Updated internal operating software (or firmware) can significantly improve a specific satellite receiver's features or performance, especially if you were an 'early-adopter'.

The 9080USB is a smart-looker, thanks to its use of faux brushed aluminium and trendy blue LEDs (an effect that's spoilt slightly by a green four-digit channel indicator). A definite front-panel plus is that the menus can be accessed without the handset.

Under a flap on the fascia are a USB port and two CI slots and a smart card aperture. Should the 9080USB ever benefit from CAM-emulating firmware, that slot will come into its own.

The main menu is split into four main sections: a channel manager (for listing, renaming, locking, moving channels or managing eight favourites lists), installation, options and utility (CAM details/USB upgrades/system info and a Tetris game).

To ensure 'clean' menus, the remote's coloured teletext buttons will select any relevant submenus. From the channel search menu you can choose the bird to search - pressing 'enter' displays a list for quick selection.

Positioning aid

Those with DiSEqC can move dishes and store satellite positions. Signal strength and quality bar graphs are displayed as a positioning aid.

With a USALS system, latitude and longitude can be used to calculate satellite positions, and a 'goto' function will let you enter the orbital position of the bird you're after. Channel-finding functionality is basic - most obviously, there's no blind search.

You can seek out all services, grab just the free-to-air ones, or conduct a network search. Multisatellite searches are also possible; here, the desired birds are selected from a list. Single transponders - which can be edited or defined manually - can be examined, and the remote's blue button brings up a table of PIDs for modification.

Pressing 'enter' displays the channel lists - these can be one of the 'favourites', or a full ('all channels') list. There are two 'full' modes - 'simple' (a long list to wade through) and 'detail'. The latter is more powerful; services can be sorted alphabetically, by free-to-air status or even - for pay-TV channels - according to the encryption used.

By pressing the remote's 'sat' button, you can switch between the channel databases of each satellite. Pressing the 'enter' button selects the channel, moving your motorised dish if necessary. Teletext is supported, the unit having its own decoder onboard. The EPG supports both now-and-next and seven-day schedules, but it can't program a timer because none is included.

Those with DiSEqC can quickly peak their dishes, thanks to a dedicated positioner 'shortcut' button; a similar control retunes the UHF modulator. Other features include 'lastchannel' selection, picture freeze, zoom (up to 4x) and the ability to switch between NTSC and PAL output at the touch of a button.

USB, meanwhile, makes upgrades a doddle. Simply download the firmware from the internet to a computer, uncompress it and copy it to a USB memory stick. Take this to your receiver, plug it in and choose the utility menu's USB/firmware update option - an elegant solution.

In addition to the official manufacturer's site (www.hsmd.tv) is the intriguing gxmax (www.gxmax.com) on which you'll find unofficial firmwares.

But there are lost opportunities. You cannot, for example, back up your channel or transponder databases to a USB device. Nor can you update such databases from USB. Another missed opportunity is the lack of support for playing media stored on USB media - note that the STi5518 'jungle' chip at the receiver's heart is capable of handling MP3 audio files as well as MPEG-1/2 video.

PVR functionality

Another possibility could have been an upgrade that harnesses a USB hard drive to add PVR functionality. We hope that firmware upgrades will add features like these. A second 9080 variant has an Ethernet port - wire this to your broadbanded home network, and the receiver will source new firmware directly from the internet. A forthcoming version will offer both Ethernet and USB.

Pictures from high-quality channels (notably Astra's German ones) impressed. Via a RGB Scart feed, colours are vibrant and detail-sharp. Unfortunately, channels hampered by lower bitrates can be spoilt by MPEG artifacts like feathering and macro-blocking.

We're pleased with the sound quality, which is excellent from analogue and digital outputs alike. Searches are quick; a full-service scan of 107 Hot Bird transponders was completed in four minutes. Changing channels is adequately responsive, but other receivers are speedier. Sensitivity-wise, the 9080USB - which employs a zero-IF Sharp tuner - gives us no cause for concern.

A good performer, although the lack of blind search will disappoint enthusiasts. The convenient ability to update firmware via USB gives the 9080USB a powerful boost. However, MVision could have made more of the connectivity. Martin Pipe