be quite a stretch for some users.
At the bottom of the remote there are several additional rows of options which depending on your knowledge of acronyms are fairly intuitive. The HT3000 comes with a pair of Fairman Super Heavy Duty AAA batteries for the remote. I would have preferred batteries with greater stamina, such as Energizer, Eveready or Rocket Batteries.

Channel Availability
As we go to press there are 10 Televisions stations this unit can receive, and two Digital Radio stations. The ten television channels are; (One, 2, 3, C4, Maori Television, TVNZ 6, TVNZ 7, TVNZ Sports Extra, Parliament TV, and tvCentral). Of these stations tvCentral is only available in the Waikato/BOP region. The two digital radio stations are Radio New Zealand National and Radio New Zealand Concert.

Other channels such as Stratos, Cue, Te Reo, and George are only available through the Freeview satellite service.

Be aware that although this box is capable of receiving HD content that not all stations are currently transmitting in high definition.

Setup
The box for this describes an “easy to install” setup. The unit is true to this statement. Once you have connected all of the cables required (this unit typically includes an HDMI cable among others), the HT3000 will automatically detect all available channels and you can begin to watch TV. As the unit is a Freeview certified unit it can also automatically add new channels as they begin broadcasting.

There are several options for configuring what type of TV you are using, whether it is a tube, LCD, or Plasma display. You can also select how the unit is going to deal with the different resolutions of the channels. You can select Letterbox, Full Screen, or Centre Cut. Unfortunately as the different channels all transmit in different aspects and resolutions you may need to sacrifice some picture or put up with bars along the left and right when 4:3 content is shown.

Performance
Switching channels is at a speed in line with what you would expect from a computer-based media centre such as MediaPortal or Windows Media Center. However, once a channel is selected you will not experience any initial jerky behaviour as you might receive on some PC systems while it adjusts to the video being played.

Pressing the EPG button will result in the word “Loading” being displayed onscreen and a short delay while the EPG is loaded. The now and next facility is very responsive.

The main menu is quick to respond as are the rest of the configuration items within it. This menu is opened at the bottom of the screen as a toolbar, allowing you to continue watching the channel you are on. The EPG also exhibits a similar facility with a thumbnail-like view of the current program being shown at the top right. This facility lets you perform a number of functions while continuing to watch a program.

Feature Brief
The HT3000 features the obligatory option to select different languages for the menus, along with choices on how the OSD is displayed. Parental controls to restrict access to channels via a password are also available. Software updates can be received over the air or via an RS-232 (null modem) cable. The manual also states that firmware updates can be performed via the units on board USB port.

On the channel side you can also 'reserve' a TV program so that the unit can automatically switch to a preferred channel at a specified time. The HT3000 also supports Teletext.

Other Features
There are a couple of features which are glossed-over in the manual. Firstly, the unit comes with an LCD display at the front which turns into a digital clock when the unit is on standby. The HT3000 seems to automatically select the correct time.

Secondly, the unit does have button controls on itself. You have the ability to turn the unit on or off, and adjust the channel up and down directly from the front fascia.

The Manual
The HT3000 comes with a 40 page comprehensive manual. Again this manual is written in American English but is easy to follow. The manual includes some rudimentary troubleshooting instructions if you run into any problems.

Review Unit Details
Model ID: 5120002002
H/W Version: 1.01.00
S/W Version: 1.02.4a
Loader version: 1.02

New Zealand Support
0800 DTVSOL or 0800 388765